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Aggressive developments in wetlands to drive away migratory birds

By Dino Balabo (The Philippine Star)
Updated January 23, 2011 12:00 AM

MALOLOS CITY, Philippines – Extreme winter conditions in colder countries have driven migratory birds to different wetlands in the Philippines, but conservationists and bird watchers warned that aggressive developments and human activities would eventually drive these water birds away.

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) is conducting another census of water birds in the Candaba swamp in Pampanga today. The swamp is one of the identified habitats of migratory birds in Central Luzon.

Dubbed as the Asian Water Bird Census, the annual activity is usually conducted in the first three weeks of January.

WBCP chairman Michael Lu told The STAR in a telephone interview that they expect to see more birds "because we have colder winter this year which is partly felt in the country."

He added, though, that the number may still be lower compared to previous years.

Records obtained by The STAR showed that the number of water birds in the Candaba swamp has consistently dropped in the last three years.

In 2008, a total of 17,000 water birds were counted in the swamp. The figure dropped to 12,613 in 2009, then to 11,000 in 2010.

According to Lu, aggressive developments in identified wetlands is the main factor in the decline in the number of water birds, citing as example developments along the Manila Bay area where mudflats and wetlands were reclaimed.

"The more wetlands and mudflats we reclaim, the smaller habitat we leave for the water birds," he said.

He also noted that human activities like hunting contributed to the decrease in the number of migratory birds seeking sanctuary in the Candaba swamp.

The same sentiment was echoed by Wetlands International, a global organization that works to sustain and restore wetlands and their resources for people and biodiversity.

In its 2010 report titled "State of the World's Water Birds," Wetlands International said, "The Water Bird Index shows that the status of the water bird populations remains poor, and globally, as reported in the recently published Global Biodiversity Outlook, 44 percent of known populations are decreasing and only 17 percent are increasing."

The same report said the water bird population status is least favorable in Africa, South America, and Asia where 62 percent of known populations are decreasing or extinct.

Wetlands International added that the most frequent threats to key wetlands and their water bird populations are habitat loss and degradation driven by infrastructure development, water regulation, agricultural intensification and human disturbance.

They said these same threats are "likely to be aggravated by climate change, and will most probably worsen in the coming years.