Center for Ligawasan Marsh conservation rises in North Cotabato

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/11 December)— A biodiversity and research center has risen in a state-run school in Region 12 to sustain conservation efforts for the biologically diverse Ligawasan Marsh, Mindanao’s largest wetland covering an area of about 288,000 hectares, officials said.


The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recently forged a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) in Kabacan, North Cotabato for the establishment of the center.


Datu Tungko M. Saikol, DENR-12 director, and Dr. Jesus Antonio G. Derije, USM president, signed the agreement.


Under the MOA, the USM shall provide the physical facility equipped with laboratory and wildlife holding areas while the DENR shall provide the center’s office equipment and technical personnel, among others.


Saikol said the agreement is vital in conserving the biological diversity of Ligawasan Marsh.


“The MOA envisions to sustain the gains of the Ligawasan Marsh Biodiversity Conservation (LMBC) project, a five-year initiative implemented by the DENR in 11 municipalities, seven of which are in Maguindanao and four in North Cotabato, including Kabacan which is the site of the USM main campus,” Saikol said.


The DENR-12 turned over P2 million worth of equipment to the university for use in the biodiversity center, he said.


Derije, a veterinary doctor, expressed the university’s readiness in doing wildlife rescue and research in terms of human resource and facilities.


“The university has a pool of experts in animal science, veterinary medicine, and biology backed up with research and animal care facilities. This 60-year old university [has] an animal hospital,” he said.


The Ligawasan Marsh is one of the priority sites under the National Program Support – Environment and Natural Resources Project, which is funded by an almost US1 million grant from the World Bank – Global Environment Facility


The Ligawasan Marsh is a conglomeration of three marshes namely Ligawasan, Libungan and Ebpanan.


According to a fact sheet submitted by the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Ligawasan Marsh is a vast complex of river channels, small freshwater lakes, ponds, and arable land subject to seasonal flooding in the basin of Mindanao. The area is under water during periods of heavy rainfall.


The marsh is known to support species of endemic threatened birds, including the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) and the Philippine duck (Anas luzonica), it said.


Because of its relatively expansive swamp forests, it is identified as an important wetland site of many water bird species like herons, egrets, rails, shorebirds and ducks, DENR-PAWB said.


The marsh is also the last stronghold for the endemic and endangered Philippine crocodile and supports at least 33 species of freshwater fishes, it also said.


The floral composition in the marsh showed that there are l94 species belonging to l53 genera in 65 plant families. Of these, l2 are endemic to the Philippines. Most of them are upland species, but includes hardwood floral species growing in floodplains, DENR-PAWB said. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)