By Tonette Orejas
Last updated 08:55pm (Mla time) 10/08/2006
CANDABA, Pampanga -- A 102-hectare
private fishpond, declared a protected haven for migratory
birds here, became the starting point of a two-day meeting
by at least 40 wetlands conservationists from 20 countries
in Asia on Sunday.
The participants are country representatives
to the Asian Waterbirds Census, held usually every January since
1987, according to Dr. Taej Mundkur, coordinator of the Wetlands
International (WI) in South Asia, the organizer of the meeting.
This is the group's first meeting in
the Philippines, said Carlo Custodio, chief of the ecosystem management
specialist section of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The meeting aims to establish "a more
coordinated census next year, [and] get a snapshot of the distribution
[of the birds]," Mundkur told the Inquirer before setting out for the
The census has drawn 10,000 volunteers
and more are needed not only to count the birds but also promote the
conservation of wetlands as habitat for birds and water source for
Mundkur said January is a good month
to tally the birds because they're more stable in their borrowed
habitat after crossing continents.
Michael Lu, chair of the Wild Birds
Club of the Philippines, said globetrotting fowls start coming to
Candaba in October but typhoon Milenyo, which battered Luzon two
weeks ago, might have destroyed many nests. Egrets and terns were
seen here on Sunday. The birds' destination is a small part of
the 32,000-hectare Candaba Swamp in Barangay Vizal San Pablo.
The ponds have been left undeveloped by the family of Mayor Jerry
Pelayo to give the birds a breeding place and winter refuge.
Custodio said the Candaba experience
was a "showcase" that local governments could indeed be an active
instrument in wetland conservation efforts.
Candaba Swamp is considered one of
the three important wetlands in the country, aside from Olango
Island in Cebu and Liguasan Marsh in Mindanao.
Lu said the January 2006 census at
the two Vizal San Pablo ponds counted over 11,000 fowl, a few of
them rarely seen here.
The conservation effort comes with a
heavy price, said Pelayo.
Had he harvested the tilapia in the ponds,
he would have netted sales of some P1 million.
"No regret though, because it's helping the
environment and it is home now for the birds," he said.
Mundkur said in most countries,
"wetlands are under grave threat."
He said that was because of what
people do with wetlands, and also because of global climate change
and sea level rise that are contributing to drought.
Agricultural activities, urban settlement
expansion and industries' growth degrade the wetlands that are a natural
catch basin for rainwater.
"There has to be local action for global
benefit," Mundkur said, adding that he hoped conservation efforts would
continue to grow as a movement.
As for the avian flu that has struck Asia,
Mundkur said WI is "still trying to understand the real link between
migratory fowls and the deadly avian strain H5N1."
Mundkur said ducks and geese are "natural
reservoirs of the flu but not the highly pathogenic strain."
"But vast majority of testing showed that
wild birds were negative of the virus," he said.
Phil Straw of the Australian Wader (shore birds)
Studies Group said the challenge for governments remains the same: restore
the wetlands and use these in a sustainable way.
"That means learning to balance the needs of people
and wetland beings in a wise way," he said.