From June 7 to 10, 2016, the University of Santo Tomas, through its College of Science and Research Center for the Natural and Applied Sciences, hosted the 1st Philippine Symposium on Freshwater Biodiversity and Ecosystems (PSFBE), which took place at the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes OP Building. The four-day event gathered international and national experts from various fields of limnology and freshwater biodiversity. There were a total of 143 participants and 20 invited speakers coming from Philippine government research institutions and departments and higher educational institutions as well as delegates from neighboring countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore. The pioneering symposium was held in cooperation with the California Academy of Science, Pusod, Inc., the Institute of Biology – UP Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, the Association of Systematic Biologists of the Philippines, with support and endorsement from the International Society of Limnology. The event was mainly funded by the U.S. National Academy of Science & USAID PEER Project with additional support from the UST College of Science and the Research Center for the Natural and Applied Sciences.
Among the highlights of the first day included the opening remarks by Dr. J. Nereus Acosta, Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection and General Manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority and a message from Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, Director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the DENR. This was followed by the conferment of awards to pioneers of Philippine freshwater research, namely: Prof. Augustus C. Mamaril (UPD), Prof. Emeritus Dr. Macrina Zafaralla (UPLB), Prof. Dr. Roberto C. Pagulayan (AUF), Ms. Adelina Santos-Borja (LLDA), Acad. Prof. Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III (PCAMRD), Dr. Maria Lourdes C. Aralar (SEAFDEC), and Prof. Dr. Ruben C. Umaly (UPD). The awards were followed by the Keynote Scientific Lecture entitled “Apocalypse in Anthropocene Asia: Can we conserve freshwater biodiversity in this rapidly changing world?” which was delivered by Prof. Dr. David Dudgeon of the University of Hong Kong. Dr. Dudgeon is the current editor-in-chief of the ISI journal Freshwater Biology.
The first day also witnessed the opening the exhibit entitled “Taalaman: The Lake’s first Biomuseum” which was the culminating project of the Biodiversity and Conservation Biology class of the UST Graduate School for the 2nd term, A.Y. 2015-2016 handled by Dr. Rey Donne Papa and Dr. Cecilia Banag. This event was held in cooperation with the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the UST Museum, the UST College of Science, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – National Fisheries Research and Development Institute, and Manila Ocean Park. All 21 students enrolled in the course set up the 2-part exhibit in the lobby of the Main Building as well as the Exhibition Gallery of the UST Museum with the help of exhibit curators – Dr. Richard Thomas Pavia (College of Science) and Asst. Prof. Mary Ann Bulanadi (College of Fine Arts and Design). The exhibit’s objectives were to showcase the rich biodiversity of Lake Taal, as documented by the research project entitled “Lake Taal: Sustaining Native Biodiversity in the face of aquaculture, climate change and non-native species” which was funded by the U.S. NAS and USAID by researchers and students from the College of Science (Department of Biological Sciences), RCNAS and the Graduate School. Among the highlights was the live exhibit in the lobby of the Main Building, which showcased different animals collected from Lake Taal that were maintained in several aquaria, which included several endemic, native, and introduced species in the lake. This is the first time that such an exhibit has been staged in the country, and aims to provide an alternative means of educating the public about freshwater biodiversity and conservation. The opening ceremonies were graced by Dr. Antonio Manila (BMB-DENR) and Prof. Dr. Gisela Padilla-Concepcion (Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of the Philippines), who also helped cut the ceremonial ribbon together with Fr. Isidro Abaño OP of the UST Museum, Prof. Dr. Marilu Madrunio and Prof. Dr. John Donnie Ramos, deans of the Graduate School and College of Science, respectively.
Days 2 and 3 of the PSFBE included plenary lectures, themed parallel sessions, and a poster session. During the PSFBE closing ceremonies on the 3rd day, winners for the Best Poster and Best Graduate Student Oral Presentations were awarded. The Best Poster Award was given to Mark Carascal, Mario Jose G. Del Rosario, Kin Israel Notarte, Fahrul Zaman Huyop, Takashi Yaguchi, and Prof. Thomas Edison Dela Cruz (UST). Other winners were Jhoana Garces, Princess Spica Cagande, and Assoc. Prof. Hendrik Freitag (2nd place; ADMU) and Jan Kerwin Codiniera, Juan Miguel Lopez Franco, Van Gambalan, JC Maranan, and Asst. Prof. Sonia Javier (3rd place; UST). The two winners for the Best Graduate Student Oral Presentations were Mr. Bi Wei of the National University of Singapore and Mr. Mark Louie Lopez of the University of Santo Tomas.
To ensure the sustainability and the continued growth of freshwater biology in the country, local scientists met during the second day of the symposium to establish the Philippine Society of Freshwater Sciences (PSFS), which was envisioned to take charge in the organization of all succeeding PSFBE meetings. This was announced during the closing ceremonies and was capped off by an announcement that the University of the Philippines – Diliman will be the venue of the next PSFBE which will be held in 2018.
The last day of the symposium was spent on a trip to the Taal Lake Conservation Center and the volcano island of Lake Taal organized by Pusod Inc. – a non-governmental organization which promotes the conservation of Lake Taal and its environs.