Tuesday, July 19, 2011

PSSN Confab Pushes Through

(also published in Ti Similla, the official newsletter of the academic staff, UP Baguio, November 2010)

by Zenaida Baoanan
President (2009-2011)
Philippine Society for the Study of Nature
Associate Professor
University of the Philippines Baguio

This year’s PSSN convention was a historic one since we commemorated the tenth year of the Society and at the same time we joined in celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity. With the theme, “PSSN at 10: Harnessing S & T for Natural Resources Conservation and Climate Change Adaptation,” it was fitting to hold the convention in UP Baguio since the Society was established here in April 2000 in cooperation with the Department of Biology, College of Science. The occurrence of typhoons in the last quarter of the year is a clear indication of climate change and indeed, we were able to adapt to the aftermath of typhoon Juan by managing to have 157 participants from secondary and tertiary schools, including some representatives from government sectors. The keynote address of Dr. Lourdes Cruz was an eye-opener. She mentioned that  natural resources conservation and climate change adaptation are among the biggest challenges for the key players in science and technology. While scientists, legislators and conservationists have joined efforts in finding ways to mitigate biodiversity loss, the continuing unscrupulous utilization of nature and its amenities will always be a hindrance in attaining these goals. By instilling awareness in people about the impact of these actions, however, we can reduce biodiversity loss.

The Best Paper and Poster Competitions were among the highlights of the conference. Out of 36 paper entries, only 3 papers per category were chosen for the coveted Best Paper title. The presentations of the students in the High School Division amazed the participants. These promising young scientists are truly inspiring in their show of concern for the environment. The winner in the High School Category was Mr. Anthony Cheng, a freshman student of Baguio City National High School. Anthony has been investigating
the transformation of C.H.O.W (Compostable Heterogeneous Organic Waste) into worm castings using Eudrilus eugeniae earthworms contained in a uniquely improvised trash bin he called the Vermi-C.H.O.W. Bin Recycling System. Castings harvested from this system significantly improved plant growth and development compared to other organic soil amendments such as horse manure and coffee grounds.

Dr. Evaristo Abella of Central Luzon State University, Nueva Ecija won in the Biological Science Category with his paper entitled, “Molecular discrimination of Philippine strains of paddy straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea).” V. volvacea is a highly priced edible mushroom in the local market. Molecular tools are proven effective in discriminating the different strains of these species, thereby suggesting potential importance
of genetic diversity conservation and breeding of this commercially important food source. Meanwhile, Racquel Chua of Saint Louis University, proved that indigenous fruits grown in the Cordillera are a far better source of antioxidants than commercially available Vitamin E. Ms. Chua won in the Physical Science Category.

The dynamics of human-forest interrelationship were discussed by Dr. Lita Sopsop in her winning paper entry in the Environmental Science Category. She conducted her study at Ibusi-Talakaigan Watershed in Palawan Island. With the use of the STELLA (Student Tutorial Experiential Laboratory Learning Analysis) program for model development, she projected that forest cover will continue to decline over the next 50 years at the rate of 3 ha/year, after factoring in current resource utilization and management alternatives.

Indigenous peoples and migrants from the Visayas region rely on farming and almaciga and rattan gathering as their main source of income. She proposed that the best way to sustainably manage the watershed is by increasing people’s income, reducing the population of forest dependents and increasing reforestation efforts especially for rattan and almaciga trees. Alternatively, she sees that declaring the watershed as a Protected Area under NIPAS law ensures its long term sustainability. A related study was done at Loboc Watershed
by Dr. Gloria Casabal from University of Bohol. Her winning paper in the Social Sciences Category provides information on the socio-economic profile of the wild bee gatherers (locally known as mamuhagay) and the potentials and issues related to wild honey harvesting. Dr. Casabal shares the same concern with Dr. Sopsop, that with poor management and increasing dependence on forest and forest products, the life-support system provided by the watershed may not be sustainable.

For the Best Poster Competition, Jing Bautista and his co-authors from Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology bested 24 other entries with their study entitled, “Antibacterial Activity of the Crude Extracts from the Rinds and Seeds of Native Durian (Durian zibethinus) against Hospital Isolates of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.”

Winners in the different categories were awarded during dinner. Special Citation was given to Dr. Jesusa D. Ortuoste, an incorporator and pioneering officer of the Society, for her unwavering commitment to the organization by attending all of the past ten annual conferences. Another Special Award was given to the University of the La Salette High School for having the most number of delegates to the conference.
There were plenary talks and simultaneous scientific sessions in the next two days which revolved around five subthemes. For the sub-theme on Upland Nature Studies, Dr. Virginia Cuevas from the Institute of Biological Sciences, UPLB, discussed the nature of the Philippine Upland Ecosystem and its implications on upland agroecosystem development. She emphasized that for our uplands to continue giving us economic and environmental services, we need to develop an upland agroecosystem that takes into consideration the nature of its soil on cultural practices, and the impact of interplay of climatic and geologic phenomena on crop and animal production systems.

The Conference Speakers

Comprehensive presentations on concepts and perspectives related to governance of people and nature, interfacing and enterprising with nature were discussed by the three other plenary speakers. Dr. Rogelio Colting, president of Benguet State University, recognizes human rights issues relative to the formulation
of environmental policies. Environmental ethics point to the fact that all life forms on earth have the right to live in this world and that humans have a great responsibility to nature. This point of view was elaborated by Dr. Padmapani Perez from the College of Social Sciences, UP Baguio as she discussed how humans interface with nature in the social science context. Dr. Marlowe Aquino related his experience as Senior Program Coordinator at the Bureau of Agricultural Research in his discussion on the concepts of productivity, profitability and sustainability of natural resources in a developing world. As we are now in the computer era, an appropriate subtheme on e-Environment was presented by Dr. Nicolas Bailly of WorldFish Center. He provided a means of managing the huge datasets of fishes and other sea life creatures into the Biodiversity Information System that can be readily accessed by fisher folks, researchers and other stakeholders in developing countries. The WorldFish Center has been collaborating with the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity
in finding means to educate local people on how to manage the aquatic resources in their area. Dr. Bailly said that one example is the use of customized posters to visually indicate the length at first maturity below which fishes should not be caught; otherwise reproduction and replacement of generations cannot occur, leading to the collapse of the resource.

The organizers spiced up the event by holding a “nature challenge” or fun games led by Prof. Merites Buot of UPLB for all the participants on the second night of the conference. It was also a way of building camaraderie among the members. The auditorium was filled with excitement and laughter, a break from the days’ intellectual discussions. We learned much and were equally challenged during the entire three-day conference. It was exhausting yet definitely rewarding. The conference served as a venue for the revival of the PSSN-CAR Chapter. I believe that the convention would not have been successful without the support from UP Baguio, the members and officers of the Society, and the solid working force of the secretariat, including the members of UPB-PSSN Jrs. who kept their poise and sweet smiles amidst the pressure. I salute
the participants who braved the storm to join us. As we prepare for next year’s convention,we pray for an even more fruitful but disaster-free conference.

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