By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
The international community has given recognition to the Masungi Georeserve in Rizal province for its “outstanding and innovative” approach to conservation financing and resourcing during a United Nations-led (UN) biodiversity conference held in Egypt.
The Masungi Georeserve was presented the inaugural Pathfinder Awards as a global model for conservation innovation and excellence by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), and WildArk.
The awarding ceremony was held during the plenary session of the 14th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt last Nov. 17.
“This singular honor from the UN and IUCN will boost the spirit of our team on the ground, and those in government, private sector and civil society who tirelessly toil for the environment and even risk their lives protecting it, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps and join our movement,” Masungi Georeserve trustee and project manager Ann Adeline Dumaliang said.
She added that only four out of more than 200 nominations worldwide were honored in the Pathfinder Award after a thorough selection process by an international expert jury.
“We are the only entry from Asia to win and this marks a big win for conservation and environmental efforts in the Philippines,” she also said.
The local conservation project protects a geological heritage comprising the Masungi karst landscape and its rich biodiversity in Baras, Rizal.
The Pathfinder Awards celebrate solutions that address insufficient investment for protected and conserved areas.
While protected and conserved areas provide considerable and diverse financial and non-monetary benefits, the global funding gap for effectively managing these sites is huge–estimated at US$30-35 billion dollars per year.
The jury, composed of IUCN Director-General Inger Andersen, Minister of Egypt Yasmine Fouad, WildArk founder Mark Hutchinson, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas chair Kathy MacKinnon, UN Convention on Biological Diversity Executive Secretary Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Minister of Costa Rica Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, and UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, lauded Masungi’s innovative techniques and approaches in conservation financing, using geotourism to fund and achieve conservation objectives.
Through this model, the georeserve is able to complement the work of government and local communities in taking care of the country’s threatened ecosystems.
In particular, the jury noted Masungi’s practices that balance the attractiveness of the park to visitors with low pressure on the environment.
The UNDP, IUCN, WPA and WildArk stressed how the georeserve can be replicated by other protected and conserved areas around the globe when it comes to creating long-term and sustainable value for environmentally-sensitive areas.
“You cannot tell how impressed I was with (Masungi Georeserve’s) work. (They) must continue what they are doing,” Rodriguez said.
Partnerships for conservation
The Masungi Georeserve is a conservation initiative of Masungi Georeserve Foundation in partnership with the National Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
It is home to a sprawling limestone formation dating back 60 million years, that was the subject of rampant environmental degradation and real estate speculation.
After 20 years of conservation work, it is coming back to life and is now a sanctuary for more than 400 species of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic to the Philippines and Luzon.
The project’s latest mission is to restore and conserve in perpetuity some 3,000 hectares of denuded mountains around the georeserve through the Masungi Geopark Project.
These mountains remain in constant threat of quarrying, illegal logging, kaingin, treasure-hunting, and land speculation despite previous efforts to conserve them. (Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz)