• 1,500 waterbirds counted in Manila Bay’s sole mangrove haven

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    A blackcrowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

    A blackcrowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

    In January, the Philippines participated at the International Waterbird Census (IWC), the largest coordinated bio-diversity monitoring program in the world, which marked its 50th year.

    In a span of two weeks, the Haribon Foundation and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) along with other environment organizations and bird enthusiasts counted thousands of waterbirds in various locations in the country.

    On its count on January 20, Haribon and DENR recorded waterbirds roaming at Manila Bay’s only mangrove haven, the Freedom Island, which is part of the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-tourism Area (LPPCHEA). The count contributes to the IWC via the Asian Waterbird Census, devoted to consolidating records in Asia.

    Among 26 species, 1,554 birds were counted, compared to 5,000 birds from a 2004 census. This showed that numbers of birds declined over the years and although Wednesday’s low tide might have contributed to low counts, trends of decrease are still evident in Asian Waterbird Census.

    In a comment by Rey Aguinaldo, project manager of LPPCHEA to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAF), the “number of birds in the area is declining and this might be due to the reclamation activities and prolific development in the area.”

    This plus the vast abundance of plastic, garbage and other debris that can be found on the shores of LPPCHEA threaten the habitat, its birds and the residents living in the area.

    Haribon Researcher David Quimpo (left) and Anson Tagtag of DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau take part in the 50th International Waterbird Census

    Haribon Researcher David Quimpo (left) and Anson Tagtag of DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau take part in the 50th International Waterbird Census

    The bird sanctuary’s importance
    Mangroves, soft bottom, and other marine ecosystems make up “blue carbon:” habitats that absorb and store up to 70 percent carbon and green house gases. Although covering 0.5 percent only of the seafloor, blue carbon plays a large role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Mangrove forests in the Philippines alone may contain up to 1306.9 t C ha-1 (Gevaña and Pampolina 2009, Camacho et al. 2011; Abino et al. 2014).

    Mangrove patches like those found in LPPCHEA also protect communities from strong wave surges and provide them with healthy natural ecosystems, abundant in food and livelihood sources.

    The waterbirds themselves are beacons to ecosystems like LPPCHEA. Their study and numbers communicate the health of any given location, and enable local policy makers and stakeholders to make informed decisions about a given area depending on this data.

    Declared by Presidential Proclamation 1412, LPPCHEA is the only Critical Habitat in Manila Bay. Its declaration in 2007 also makes it the first Critical Habitat ever established in the country.

    Although the law states that existing mangrove, mudflats and ecosystems be “preserved and/or not built over,” reclamation projects continue around the area.

    Mangrove patches in LPPCHEA also protect communities from strong wave surges and provide them with healthy natural ecosystems

    Mangrove patches in LPPCHEA also protect communities from strong wave surges and provide them with healthy natural ecosystems

    And with 30 percent of the country’s population living in Manila Bay according to the Environmental Management Bureau, the amount of plastic and garbage continue to line Freedom Island’s shores.

    Just north of LPPCHEA, a $2-billion construction project is underway. According to Casino News Daily Manila Bay Resorts will be the third of four integrated resorts to be launched in “a multimillion gambling and entertainment complex intended to turn into Asia’s next gambling Mecca…”

    Will Manila Bay’s only protected mangrove safe haven be improved for the health of its feathered tourists, as well as its human visitors? Or will it be paved over for its moneyed ones? The answers to these questions lie not only within continued counts and studies of crucial wetland birds, but within conservation actions and awareness campaigns that count.

    * * *

    In addition to the annual Asian Waterbird Census, the Haribon Foundation holds the Welcome to the Birds (WTTB) festivities, bringing awareness of the importance of wetland areas to migratory birds. WTTB birdwatching events continue throughout the migratory season (February extending into March).

    To learn more or to join a birdwatching event, e-mail volunteer@haribon.org.ph.

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