Throughout the year, UNACOM, through the Philippine Biosphere Reserves Network, monitored and brought together the Philippine biosphere reserves or BRs and held regular meetings with the BR focal persons and key informants to gather feedback and insights on the state of their sites amidst the pandemic. The representatives from each biosphere reserve shared with UNACOM their experiences and how they were able to adapt to the “new normal”. Despite a number of challenges encountered as a result of the pandemic coupled with the typhoons that struck them during those times, they remained resilient and successfully introduced innovative ways so they can continue managing and protecting their sites. UNESCO and UNACOM sustained coordination and support to the BRs as both institutions assured representation and participation of site representatives in local and international events.
Puerto Galera Biosphere Reserve
Puerto Galera Biosphere Reserve (PGBR) primarily depends on its Tourism Industry. Due to the pandemic, PGBR suffered a great loss in its economy. Restrictions to reduce human interaction have created a great socioeconomic hardship. The Tourism industry and all its programs were sidelined. Nevertheless, placing the entire municipality into a strict quarantine status has had some beneficial effects to the PGBR. Traffic congestion in many tourism sites had been significantly reduced, skies became clearer as reflected by the regular ambient sampling done by the environment office, water quality had improved a lot and marine species had obviously increased in number, forest ecosystem had also welcomed a more vivid presence of wildlife. While some of these impacts might be considered beneficial to the environment, negative consequences had also emerged, cascading effects to poverty, food security, mental health, disaster preparedness and more demand from the biodiversity.
Understanding the immediate plea of the situation for a more concrete solution, the local government unit of PGBR, led by Mayor Rocky Ilagan, enacted the Recovery Development Interventions – Plans and Operations to help all the sectors in Puerto Galera to cope with the new normal. Programs initiated included the following: distribution of chicks and goats, seedlings for backyard garden and tree growing activities for greener environment, motor for fishing boats and fishing gears for fisher folks, financial grants for cooperatives and local organizations for people empowerment, deputation of more bantay dagat and bantay gubat personnel, conduct of information and education campaigns on health, sanitation, environment rehabilitation and green economy. The local government stressed a reformatted branding of PGBR – a home away from home (a safe destination), being a more accessible destination (less movement/less exposure to risk) at a more cost effective and maximum value for money (expenses equates to quality of experience).
Palawan Biosphere Reserve
Similar to the other UNESCO biosphere reserves worldwide, the Palawan Biosphere Reserve was also confronted with the dangers brought by the COVID 19-pandemic. Through the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) Law, the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) continued to implement environmental programs and policies to protect the Palawan biosphere. PCSD and its staff had relied heavily on technology in terms of conducting meetings and events. The Council also adopted the “blended” type of meeting. Moreover, events were successfully conducted virtually in 2020; two of which were: The Youth Sustainability Virtual Camp and the Blue Environment: Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Webinar, attended by a total of 150 participants.
The PCSD commenced the operationalization of the Biodiversity Resource Access Information Network or the BRAIN System in 2020– a “user-driven online and offline platform” for all the permit applications, as well as reports regarding the wildlife and other administrative functions. It was able to maintain its Palawan Knowledge Platform (PKP) as a knowledge-sharing hub, utilizing it as an archive of data, including Geographic Information System (GIS) and the agency’s published literature. Additionally, the PCSD had rightfully expanded its role from protecting our natural resources to the protection of our territory, including the West PH Sea, by being a member of the Information and Education Task Group of the Area Task Force – West. Consultation Planning Workshops and an in-house study were organized focusing on population status and current distribution of Palawan’s two threatened and endemic wildlife species, the Palawan bearded pig (Sus ahoenobarbus) and the Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectronnapoleonis). Apprehension of wildlife species was also continued. The team has recorded a total of 125 rescued and turned-over wildlife: 61 mammals, 38 reptiles, and 26 birds.
Albay Biosphere Reserve
The Albay Biosphere Reserve was not spared from the negative effects of the pandemic. Due to the restrictions in movement of the people as recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19, only a few projects and activities were implemented. For the Management Strategies in the Core Zone, the ABRMC secretariat participated in the meeting of the Albay Tourism Officers Association to campaign for the inclusion/adaptation of the ABR Management Plan in their respective Local Tourism Development Plans.
As for the Transition Zone, only two (2) Management Strategies, namely, Promote ABR Ecotourism Circuit and Encourage Responsible Tourism had activities for the pandemic period. The activities were the production of the “Albay Muna, Albay Naman “ AVP featuring the ABR Ecotourism Circuits. The aim is to promote the local destinations, culture and arts, and trade and industry in the ABR to entice more visitors when the situation allows. In preparation for the arrival of the tourists, the ABRMC conducted an inspection of the destinations within the ABR to ensure health protocols are in place so as not to spread COVID-19 in their respective areas.