by Agence France Presse
Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 24, 2011
IN DANGER Birds feed at the Las Piñas-Parañaque
Lagoon in Manila Bay. A reclamation project threatens
to destroy the nature reserve and bird sanctuary. AFP
MANILA, Philippines—A plan to reclaim
land on Manila Bay is ruffling feathers, with conservationists
warning the project would destroy one of Metro Manila’s
last nature reserves and bird sanctuaries.
Salt marshes, tidal areas and three mangrove-clad islands
comprising the 175-hectare zone serve as home or resting spot
for dozens of bird species, including the globally threatened
Philippine duck and Chinese egret.
In a sprawling metropolis of more than 12 million people
that has seen decades of chaotic development, the area known
as the Las Piñas-Parañaque Coastal Lagoon is
vital because there are so few other bird habitats left, according
“It is the last coastal frontier in Metro Manila, the
last of its kind,” said Rey Aguinaldo, a US-trained
biologist who manages the coastal lagoons for the Department
of Environment and Natural Resources.
In 2007, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Executive
Order No. 1412 declaring the coastal lagoon as the Las Piñas-Parañaque
Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area and banning activities
that would impede its ecologically vital role as a bird sanctuary.
But now the government is planning to reclaim another 635
hectares in front of the sanctuary to create a new business
Opponents of the planned P14-billion project fear that although
most of the coastal lagoon would initially remain intact,
the bird sanctuary would be left largely cut off from Manila
“The critical habitat would be penned in, and eventually
the mangroves would die because saltwater would not be able
to circulate,” Aguinaldo pointed out. “The saltwater
mud flats would also eventually dry up.”
A highway linking the new business center with the rest of
Metro Manila would also cut through the mangroves, while about
15 percent of one island would be removed for a drainage canal,
according to the project’s design.
“The road may block the tidal water flow … and
thereby dry up the mangrove area and destroy most of the high-tide
roosts for waterbirds,” said Michael Lu, head of the
Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.
But the Philippine Reclamation Authority insists the development
project, which the government agency will carry out with local
authorities and a private investor, would maintain the integrity
of the habitat.
“The expansion is seaward. No mangroves will be cut,”
said Josephine Castro, the agency’s assistant manager
Castro also said the agency had revised the original project
design so that no commercial development but only ecotourism
activities would take place in the coastal lagoon.
In a twist to the debate, Castro pointed out that the coastal
lagoon itself was surrounded by land that was reclaimed from
Manila Bay in the 1970s but was never developed as originally
“There was no bird sanctuary before. It was due to
our activities there that gave rise to the bird sanctuary,”
Squatters initially colonized the area when it was left vacant,
according to Castro.
But when the area began to sink in the 1980s, the squatters
were relocated and the government planted mangroves on the
site to stop the water from reclaiming the land that later
became embroiled in the controversial Amari deal.
Regardless of the site’s origins, Lu warned that the
development project would be a final blow for Manila Bay’s
“There are no other viable alternatives for the waterbirds
anymore,” he said. “More than 95 percent of natural
wetland habitats in the bay have been converted to fishponds.”
Ornithologists had counted up to 28,000 birds in Manila Bay
in a single day in the 1970s, before the fishpond industry
exploded and land reclamation began, according to Lu.
The number of birds in the bay is down to no more than 5,000
today, Lu said.
He said the 80-strong Manila colony of the Philippine duck
would be extinguished if the project went ahead as planned.
Those 80 birds make up nearly 2 percent of the known population
of the species, which is found only in the Philippines, according
Lu also said the loss of the bird sanctuary would put further
pressure on the rapidly declining global population of Chinese
egrets, which spend the northern winter at the coastal lagoon.
The fate of the waterbirds in Manila Bay is a common story
across Asia, where their habitat has been destroyed at an
unprecedented rate in recent decades amid rampant economic
Environment monitor Wetlands International reported last
year that while strong conservation measures had slowed the
decline of waterbird populations in the west, those in Asia
were shrinking quickly.
Habitat destruction was the main reason, with long-distance
migrants being the most vulnerable, Wetlands International