Philippine Natural Resources and Environment
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Natural Resources and Environment in the Philippines

The Philippines, Pearl of the Orient Seas, is very rich in natural resources. Filipinos are by nature creative and intelligent. The richness of the environment is an advantage for their livelihood.


Around 15 million hectares, or almost half of the Philippines' total land area, are classified as timberland. Most of the land here was densely forested before the 1900s. However, the following century saw the loss of half of Philippine forests. Statistics show that deforestation claimed 204,000 hectares per year from 1950 to 1978. From 1989 to 1995, only 116,332 hectares were vanishing annually. Environmentalist groups are trying to protect Philippine forests, but a lot needs to be done in the campaign for reforestation as well as the fight against illegal logging.

Philippine forests produce timber for local consumption and for export. Hardwood products coming from these timbers are globally known for their distinct appearance and high quality, which makes them appropriate as home furnishings. Wooden furniture, such as tables and chairs, are usually made of hardwood, popularly known as narra.

Most Philippine forests are of the tropical rainforest type. Besides extensive reserves of tropical evergreen hardwoods, the country also has considerable areas of pine in the mountainous regions of Northern Luzon.


With a coastal ecosystem stretching almost 20,000 km, the Philippines is likely to become one of the earliest victims of rising ocean temperatures and levels. Centuries-old coral reefs are dying almost overnight, and the destruction is being witnessed not only by divers in remote spots. Regional marine science studies estimated in the middle of 1999 that the Philippines' magnificent underwater world would be gone by around 2100. Reports say that increased sea temperatures were causing "mass coral bleaching events" in the world's best coral reefs. Something has to be done to reduce global warming caused by the burning of oil, coal, and gas.

For smaller bodies of water, the Philippines has extensive but small river systems and streams, which are mostly depicted by the mountain ranges. The fluvial system of Luzon is made up of (1) Rio Grande de Cagayan and its tributaries (a stream that flows into a larger body of water), which drain the Cagayan Valley; (2) the Agno Grande which drains Benguet and the valleys of Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Tarlac; (3) the Abra River system, which receives its tributaries from the Cordillera and drains Lepanto, Bontoc, and the Abra; and (4) the Rio Grande de Pampanga and its tributaries, which drain the fertile valfeys of Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Bulacan.

Flora & Fauna

The Philippines is rich in flora and fauna. There is an estimated two million species of plants and animals, many of which are unique to the islands. For various reasons, some kinds have been lost or endangered while others were exploited for commercial purposes. By the turn of the century, many species of plants and animals decreased dramatically in number but some survived through a natural process.

There is so much that the Philippines can offer to the nature lover. Its tropical rainforests are among the most species-rich ecosystems on earth. In fact, substantial parts of the archipelago, both land and underwater, remain unexplored. There are also many virgin forests. The country is known for its dwarf and pygmy species of many ecological families. Unfortunately, a lot of these natural resources are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Logging and mining, illegal fishing (the use of dynamites), and the growing population have a negative effect on ecology because of increasing demand for diminishing food and livelihood sources.


Due to its volcanic nature, Philippine soil is very fertile. Abundant rain and sunshine, as well as the wide range of habitats and elevations account for an incredible variety of plant life in every category, from mosses and lichens (including 1,000 species of fern) to giant trees (about 3,000 species). Since neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia have a similar climate, plants found here are mainly of the type found in those countries. However, Australian (e.g., eucalyptus) and Sino-Himalayan types are also present in the Philippines. About 60% of the 10,000 plant species grow only in the archipelago. There are 54 species of bamboo throughout the islands. Bamboo is a fast-growing woody grass used for multiple purposes, mainly as furniture. It can also be used to build houses, bridges, fences, fish traps, wall matting, baskets, hats, and flutes.

Mangroves are found at sea level, bays and estuaries. They form a fringe or what seems like a fence along the sides of these bodies of water, a palms, commonly used in the construction of native hats, also thrive in salty water. Coconut palms are generally found below 30 meters while at 300-1,000 meters, dense tropical rainforest contains vines, ferns, orchids, and huge trees with buttressed trunks. The dipterocarp - hardwoods, known collectively as Philippine mahogany, can supply many natural resource needs. Mahogany seed as an herb is known to have healing properties.

Narra, the national tree of the Philippines, produces a pretty yellow flower and is the source of hardwood for many uses. The nipa palm, however, must be the unofficial national tree. The traditional nipa hut comes from the nipa palm, with the leaves serving as roof. Many homes in the countrysides and in farms are made of nipa. Today, the nipa hut can even be found in resorts all over the country where it functions as a residential and recreational place.

The national flower is sampaguita, which is white and has a distinct fragrance. But the orchid also has a claim to fame, with almost 1,000 stunning species, including the waling-waling of Mindanao.

One crop unique to the Philippine is the pili nut, although crop species such as tobacco and corn have already been introduced. The delightful nut may be used in the production of chocolate, ice cream, candies, and even soap. It is harvested from May to October, around Sorsogon and other provinces in the Bicol region. In Mindanao, abaca is harvested in huge quantities. Called the Manila hemp, it is mainly used to make ropes. This island is also famous for its durian, a fruit with a terrible smell but a heavenly taste. In the little island of Guimaras, near Panay, the rich red soil has produced some of the sweetest mangoes in the world.



The best-known Philippine member of the bird family is the haribon or Philippine eagle, formerly called the "monkey-eating eagle" (because it eats monkeys). This is an endangered species; only about 100 are left in their natural habitat of Mindanao. Farther south, the hornbill of Sulu, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi is another amazing and elusive mountain-dwelling bird. The Palawan peacock pheasant is also a remarkable bird. A large game bird with brilliant feathers in the male and long pointed tail feathers, it nests on the ground and flies only short distances. The males of this species have a metallic blue crest, long white eyebrows and large metallic blue or purple "eyes" on the tail. Pheasants are native to Asia but are now established in many parts of America and Europe. Unfortunately, they are also nearing endangered levels.


Of the reptile family, South-East Asia travelers will be most familiar with the gravity-defying, mosquito-chomping gecko (anyone of a group of small insect-eating lizards often having adhesive pads on the feet for climbing) and its raspy "tap tap tap7' mating call. More elusive scaled beasts include the sail-fin dragon and the flying lizard discovered by Jose Rizal while he was exiled in Dapitan on Mindanao, as well as a wide variety of poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, including pythons and sea snakes.

The country is said to be home to the sea cow or dugong (also known locally as duyong), once found in great numbers in Philippine waters but now rare. You're more likely to spot dolphins, whales and, if your timing is right, butanding (whale sharks) near Sorsogon in South Luzon. The tourism industry in that province hopes that these plankton-feeding gentle giants will continue their habit of surfacing from around November to May each year.


There are about 25,000 species of insects found in the Philippines. Among these are butterflies that come in a wide array of colors. Some are sought-after by collectors while others are merely for spectacle. Palawan, Mindanao and Sulu are prime butterfly territories with an estimated 800 species. A prominent butterfly, Papilio trojano, is the largest of its kinJ with an average wingspan of 18 centimeters. This black and green butterfly can only be found in Palawan.

Moths, winged insects very much like butterflies, but lacking knol at the ends of the antennae, having less brightly colored wings, and flyii mostly at night, also abound. The huge atlas moth has pale brown wings (with black and gray markings) that extends 24 centimeters wide. This insect is commonly found around the months of February to June all over the islands.


The most popular beast of burden in the Philippines is the carabao, a native water buffalo highly prized for its vast power and patience as a plough-puller.



An authentic rainbow of species pours out of Philippine waters ani| into aquariums around the world each year. The Philippines' underwafc landscapes surpass the terrestrial in beauty for inexpressively rich marinl life. There are more than 500 sea species containing variants of hard soft coral reefs. The seas support about 2,400 species of fish. Individui and commercial fishermen have caught tuna, mackerel, squid, curtlefisl shrimp, lobster, crab, and a host of other marine creatures. Some reei fishermen destroy marine life through cyanide poisoning and dynamite fishing just to get a daily catch. Other fishes such as swordfish, marlin, sailfish, sharks, eels and sea snakes can also be found. There is also a multitude of small fishes in various colors and sizes, most of them still unnamed.

The world's largest fish, the harmless whale shark, known to reach approximately 20 meters in length, is occasionally seen in Philippine waters. Meanwhile, the world's smallest fish called dwarf pygmy (Pandaka pvgmaea) is common. It usually inhabits the Malabon River and the streams of Bulacan. In Lake Buhi, the world's smallest commercial fish, tabios, is found. However, that creature is nearing extinction.

Other forms of marine life, ranging from whales to dolphins to jellyfish, sponges and starfishes, can be found in Philippine waters.

Because of poisoning and dynamiting, there has been widespread destruction of local fish populations and ecosystems. Many of the fishes die from severe liver damage within days of being transported. The use of sodium cyanide - a chemical first introduced in the Philippines in the 1960s to stun fish and now widely used as an easy (and seemingly harmless) way to catch large numbers of fish for both domestic ad foreign markets - has greatly devastated marine life.


Pawikan (marine turtles) are found in Philippine waters. The most common are the green sea turtle and hawksbill although loggerhead, olive ridley, and leatherback can also be found. The turtle's value as a food source, combined with its commercial exploitation (stuffed turtles and turtle-shell products are found in many souvenir stores), have reduced their number. Thus, the population of turtles has stepped into the endangered level.


The Philippine islands have been the source of rare individual shell specimens that are attractive to collectors. Shells are plentiful in eastern Samar, Palawan, Sorsogon, Quezon and Sulu.

Shells are known for having a poisonous part. The live cone shells have a dart at the narrow end. Touching and mishandling it can be harmful. They also range in size, from the tiny Picidium to the giant clam Tridacna &gas. Over 1,000 species of land snails with lustrous shells, and spiral patterns are found all over the country. Tourists usually buy shells for souvenirs from local vendors selling beautiful specimens retrieved by fishermen. The buying and selling of shells affects the Philippines' natural resource production

Since the Philippines is one of the world's richest shellfish habitats, Filipinos have used shells in jewelry and handicrafts. Kapis shells are the most common that can be found and fashioned into lampshades, chimes, and windowpanes. Old Spanish houses are decorated with thin and transluct kapis shells.


Pearls are found within shells. According to research, the largest pearl in existence was found in a giant clam (a mollusk somewhat like an oyster, with a soft body and a shell in two halves joined by a hinge) in Palawan in 1934. It measures 24 cm by 14 cm and weighs 6.4 kg. This pearl is known as the "Pearl of Lao-tze" or "Pearl of Allah."

Diving for pearls is widely practiced by the Muslims in Sulu and Southern Palawan. Pearls are also raised in some parts of the country, such as the Davao Pearl Farm. The priceless magnificence and lasting value of this natural resource makes the Philippines truly worthy of being called "Peai of the Orient Seas."

Preserving Our Resources

The Philippines realizes that in order to preserve its precious natural heritage, a process of education, combined with the proper legislation and enforcement, is necessary. Legislation dealing with environmental issues has been introduced. The government has established national parks, recreation areas, and wildlife sanctuaries throughout the country. Conservation programs exist for the Philippine eagle, eastern sarus crane, tamaraw, Philippine crocodile, dugong, marine turtles, and some rare deer species. There is a growing consciousness among people of the need to conserve forests and marine life. A law banning log exportation has been passed (unfortunately, the prohibited practice continues secretly). In 1992 Palawan was cited as a national treasure because its forests and sea life are relatively well-preserved. A total ban on logging is now being enforced all over Palawan.

National Parks

The Philippine government has established national parks to protect many species of plant, animal and sea life. The project to preserve the Philippines' natural resources officially started in 1992.

The N1PAP or National Integrated Protected Areas Program aims to enlist the support of indigenous people living in or around these protected

- Palanan Wilderness Area (North Luzon) The Philippines' largest protected area making up 10% of the country's remaining primary forests.
- Mt. Isarog National Park (Bicol) Isarog is the Bicol region's second highest volcano at about 1,966 meters above sea level.
- Mt. Iglit-Baco National Park. (Mindoro) The endangered tamaraw is found here. Farmers encroaching upon the area have caused a steady reduction in grasslands, which has resulted in problems for the Mangyan people.
- Mt. Guiting-Guiting Natural Park (Romblon) The spectacular slope of this mountainous forest has nurtured and protected a world that would have long ago been destroyed by human activities if not for its isolation. Among the ancient teak trees of the park can be found several bizarre species of fruit bats, large monkeys, and more than 100 known bird species.
- Coron Island The Island boasts virgin forests and stunning cliffs. The Tagbanua people, Coron's indigenous residents, delight in the beauty of their native habitat.
- El Nido Marine Reserve Rich in beaches and wondrous jagged cliffs, El Nido is one of the country's most popular tourist


- Mt. Pulog, Northern Luzon
- Hundred Islands, Northern Luzon
- Mt. Arayat, Central Luzon
- Mt. Mayon, Bicol
- Bulusan Volcano, Bicol
- Apo Reef, Mindoro
- St. Paul Subterranean, Palawan
- Turtle Island, Palawan
- Sohoton Natural Bridge, Samar
- Lake Danao, Western Leyte
- Lake Mahagnao Volcanic, Eastern Leyte
- Mt. Kanlaon Nature Park, Cebu
- Twin Lakes, Southern Negros
- Mt. Malindang, Northwestern Mindanao

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