GMANews. March 19, 2013
by Rouchelle Dinglasan
Metro Manila’s last bird sanctuary has been included on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.
Signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971, the Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Its flagship program, the Ramsar List, enumerates wetlands of international importance or needing special protection.
Being on the list means the bird sanctuary is considered of global importance to biodiversity.
The Philippines joined the Ramsar Convention in 1994. Countries that join the Convention agree to "include wetland conservation considerations in their national land-use planning," and commit to implement and promote "the wise use of wetlands in their territory."
A critical habitat
The Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA) covers 175 hectares in the Manila Bay area between the cities of Parañaque and Las Piñas.
Situated west of the Manila-Cavite Coastal Road and bounded in the north by the Parañaque River and in the south by the Las Piñas River, the area includes two islands with mudflats, mangroves and a diverse avifauna.
At least 5,000 individuals of migratory and resident birds have been recorded at the site, including about 47 migratory species such as the vulnerable Chinese Egret (Egretta eulophotes), Ramsar said.
LPPCHEA became the country's sixth site on the Ramsar List last Friday.
View Las Pinas - Paranaque Coastal Lagoon in a larger map
According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, LPPCHEA is the only bird sanctuary in the country that can be found in an urban setting.
Presidential Proclamation No. 1412 established the LPPCHEA in 2007 and designated it a "critical habitat." An amendment to the proclamation in 2008 directed relevant departments "to ensure the preservation of existing mangrove, mudflats and ecosystems in the area that supports natural ecological functions," according to the DENR's website.
The most important of the resident bird species is the vulnerable Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica), which breeds at the site. Records from 2007-2011 show that the site also supports at least one percent of the estimated population of Black-Winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) using the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, Ramsar added.
"Efforts to ensure the long-term conservation of this site are ongoing," it said.
The Philippines has five other sites on the Ramsar List: the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Santuary in Mindanao, Naujan Lake National Park in Oriental Mindoro, Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan, and the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Sulu Sea.
Threats to LPPCHEA
The wetland is threatened by being in one of the world's most populated metropolitan areas, said Ramsar.
"The site faces threats associated with being located near densely populated areas," the internationally recognized agency noted. "Waste from nearby cities accumulates along the coast and heavy metals and other organic contents coming from residential and industrial effluents affect surrounding areas."
One of the biggest threats to the protected area is a pending P14-billion reclamation project which will surround the islands and eventually block the area's connection to the rest of Manila Bay.
Another is the prospect of its entire removal, as the Manila International Airport Authority claims that the wetland's proximity to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is the cause of bird strikes to planes.
Airport authorities and Philippine Airlines president Ramon Ang have been calling for the transfer of the bird sanctuary, saying that the migratory birds finding refuge in the sanctuary are the ones involved in the bird strikes at NAIA.
However, the airport authorities have yet to present scientific evidence confirming their claim. According to the DENR, local pigeons, or kalapati, are the ones involved in the strikes at NAIA. — BM, GMA News