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Birds Place City in a Dilemma

Cebu Daily News
Date: May 09, 2006

By Doris C. Bongcac and Neil Iosif Ilagan

The presence of rare birds at the South Reclamation Project (SRP) has placed the city government in a “difficult” situation, according to SRP manager Nigel Paul Villarete.

Birdwatchers at SRP
Birdwatchers at SRP

Villarete said that while the 300-hectare SRP was designed to enhance the city’s economic development, it would also be a waste to get rid of the birds.

“It is gradually developing into a very interesting situation, one that I wanted to think about carefully. We have to consider its implications,” he said.

Villarete said he discussed the presence of birds with Mayor Tomas Osmeña, but the mayor had yet to decide on the matter.

A prominent bird-watching group has identified the elusive Philippine Duck and the rare Chinese Pond Heron as among the 500 birds of 25 species that have fed and frolicked at the two man-made ponds inside the SRP.

One is actually a flooded portion called Pond B, which is beside the South Coastal Road. The other is the 60-hectare unreclaimed portion called Pond A.

Pond B at the SRP
Pond B at the SRP

The Philippine Duck is endemic to the Philippines. It has been considered as “mysterious” by the bird-watching community because nobody knew where it bred.

“We haven't monitored where the ducks breed. Some birders see them as either young or adult, we never saw them breeding somewhere,” said Nilo Arribas Jr., head of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines Inc.-Cebu chapter.

But he said they were surprised to find rare Chinese Pond Heron because this  bird species was only seen about five times in the last century in the  Philippines, according to  the Guide to the Birds of the Philippines.

Villarete said the city government did not intend to create a habitat for the birds when they envisioned the SRP.

Economic development was all that they had in mind, he said.

“It is strange for an economic infrastructure project to have a certain benefit from out of the blue. We have to think about this carefully,” he said.

Little Egrets at Pond B
Little Egrets at Pond B

Villarete said Pond B was a result of the sudden change in the design implemented by former Mayor Alvin Garcia.

He said Garcia did not follow the elevation of 3.2 meters as specified in the original plan. Instead, the former mayor reduced the elevation to only 2.7 meters, which allowed rainwater to flood the area every time it rained.

“I’m very certain that his (Garcia’s) intention was not to create a flooded area for the birds either,” said Villarete.

But he said stored rainwater might affect the soil’s stability and load carrying capacity of the area. It could also affect the integrity of a portion of the South Coastal Road.

“The logical thing to do is to fill it up but we are also faced with a situation wherein there is now wild life in the area,” he said.

“We have to make a decision on whether to prioritize land use and continue with its intended purpose, which is economic production, or keep such as a wetland,” he added.

But officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Visayas (DENR-7) are not keen on having a bird sanctuary inside the SRP.

Eduardo Inting, DENR-7 director for protected areas, wildlife and coastal zones management sector, said there was not enough vegetation like mangroves in the two ponds that could support these migratory birds.

The size of the ponds could only accommodate less number of birds as compared to existing bird sanctuaries on the islands of Olango and Bantayan.

Reynaldo Yray, DENR-7 chief of the biodiversity and wildlife management section, said the “wetland” was only brought about by seawater seepage, thus making the water in the area dependent on the tide.

He said that even if the ponds would be filled up, the birds would simply head to Olango or Bantayan.

While there is still no development being done at the SRP, the Office of the City Veterinarian plans to use the area for their environmental awareness programs.

Dubbed as “Bird Watch, Don’t Touch!” the program will enable Cebuanos to view these birds without going to Olango or Bantayan, said city veterinarian Alice Utlang.

She pointed out that they considered 90 percent of the migratory birds as “residents” of the area because based on their monitoring, they had not left the ponds when they should have made their homeward journey by February to
March.