- In an effort to safeguard some of the Philippines' last-remaining old-growth forests and dozens of globally threatened species, the government officially announced today the dramatic expansion of the Peñablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape, effectively creating the country's largest contiguous protected area.
Working with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Conservation International (CI), Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed a decree expanding Peñablanca from 4,136 hectares to more than 118,000 hectares. The decree connects Peñablanca to the Northern Sierra Madre National Park, creating a seamless protected area larger than Switzerland that stretches 476,588 hectares (1.2 million acres).
The combined reserves are home to 28 Threatened vertebrate species including three considered Critically Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN): the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi
), the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis
) and the Northern Luzon Shrew Rat (Crunomys fallax
"The government's decision to expand Peñablanca safeguards a vast array of spectacular animals and some of the last vestiges of the Philippines' old-growth forests," said CI-Philippines Director Romeo Trono. "Peñablanca is an area that has been under pressure by illegal logging and wildlife hunting for years, but now we have the legal framework and landscape connectivity required to more effectively protect this region."
Peñablanca sits on the northeastern coast of Luzon, one of the nation's main islands. It encompasses the Callao Cave complex - a popular destination for national tourists - and stretches eastward, to cover both flanks of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. It also protects a stretch of unique coastal and marine ecosystems, rich in endangered species like whale sharks, giant clams and sea turtles.
"The Peñablanca expansion is a huge conservation achievement for this nation," said DENR Secretary Elisea Gozun. "But when one takes into account that this new area is in the heart of the Sierra Madre Biodiversity Corridor - one of the richest regions in the world - this expansion really has global repercussions."
The Director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) Wilfrido Pollisco and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) also played major roles in making the Peñablanca expansion a reality.
The Sierra Madre Biodiversity Corridor is a patchwork of protected areas strung along the 1.7-million-hectare mountain range. The Sierra Madre's forests are home to about 45 percent of all the country's plant species and more than half of its Threatened animal species. CI works closely with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other organizations in the corridor.
Composed of 7,000 island, the Philippines is home to more than 1,100 vertebrate species and 10,000 plant species, making it one of the 17 most biologically diverse, or megadiverse, countries on the planet. But with a population of 84 million, much of the islands' unique habitat is under pressure. Less than 7 percent of the original forest cover is intact and less than 3 percent of the country's old-growth forests remain. This combination of rich and unique biodiversity, combined with extreme threat, make the Philippine's one of the Earth's biodiversity hotspots. The Philippine Sea is equally rich and beleaguered. Home to more than 2,500 species of reef fish and more than 75 percent of the world's coral species, less than 5 percent of its marine ecosystems remain pristine.
"The Philippines is one of the highest priority megadiversity countries and is considered by many to be the hottest of the biodiversity hotspots," said CI President Russell Mittermeier. "For years, researchers have said that the Philippines could be the site of the world's next wave of extinctions. Today's announcement, however, gives us reason for hope and we applaud the government for taking this bold measure."
Interviews and images available upon request.