Ecological monitoring for healthy ecosystems in Southeast Asia

  • 26 October 2016

Ecological monitoring for healthy ecosystems in Southeast Asia Group Photo

Changes in ecosystems need to be tracked and understood to keep these ecosystems healthy and ensure their continued provision of services that are key to human survival. It is, therefore, imperative that an ecological monitoring network in Southeast Asia be developed.

This was the overarching consensus reached by 34 scientists, researchers, experts, and government representatives from all over Southeast Asia who attended the Regional Roundtable Discussion and Workshop on the Development of an Ecological Monitoring Network in Southeast Asia, held on 24-25 October 2016, at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) Headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines.

Organized by SEARCA, in partnership with the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) and the Food Security Center (FSC) of Hohenheim University, the event’s participants came from Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Timor Leste, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

Ecological monitoring for healthy ecosystems in Southeast AsiaInvited as main resource person was Dr. Henry William 'Hank' Loescher, Director of Strategic Development of Battelle-National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) - USA, who spoke about the Societal and Scientific Importance of Ecological Monitoring and its Application to Decision Making, Management, and Planning. Dr. Loescher discussed the development of a distributed observatory including its development pathway and the requirements framework. He also discussed ecological forecasting, which asks what the most likely future state of an ecological system would be, given a decision made today. He warned the group that big projects may undergo ‘near death experiences’ but that these can be overcome. He concluded his talk with the message that in the development of an ecological monitoring network, scientists must develop the vision, scope, narrative, and provide the expertise, and the network must address large scientific and societal imperatives. Due to popular demand, he gave another presentation, focused on NEON itself.

Dr. Rex Victor Cruz of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños served as technical coordinator and co-facilitator of the event. Well known for his expertise in climate change mitigation/adaptation and ecosystems management, Dr. Cruz delivered the background paper Toward a Southeast Asian Ecological Observation Network, wherein he talked of the benefits of such and presented as a case the program “Monitoring and Detection of Ecosystem Change for Resiliency and Adaptation” or MODECERA. Now on its second year under a 10-year timetable, MODECERA aims to establish an ecological observation network for the entire Philippines.

Ecological monitoring for healthy ecosystems in Southeast AsiaOrganized as a scoping activity, the roundtable-workshop took stock of existing initiatives in ecological monitoring and relevant databases in Southeast Asia; identified gaps and areas for improvement in ecological monitoring in the region; and explored possibilities of linking existing initiatives and databases across the region. The participants shared experiences in ecological monitoring or aspects of it, e.g., biodiversity, forest, climate, hydrology, in their respective countries. They also emphasized the need for standard monitoring protocols within the country, as well as across the region, and for mechanisms for sharing information across monitoring systems particularly within the country.

Ecological monitoring for healthy ecosystems in Southeast AsiaFurthermore, the participants identified the following as top priority needs/foci for building a monitoring network within the region: environmental policy/science-based policy and law enforcement, governance, integrated management, ecosystem services, and natural and climate hazards.

In his synthesis of the event, Dr. Cruz observed that existing monitoring systems in Southeast Asia are mostly program- and project-driven, independent of each other, lacking comprehensive systems, and with limited standardization programs. Data-sharing also emerged as a major concern, given the apparent intellectual property restrictions, as well as technological limitations in some countries. "Some are accessible for fees, while some are free," Dr. Cruz explained.

SEARCA and its partners recognize the importance of long-term ecological monitoring, results of which will effectively inform planning and policy-making towards food security, disaster preparedness, ecosystem management, safer and more resilient communities, and other related purposes. Dr. Bessie Burgos, Program Head for Research and Development of SEARCA, said this is the reason why SEARCA supports – and will continue to support – efforts toward greater regional cooperation.

The event ended with hopes of continuing collaboration among the nations represented in the roundtable-workshop and the agreement for the wide dissemination of the workshop results through various media, the conduct of follow-up discussions, and to keep the conversation alive. (Carmen Nyhria G. Rogel and Dennis RG Santiago)