The Chinese Crested Tern is a bird species thought to have been extinct 20 years ago. But in the summer of 2000, 4 pairs were sighted in an island off the coast of China. At present, it is estimated that not more than 50 Terns remain alive, classified as critically endangered by the IUCN. Two specimens, one undated and one in 1905, were sighted here in the Philippines, known to be a wintering site for the Terns.
The Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area is a 175-hectare (ha) mangrove area along the Manila Bay that has served as a rare bird sanctuary for such globally threatened bird species as the Philippine Duck, of which fewer than 10,000 remain in 2002, and the Chinese Egret, with an estimated current population of 2,600-3,400. It has been called by biologist Rey Aguinaldo, project manager of the area, as the last coastal frontier of its kind in Metropolitan Manila. It is in fact known to be a possible wintering site of the Chinese Crested Tern.
That fact alone speaks of the potential the LPPCHEA has in terms of ecosystem services. Not only are the mangroves critical for flood control, carbon sequestration and habitation for shrimps, crabs and fishes: it holds great potential for bird-watching ecotourism. Ask the Department of Tourism, which has included LPPCHEA in its National Tourism Development Plan.
The bird sanctuary also serves as a magnet of birds to steer them away from airports. Its mangroves also harbor a healthy coastal ecosystem that small fisherfolk can harvest a bounty from. Indeed, there is much we can harness from a well-kept mangrove ecosystem.
It is currently threatened by a 635 ha reclamation project by the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) aiming to establish an ambitious business center and a highway that will cut through the reserve’s mangroves to link it to the rest of Metro Manila. Not a coincidence, as the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines points out that from a healthy population of 28,000 birds sighted a day back in the 70’s, Ornithologists have identified that reclamation projects around it has reduced the numbers to only 5,000 remaining. Fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya sa Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) have pointed out that reclamation not only caused the 90 percent reduction of the bird population, but also damaged marine resources in Manila Bay, with daily fish catch reduced from a high average of 15 kilos to 1-3 kilos per day.
There is no question that the bird sanctuary matters. The population of migratory birds are indicators of healthy ecosystems that translate to billions of dollars in ecosystem service values. It is unfortunate that business and government interests don’t seem to share this idea. Perhaps any value that cannot be encashed to fulfill the profit motive is simply negligible.