Migratory birds now ‘residents’ on Freedom Island
Perseus Echeminada (The Philippine Star) - March 9, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Migratory birds that seasonally visit the country in search of food are now permanent residents on Freedom Island at the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism area along Manila Bay, an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Monday.

DENR biologist Reynaldo Aguinaldo, who oversees the wetland park, told The STAR that they are documenting birds that have stayed on the island due to the abundance of food there.

Aguinaldo guided reporters into a dense forest on the island where birds of various species can be seen perching on tree branches or foraging the swamps for fish and other aquatic animals.

The island features a hiking trail and bird-watching station near two interior swamps where Philippine Ducks and other bird species abound. Tiny red Christmas berries can also be seen along the trail.

Sen. Cynthia Villar last Thursday announced that an ecotourism park would soon rise on the island as proponents have withdrawn reclamation projects for the full development of the area.   

“Project developers have withdrawn their projects and shifted their plans to the Bulacan area,” Villar said.

 The latest development, she said, is a victory for the protection and development of a world-class wetland wonder just a few kilometers from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). 

Last year, Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said the migratory birds at Freedom Island could complement the development of a modern fisherman’s wharf where tourists from nearby Entertainment City can enjoy a boat ride and sightseeing or dine in a floating restaurant.

Olivarez said the city government is set to convert bulungan fish market along Coastal Road into a fisherman’s wharf either for business or leisure for tourists to enjoy a novel experience in the world-class entertainment complex.

Asked about the danger posed by migratory birds to aircraft at the NAIA, he said with modern technology, bird strikes are no longer a threat to the aircraft industry.

P1.2-B DENR project with USAID

Meanwhile, the DENR has partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for a P1.2-billion project that aims to reduce threats to the country’s rich biodiversity.

Environment Secretary Gina Lopez and US Ambassador Sung Kim attended the launching of the project dubbed “Protect Wildlife” at a Quezon City hotel Monday.

“We need to strengthen the country’s biodiversity for the benefit of the people. Taking care of our wildlife will result in more ecotourism zones. It’s a holistic program,” Lopez said.

Protect Wildlife is USAID’s initiative in the Philippines to align with the US government’s newly signed Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016, which addresses global illegal wildlife trade.

“Natural resources and biodiversity play an important part in the Philippines’ economy. This is why the US government, through USAID, has been working with national and local governments, private sector, civil society and individual communities to strengthen natural and environmental resource management,” Kim said.

“The project will demonstrate that protecting and managing the Philippines’ diverse habitats and species can lead to improved quality of life and community-level, sustainable development. The project also supports the DENR’s commitment to deliver programs that support sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” he added.

The USAID will ensure that the project’s impact is sustained by using an ecosystem approach in addressing threats to biodiversity.

DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau chief Theresa Mundita Lim said the project highlighted the need to fight threats posed by wildlife trafficking, illegal fishing, land use conversion and irresponsible mining.

“The more habitats deteriorate and wildlife existence is endangered, the less we benefit from the goods and services that ecosystems provide to sustain human life,” Lim said.

The DENR identified Palawan, including Tubbataha Reef, and the Sulu archipelago covering Zamboanga City and Tawi-Tawi as pilot areas for the project.

These provinces are exposed to poaching and trafficking of wildlife, destructive fishing as well as loss of habitats due to widespread conversion of forests, wetlands and mangroves to settlements and agricultural lands, DENR said.

Lim noted that the Philippines is a biodiversity hotspot and one of the world’s most ecologically diverse countries.

“People are quick to agree to illegal wildlife trade in exchange for money. What we can do is to provide opportunities, for example, in bird watching, so that people in the community can be trained as tour guides,” she said. – With Rhodina Villanueva

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