By: Dennis P. Liuag
Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 17, 2011
Metro Manila could lose the remaining wetlands
and last refuge for endemic Philippine Ducks on its southern
coastline if the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) pushes
through with extensive reclamation and real estate development
plans in that part of Manila Bay.
The proposed Three Island Reclamation and
Development Project, a P14-billion joint venture of the PRA
and Cyber Bay Corp., involves 635 hectares of upscale private
residential, commercial and tourism estate. The project is
beside the protected mangroves, lagoons and ponds designated
as the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat
and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA).
The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP)
considers the reclamation project a serious menace to the
mangroves and lagoons. The site is an important feeding and
rest area for endangered birds that migrate south to escape
the harsh winter in China, Japan and Siberia. The mangroves
also serve as natural barriers to storm surges, provide spawning
grounds for marine life and filter pollutants from the water.
“In the past years, the lush open spaces
of these coastal wetlands have provided residents and commuters
with a delightful break from the incessant assault of concrete,
glass and steel which have become poor substitutes for an
authentically uplifting bayside view,” said urban planner
Anna Maria M. Gonzales.
Gonzales, who has worked closely with conservation
groups in promoting the 175-hectare protected habitat, said
“counterparts around Asia take care to preserve natural
habitats yet the PRA conveniently ignores public interest
and basic science while agreeing to haphazard development
leading to destruction of environmentally critical sites.”
Furthermore, the PRA plan threatens to erode
the already precarious situation of fisherfolk and shellfish
gatherers who depend on the conservation of mangroves and
mud flats for livelihood in eight coastal barangays of Las
Piñas and Parañaque Cities, she said.
In the 1970s, more than 28,000 waterbirds
were recorded in the coastal areas of Pasay, Parañaque
and Las Piñas. Today, only an average of 5,000 waterbirds
(migratory and resident) have been recorded in the area since
the annual census began in 2004.
The WBCP surveys made early this year listed
80 species of birds known to breed, feed or take up temporary
residence in LPPCHEA. (See list.)
Forty-four species are migrants and seven
species have resident and migrant populations.
As a feeding and rest stop along the East
Asian Migratory Flyway, the lagoons shelter 2.2 percent of
the global population of Black-winged Stilts, 0.5 percent
of the worldwide population of Common Greenshanks and the
rare Chinese Egret.
Several shorebird species start arriving
from northern Asia and even Alaska in August and September.
The lagoons are the only place in Metro Manila
where the Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica), also known as Philippine
Mallard, maintains a breeding colony.
Because of the diversity of species it offers,
LPPCHEA is one of several bird sites named by the Department
of Tourism in “Birdwatching in the Philippines,”
the two-volume book promoted at the 2009 World Travel Mart
in London, and at the British Bird Fair and Taipei International
Birdwatching Fair held last year.
Manuel S. Sabater, a community environment
and natural resources officer assigned to the Metro Manila
office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources,
prepared a vulnerability assessment report in 2010 that sparked
concerns about threats to the habitat.
The coastal barrier islands in the area,
known as Freedom and Long Islands, are significant parts of
an ecosystem, the report said. It noted that development along
the lines of the PRA plan would greatly impede circulation
of saltwater, while a proposed channel to extend the mouth
of Parañaque River westward would cut across the bird
roosts and breeding areas in the northern section of Freedom
Beach-front development on this island would
allow land access to more predators and the resulting storm-surge
area in the present lagoon is expected to adversely affect
A recently discovered aerial photograph of
the site, dated 1982, showed the existence of a “third”
barrier island, which has since disappeared as a result of
wave erosion, sea level rise and quarrying for reclamation
Critics of the reclamation project point
out that the PRA seeks to create real estate in the same site
where its earlier activities contributed to the loss of this
The reclamation project will likely worsen
flooding in Metro Manila, according to former Las Piñas
Rep. Cynthia Villar. Environmentalists expect an increase
in sea levels and extreme weather events as a result of rapid
climate change over the next decades.
“Research by the Tyndale Center in
the United Kingdom suggests we need a 10-percent increase
in green space in our cities to combat climate change,”
said Gonzales. She expressed concerns over increasing urban
heat-island effect resulting from new urban sprawl.
Not against development
Michael Lu, an entrepreneur and regular visitor
to the site since 2004, said birdwatchers like himself were
not opposed to development in the area. “But we are
for development with nature, sustainability and natural heritage
in mind,” he said. “The WBCP wishes to underscore
that these mangroves and lagoons are important, not only as
a birdwatching site but also as a natural barrier, marine
nursery, pollution filter and carbon sink.”
Gonzales said the land reclamation project
would “change soil and water quality and could eventually
kill off the mangroves and crustaceans, worms and mollusks
on which birds feed” by choking off the entry of seawater
from Manila Bay in the two lagoons.
Lu, who helped document birdlife in the grassland
and wetland ecosystem before its destruction to make way for
Pagcor City to the north of the coastal lagoons, said disturbance
by landfill and construction operations as well as increased
vehicular traffic and light pollution would pose unnecessary
stress to breeding herons, waterfowl and grassland species
like owls and warblers.
“The coastal lagoons are the last refuge
of the Philippine Duck along the Metro Manila coast,”
said Christian Perez, a Frenchman who settled in the country
after retiring from the Asian Development Bank. “It
will be a tragedy if reclamation plans should push through,”
said Perez, who took up birdwatching a few years ago.
Threat to air travel
Some quarters have questioned the existence
of the protected area, saying the migratory birds that congregate
there pose a threat to air traffic. But birdwatchers Carl
Burke and Mark Wallbank disagree.
Burke, a retired fire operations supervisor
who was responsible for bird abatement at the Sacramento International
Airport in California, said bird strikes were a global problem
and any successful bird abatement program required good science.
Wallbank, a British-licensed pilot, who had
joined several nature trips to the lagoons, noted that London
Heathrow airport had a large reservoir directly to the west
of its main runways. Thousands of migratory ducks, more than
the numbers in the coastal lagoons, take up residence on the
reservoir near Heathrow during winter but these are not considered
a problem, Wallbank said.
Open spaces at airports naturally attract
birds, according to Burke. He proposed a partnership consisting
of airline officials, airport managers and community-based
organizations to develop wildlife hazard management plans,
which involve regular bird-dispersal activities using dogs
and nonlethal firecracker bursts.
“What the Naia [Ninoy Aquino International
Airport] management should do as a matter of urgency is to
cover any open ditches on the field with wire netting to deter
egrets from feeding and posing a danger to aircraft,”
The WBCP and other conservation groups hope
to replicate environmental success stories, like the Mai Po
Reserve and Hong Kong Wetland Park in China, Guandu Nature
Park in Taiwan and Bang Poo in Thailand.
While opposed to further reclamation and
heavy construction in and adjacent to the mangroves and lagoons,
the birdwatchers and conservationists have a ready alternative.
Gonzales and her fellow advocates are proposing the protection
and expansion of the sanctuary.
Conservationists plan to establish a nature
trail through the beach forest, walkways in the mangroves,
as well as bird observation hides and towers. The main feature
in the built-up area will be a modest natural history center
Amenities will include a hostel for overnight
visitors, dining areas, washrooms and a parking lot. Sections
of the lagoons will also be set aside for local subsistence
“The nature sanctuary is a win-win
situation. This will be a sanctuary for birds and marine life,
a center for science education and environmental research,
a local source of livelihood and certainly a recreational
haven where city dwellers can escape the stress of urban life,”
Civil engineer Jun Osano recently spent Sunday
afternoons with his 11-year-old daughter Yana, picking up
plastic wrappers and Styrofoam fragments from Freedom Island
beach. “Our children deserve to grow up in a city with
green public spaces,” he said while observing a flock
of Night Herons.
“Malls are great places,” Osano
said. “But our kids also deserve alternatives to concrete
and steel, like the opportunity to be immersed in nature and
appreciate our diversity of life on our planet.”
The coastal lagoons are open to the public.
To reach the site, take the Manila Coastal Road from Roxas
Boulevard and turn right at the service road just before the
toll plaza. Visitors must show IDs and register at the gate
before being allowed access. For guided visits, please contact
WBCP at www.birdwatch.ph.
(Dennis P. Liuag works for a private development
bank in the Makati Central Business District, where flocks
of Night Herons regularly fly past office buildings at sunset.)