Imagine a pond that is undisturbed by human hands. To get there, it requires walking through a forest trail while being caressed by vines that brush against your face. At the end of this trail, a circle of trees surround an unmoving body of water where flock of wild Philippine ducks—which are threatened wild animals becoming fewer each year—float silently. It is a scene as calming and tranquil as it is hard to find in current times, or is it?
Hard to believe as it may be, all of the above can be found in a location that will surprise the generation that grew up on this side of the century: Manila Bay.
Given what can be currently seen in the waste-filled and under-threat-from-reclamation coast of Manila Bay from Bataan to Bulacan and Metro Manila to Cavite, the surprise is understandable. Yet it does not keep it from being lamentable for, historically, Manila Bay has long been known as a center for biodiversity in the Philippines.
In the early 1980s this coastal area was estimated to hold as many as 32,000 individual birds scattered throughout the several surrounding regions. This high number indicates how widespread healthy and ecologically functioning mangroves, mudflats, swamps, and beaches used to be in the Philippine capital, areas that are under great risk from disappearing today.
Staring last November 2013 until January, Haribon Foundation has gone around various schools to share with young students the importance of the remaining coastal habitat and wildlife of Manila.
The program entitled “Ipagdiwang ang Pagbalik ng mga Ibon: Welcome to the Birds” involved an education campaign about the migratory bird season, the annual phenomenon were thousands of wild birds from as far away as China and Siberia, enter the Philippines to escape the harsh northern winters by resting and feeding in wetland areas such as Manila Bay.
Through conducting seminars that showcased the richness of Philippine biodiversity including the habitat of migratory birds, the foundation was able to focus the attention of these students to environmental issues such as the consequence to people of the rapid degradation of forests and wetlands in the Philippines.
To ensure that the students remembered what they learned, these seminars were followed by an exposure trip in the form of bird watching at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-tourism Area. More commonly known as Freedom Island, the 175-hectar protected area is one of the densest remaining mangrove areas in Manila Bay.
As such, the area still hosts a good variety of migratory birds.
Through the use of binoculars in a mini-safari and the cooperation of several schools and volunteers from the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, each participant was given firsthand experience in seeing the beauty and significance of biodiversity and the threats they are currently facing.
Just like birds that point towards the health of the environment, the faces of the students as they reacted in wonder at each new species they spotted will hopefully be an indicator as well of an incoming generation of future nature conservationists.