Tree and birds in water

New Waterbird Census in Manila Bay shows 20% decline over three years

A recent Waterbird Census in Manila Bay revealed a decline by more than 20% since 2017. IUCN NL, who co-funded the survey, is worried about this decline and warns that key habitats of waterbirds will further decline due to massive land reclamation projects. One of these is the planned construction of the new Manila Airport located in Bulacan, in which the Dutch firm Boskalis is involved.

Header photo : Heades gull and whiskered tern in Pampanga river © Adrian Constantino

The Waterbird Census tallied 117,000 waterbirds. Of the 62 species observed, over two-thirds are migratory and are from as far away as Siberia and Alaska. All are dependent on wetlands for their survival. The census flagged a continued decline of nearly 20 percent since 2017, or a shortfall of about 30,000 birds over just three years.

Wetlands of international importance

‘Among the declining waterbirds were 15 species present in numbers of more than 1% of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway population, a criteria used to determine wetland sites of international importance,’ Maartje Hilterman, senior expert nature conservation at IUCN NL, explains. ‘Other species observed were 8 species threatened with extinction and 6 near threatened species. Of the 30 species of shorebirds observed, the majority are listed in the Convention of Migratory Species as in need of conservation management action plans.’  

Loss of key habitats

A main reason for the shortfall of over 30,000 birds in just three years time is that key habitats such as sandbars and intertidal mudflats are declining due to issuance of permits to reclaim land. ‘Also commercial dredging of sediments will further deteriorate waterbird habitats,’ Hilterman stresses. ‘Large areas of original mangroves were observed being cut down for the new Manila Airport in which the Dutch firm Boskalis is involved.’

In 2018, a technical report by IUCN NL and Wetlands International on habitats and waterbirds in Manila Bay concluded that economic development threatens internationally important water bird sites in Manila Bay. Since then, the new study finds, four out of ten important sites have been given reclamations, land development permits and large scale dredging permits, or have even been illegally reclaimed.

In need of protection

‘Manila Bay hosts the highest number of waterbirds of any Philippine wetlands. Yet it has less than 200 hectares protected and with a mountain of threats to its habitats and birds,’ says Arne Jensen, Wetlands International Associate Expert. According to Jensen, North Manila Bay is one of the last Philippine wetlands refuges. It offers many types of wetlands on which waterbirds as well as coastal fisher folks depend on.

We therefore call on decision-makers, private sector and financiers to take these worrisome figures to heart and to ensure the protection of key waterbird habitat in Manila Bay.

Plea regarding consequences of Dutch interventions in Manila Bay

Also read this plea by our local partner Leon Dulce, National Coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, who explains how he experiences the consequences of the Dutch interventions in Manila Bay. He also has a clear call to the Dutch government. 

About the waterbird census

The Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, in collaboration with Wetlands International and IUCN NL, assisted the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Asian Waterbird Census in Manila Bay. The census was part of the International Waterbird Count, which Wetlands International coordinates globally in January every year.

Local media coverage

Several media in the Philippines covered the news, amongst others:

Learn more?

Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future