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Bird defenders get international boost

FREQUENT FLYERS These winged migrants off Manila Bay
now occupy a place of “international importance.

Chalk this one up for avian enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists.

Groups defending a bird sanctuary on Manila Bay against reclamation projects and disapproving aviation authorities have obtained international validation for their cause.

The Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) was recently included on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

The list is drawn up in line with the Ramsar Convention, an international environmental treaty adopted in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 to promote the conservation and sustainable use of swamps, lakes, rivers, mangroves and salt pans across the globe. The treaty currently covers 165 countries and 2,109 wetlands or “Ramsar sites.”

Sixth in PH

The Las Piñas-Parañaque sanctuary is the sixth Ramsar site to be declared in the Philippines and the only one in Metro Manila. The others are the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary in Mindanao, the Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro province, the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu province, the Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park in the Sulu Sea, and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan province.

The Ramsar secretariat announced LPPCHEA’s inclusion in the list in a website post on March 15. In a visit to the country last month, Ramsar secretary general Anada Tiega handed the certificate to Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

LPPCHEA is a 175-hectare urban coastal wetland that covers two islands—Freedom Island in Parañaque and Long Island in Las Piñas—and some 30 hectares of dense mangrove forests.

Stopover for 82 species

In an interview on Saturday, Wild Bird Club of the Philippines president Mike Lu said the sanctuary can host up to 5,000 birds at a time from 82 species. Two of these species are now considered threatened, the Chinese Egret and the endemic Philippine Duck, he said.

“Most of them are migratory, coming here from Siberia from August to April,” Lu said. The club is a member of the sanctuary’s management council.

The Ramsar web post noted, however, that the site is under threat from “ongoing land reclamation projects and mangrove cutting” as well as   residential and industrial wastes from surrounding areas.

It stressed that wetlands should be restored and rehabilitated for being sources of biodiversity and “great economic, scientific, cultural, and recreational value for the community.”

They also “play a vital role in climate change adaptation and mitigation,” it added.

The LPPCHEA was declared a critical habitat and ecotourism area under Presidential Proclamation No. 1412 in 2007.

But environmentalists have been campaigning since last year against plans to reclaim parts of Manila Bay for commercial development, which they say would have adverse impacts on the sanctuary.

Need for special protection

Former Las Piñas representative and now senatorial candidate Cynthia Villar has filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking protection for the sanctuary and questioning a 635-hectare reclamation project backed by the Philippine Reclamation Authority and the local governments of Parañaque and Las Piñas.

In a statement on Saturday, Villar said the Ramsar recognition highlighted “LPPCHEA’s global importance to biodiversity and the need to give it special protection from various threats.”

“I have repeatedly talked about the catastrophic effects that the proposed reclamation project will bring about, including the damage to the bird sanctuary as well as to the mangrove forest and marine habitat. (It) will also cause severe flooding in 37 barangays in Bacoor (in Cavite province), 11 in Parañaque and 17 in Las Piñas,” she said.

Last year, defenders of the sanctuary also had to contend with aviation officials who warned that the birds posed safety hazards to aircraft at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Naia’s state operator, the Manila International Airport Authority, called for the sanctuary’s removal, citing the rising number of bird strikes reported by local and international airlines.

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