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Imperatives of an Archipelagic Environment
Victoria O. Espaldon

Archipelagic studies deal not only with archipelagic waters but also with big and small islands. Many ecological and evolutionary knowledge are derived from studying island ecosystems. In the Philippines, the nature of the islands has produced a set of unique features and processes, like biodiversity and endemicity. Islands are often small and discontinuous, with physical boundaries sharply defined and ecotones predictable and easily discernible.

Small islands are fragile environments. Their size limits their carrying capacity for human population and expansion of terrestrial flora and fauna. Hence, there is low ability to sequester precipitation and hold water reserves. Freshwater scarcity is as widespread as the seas are abundant. Flora and fauna in small Philippine islands are particularly vulnerable to local extinction.

Waters between islands serve both as barrier and bridge of environmental influences and human opportunities across islands. The positive environmental impacts of infrastructure, economic activities, social dynamics and culture in one island may be confined to it because of the barrier effect of water. It can also be a means for environmental degradation in an island like pollution and overexploitation of fisheries, to affect other islands as well. Pollution is an especially serious concern among islands because water can transmit it from one island to another.

These particular circumstances of islands and their unique ecological features require that the environmental management of archipelagic regimes shall have to focus on at least five areas. These are population pressure, biodiversity protection, mitigation, remediation, and water pollution.

The extent and intensity of human presence in islands will almost always affect their ecosystems health. Islands are arenas where humans compete with other species for limited resources and amenities. As the ecology of islands is transformed beyond their carrying capacity, the outcomes may result in the immediate depreciation of life support systems.

Island biodiversity being particularly fragile requires protection. Life support systems of island environments are strengthened by biodiversity and its loss or erosion could have irreversible negative impacts on the viability of life in the islands.

Threats to ecosystems health and the health of life forms, including humans will be a crucial concern in managing island ecosystems. The major objective is to mitigate and control such threats. If these are not controlled and they have considerable impacts on the ecosystems and human health, remediation will be crucial. It will spell a significant difference on how island ecosystems will be able to bounce back and recoup from stresses.

A major issue is water pollution because it comprises a major control in transmitting negative environmental externalities from one island to another. Water can spread environmental pressures and threats to fragile ecosystems of islands.

Approaches and policies on environmental management should be reviewed in order to determine the extent those five concerns are addressed. Human and ecological security (HES) should be emphasized. This refers to the level of threats to and opportunities for human life and aspirations as a result of environmental and human conditions in a time and place. The fundamental concept of HES is that the well-being and quality of life of humans highly depend upon the well-being and quality of the environment.

HES, as a concept and an objective of environmental management, promotes its localization in which specific circumstances are to be addressed in the particular area where it occurs. HES is a particularly relevant and appropriate framework for shaping our approaches in managing our archipelagic environment because HES allows us to identify the threats, manage the risks, and install mitigating measures.