Thomas Brooks, Ph.D.
Conservation Priorities and Outreach
The islands of the Sulu Archipelago, jewels sparkling in heart of the Sulu-Sulawesi seascape between the Philippines and Indonesia, are of great importance for biodiversity conservation. They hold many species found nowhere else in the world, but have also lost most of their historical rainforest habitat.
Moreover, this sea has a centuries-old reputation for piracy, and the islands themselves have been at the heart of violent conflict for decades, most infamous as the stronghold of the extremist group Abu Sayyaf. This violence has made biodiversity exploration and conservation efforts in the region almost impossible, as well as contributing to a cycle of unsustainable resource use and biodiversity loss.
||"A depressingly high proportion of islanders bore injuries, testimony to the human cost of the conflict...meanwhile, we witnessed rare Pteropus flying foxes being shot for target practice, and remnant stands of forest being logged..." |
In 1995, a lull in conflict through the southern islands of the Tawi-Tawi group allowed a window for biodiversity surveys, although the northern islands of Jolo and Basilan remained off-limits.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the islands of Bongao, Sanga-Sanga, and Tawi-Tawi, searching for the islands' threatened and endemic birds. The major of Batu-Batu generously assigned heavily armed bodyguards to escort my colleagues and I into the rainforest.
While we found a number of rare birds – including the Critically Endangered Philippine Cockatoo Cacatua haematuropygia and the Endangered endemic Sulu Racquet-tailed Parrot Prioniturus verticalis – the ravages of warfare were only too apparent. A depressingly high proportion of islanders bore injuries – missing limbs, blindness – testimony to the human cost of the conflict. Meanwhile, we witnessed rare Pteropus flying foxes being shot for target practice, and remnant stands of forest being logged, underscoring the urgency for conservation action in the Sulus.
However, while a few brave marine conservationists have established footholds in the region, to this day no terrestrial conservation projects have been initiated in this beautiful, unique, and threatened archipelago.
This conflict is listed in the "Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots" publication table as "Moros conflict".
LEARN MORE: Read more scientists' accounts of working in conflict areas.