A plan to reclaim land on Manila Bay is ruffling feathers, with conservationists warning the project would destroy one of the Philippine capital’s last nature reserves and bird sanctuaries. Salt marshes, tidal areas and three mangrove-clad islands that make up the 175-hectare (432-acre) zone are a home or a resting spot for dozens of bird species, including the globally-threatened Philippine duck and Chinese egret. In a sprawling megacity of more than 12 million people that has seen decades of chaotic development, the area known as Coastal Lagoons is vital because there are so few other bird habitats left, environmentalists say.
“It is the last coastal frontier in Metropolitan Manila, the last of its kind,” said Rey Aguinaldo, a US-trained biologist who manages the Coastal Lagoons for the environment ministry. Then-president Gloria Arroyo declared the Coastal Lagoons a critical habitat in 2007, banning activities impeding its ecologically vital role as a bird sanctuary. But now the government is planning to reclaim another 635 hectares in front of the sanctuary to create a new business centre for southern Manila. Opponents of the planned 14-billion-peso ($324-million) project fear that although most of the lagoons would initially remain intact, the sanctuary would be left largely cut off from the bay. “The critical habitat would be penned in, and eventually the mangroves would die because saltwater would not be able to circulate,” Aguinaldo said.
“The saltwater mud flats would also eventually dry up.” A highway linking the new business centre with the rest of Manila would also cut through the mangroves, while about 15 percent of one island would be removed for a drainage canal, according to the project’s design. “The road may block the tidal water flow… and thereby dry up the mangrove area and destroy most of the high-tide roosts for waterbirds,” said Michael Lu, head of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. But the government’s Philippine Reclamation Authority insists the development, which it will carry out with local authorities and a private investor, would maintain the integrity of the habitat.