Presenting part 2 (of 3) from our fascinating chat with Dr. Jo Marie (Jom) Acebes of Balyena.org in the Philippines! She shares about the conservation status of some marine mammals in the Philippines, and the challenges of trying to reduce the threats to those animals.
I so enjoyed chatting with Jom and learning more about her work, and I hope you enjoy watching!
See the full transcript below.
Learn more about Jom’s work at Balyena.org:
D: So let’s talk about conservation of these whales. How are they doing?
J: So, humpback whales, they used to be considered Endangered worldwide. But then I believe in the last 10 years, they were lowered down to, first, Vulnerable (meaning not too much in danger) and then to Least Concern.
But the distinct population in the Philippines together with 4 other distinct populations in the North Pacific – based on the last estimate of how many they are, it’s been found that there are only about 1000 of them. And because they are genetically distinct and because they are found in the Philippines and Japan where there are still threats to them, they’ve been considered by the US through the Endangered Species Act to be Endangered. So they listed that distinct population as one of the endangered populations.
In the Philippines, they are also considered as Endangered.
So the threats: they have been hunted in the past, and this specific population has not recovered. And then trash, marine pollution, is one of the biggest threats right now, especially in, unfortunately, in the Philippines and in Japan.
In Japan, slightly different, they have threats in terms of shipping and whale watching. For us, not really, because it is fairly remote where they are found. But in the Philippines the most recent threat is offshore mining. So that whole area, the Babuyan Marine Corridor, is being threatened by the impacts of offshore mining. Not just on the whales, but more importantly on the fish and coastal areas and a lot of people depend on fisheries in those areas.
D: Wow, those are big issues and I am sure that they are difficult resolve.
J: They are. Honestly, there’s very little you can do on our level, because it’s governments that decide. Like offshore mining for example is very political. In the Philippines, especially, unfortunately, mining has always been a big issue, but because it’s supported by the government, it’s hard to oppose it because you’re seen as an activist, and it’s never good. In the Philippines, that’s quite dangerous.
T: It’s one of the most dangerous countries to be an environmental activist, sadly.
J: Actually, right now, if I wasn’t leaving, I was asked to attend a “consultation” because the company that is mining in that area wants to expand to increase their extraction. So I don’t know what’s going to happen.
D: Oh my goodness! Be careful!
J: Thank you. Yeah, I wanted to go, but I couldn’t, and I think they also time it that they know it’s still difficult to travel around the Philippines, because it’s far – I live far from that area, and they were doing the consultations on site
T: I mean, that’s a common issue with consultations, even conservation groups holding consultations, too. You can say you have a consultation, but it’s importat: who can come?
J: Yeah, the people who are supposed to be consulted are not there!
D: Wow, so how can you support conservation in your work safely?
J: With difficulty. What is he saying?
T: Oh, he’s just playing with the board. He likes to deconstruct the words he just spelled, and he’ll tap them in different orders.
J: Oh! With difficulty. We try, especially if it’s a big issue like this, we do try to get involved with the meetings when we can, but the safest way is just to do it via social media. We’ve been warned by other friends who’ve worked on these kinds of things much longer – we give very little personal information, obviously, like us individuals. It’s safer to put the organization in front and to work with other organizations. We do try as much as possible – we don’t attack, basically. We don’t say anything that’s too confrontational, especially to government agencies. Because that’s the tricky thing – these companies, for example that offshore mining company, work with our Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and they’re the ones who approve it. So we have to talk to them in a way that they won’t find it like we’re attacking them
T: You have to be diplomatic about it
J: Yeah, giving them the science explanation behind why we think it’s not good to be doing those activities. So we try our best to do it by talking and just giving reason based on science and trying to appeal for more meetings and consultations
D: That is very important work!
J: It’s hard, but yeah. Not easy!
D: So how are marine mammals doing in the Philippines?
J: In general, they’re doing well, because they’ve been protected since the 1990s. So they’re no longer hunted, but – there’s always a but – some species, like the Irrawaddy dolphins, because they’re only found in few very specific areas in the Philippines and they’re found in areas where there’s a lot of fisheries as well, they’re the ones that are still considered Critically Endangered. They get caught not just in active fishing nets, but trash – discarded fishing nets.
Some of the reasons why they are found dead, stranded, we still don’t know the reason why – it could be pollution, who knows. And then in some areas, like where a friend works, they’re planning to build a bridge for example which again is going to be detrimental to their habitat, that will definitely affect them.
But for other species, in general, there is no direct threat. Everything is indirect – either of pollution, there’s a lot of marine pollution in the Philippines, or accidentally being caught in fishing.
J: Very very hard.
[TO BE CONTINUED – FINAL PART POSTING NEXT WEEK!]