Birds in the sea

Economic development threatens internationally important water bird sites in Manila Bay

Manila Bay, on the west side of the Philippine island of Luzon, is a globally important water bird site, concludes the study ‘Internationally Important Waterbird Sites in Manila Bay, Philippines’. Yet, plans for economic development in Manila Bay take the ecological value of the bay insufficiently into account. IUCN NL and Wetlands International are therefore calling on decision-makers to include the results of this report in the situation analysis and further decision-making on the future of Manila Bay.

Header photo: Black headed Gull at the Sasmuan Bangkung Malapad Wetland in Pasac River, Pampanga province (c) Christian Perez

Crucial foraging area for water birds

The report shows irrefutably that the wetlands in Manila Bay, and in particular the mudflats in the northern part, form a crucial feeding area for water birds. “These habitats are located on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and are thus an important stop-over for migratory birds throughout the East Asia region,” says Elke Praagman, Senior Expert Ecosystem Services at IUCN NL.

The report is the result of a study funded by IUCN NL and Wetlands International and lead by Senior Ecologist and Associate Expert Arne Jensen. It maps the species, numbers and distribution of migratory water birds as well as the status of wetland habitats of national and international importance for the protection and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity.

International conventions apply

The study shows that 16 species of water birds gather in large numbers in Manila Bay during winter. “That means the area qualifies as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention,” says Praagman. The habitats of Manila Bay also house 24 species of migratory birds that, according to the Convention on Migratory Species, need protection and management. In addition, there are 11 globally threatened and near threatened species still surviving in Manila Bay but their numbers are rapidly declining.

Several shallow areas in Manila Bay are also crucial breeding grounds for a large number of fish species that are of great importance for both the local economy and various water birds.

Indispensable information on ecological values

 “This information is an indispensable addition to the ongoing planning process for the future of Manila Bay,” Praagman says. There are several plans for large-scale land reclamation and construction of airports and seaports, “The plans are mainly concentrated on the shallow areas in the northern part of the bay,” Praagman says. “As a result, they may pose a significant, irreversible threat to bird populations and fish stocks.”

On request of the National Economic Development Authority of the Philippines, Deltares is currently assisting in developing the ‘Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan’. The master plan is meant to consider the different plans within a single framework.  As part of the development process of the master plan, Deltares and local consultant firms carried out a situation analysis. However, the description of the ecological values of the bay and their international importance to amongst others water birds in this analysis is incomplete. IUCN NL and Wetlands International therefore call on decision-makers to include the results of the study in the situation analysis and further decision-making on the future of Manila Bay.

The report was presented to Deltares, the Dutch Embassy in Manila and local parties involved in the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Plan.

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Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future