Tubbataha’s Angelique Songco receives biodiversity award

Below are excerpts from a press release sent by the KfW Bernhard Grzimek Prize.  

On Wednesday, September 18, KfW Stiftung presents the biodiversity award KfW Bernhard Grzimek Prize and 50,000 euros in prize money to the superintendent of the Marine Protected Area “Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park,” a Unesco World Heritage Site in the Philippines.

Angelique Songco’s exemplary work succeeds in protecting the reef’s extraordinary biodiversity while also meeting the needs of the local population and tourists.

With more than 360 coral species, 600 fish species, eight marine mammals and around100 seabird species, as well as many different algae and seaweeds, Tubbataha Reef is one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Mainly thanks to the dedication of the award winner, this extraordinary natural treasure did not suffer the same fate as many other overfished and dying coral reefs, but has been preserved to the present day. 

Although the Philippine government declared the region a nature reserve in 1988 and in 1993 it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site, illegal fishing and tourism continued to jeopardize this sensitive ecosystem.

Songco, who has been managing the park since 2001, has developed an innovative and powerful strategy. It focuses especially on thorough educational work and on reaching out to convince people in person. In consequence, she has succeeded in raising awareness of environmental issues among the local community and, as a result, people have been taking greater care in using the Marine Protected Area.

Building a community

Above all, her work aims to develop an understanding among locals that increased conservation efforts are essential to securing their livelihoods and to improving living conditions in the area permanently. Carefully regulated tourism and sustainable fishing have taken on major importance as a reliable source of income for the region and the park.

Angelique Songco explains: “It is important to me to explain to people that oceans are not infinite, that they cannot absorb all our rubbish, and that if we continue in this way, there will soon be no fish left for us to catch. For it is only when people start to understand our seas that they begin to treat them with care.”

The 58-year-old’s considerate and caring interaction with people has earned her the affectionate nickname “Mama Ranger” from her team and the local population. Dr Lutz-Christian Funke from the Board of KfW Stiftung points out: “Both a heightened awareness and the willingness to take responsibility are crucial to climate and environmental protection. For this reason, the KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Preis honors charismatic leaders, who tackle ecological problems while also meeting economic needs. They thus create a win-win situation, set an example and inspire others to join in.”

About the award

Climate and environmental protection is one of the four areas of activity of KfW Stiftung.

With its projects, the foundation aims to heighten public awareness of biodiversity – one of the major social challenges of our time – and to draw attention to the importance of protecting endangered species.

The internationally renowned KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Preis is awarded every two years to outstanding organisations or leaders who distinguish themselves in their exceptional endeavour to preserve the world’s biodiversity with creative and innovative ideas.

KfW Stiftung thus honours the lifetime achievement of the long-time director of the Frankfurt zoo and conservationist Professor Bernhard Grzimek, who has rendered invaluable services to the preservation of the planet’s natural wealth in Germany and around the world. 

In 2013, the inaugural prize was awarded to the Frankfurt Zoological Society. The 2015 winners of the second KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Preis were Emmanuel de Merode and Pavan Sukhdev. In 2017, the South African environmentalist Andrew Zaloumis received the award. – Rappler.com