Sibugay Coastal Wetlands on Ramsar List

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Home to a variety of native and migratory birds, including waterbirds, the Sibugay Coastal Wetlands (SCW) in the Zamboanga Peninsula is undeniably a wetland of international importance.

With an area of ​​172,007.25 hectares, this economically important ecosystem is now being pushed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to be included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Strong commitment

The push to designate Sibugay’s coastal wetlands as a Ramsar site demonstrates the country’s strong commitment to the Ramsar Convention as well as the Convention on Biodiversity and the Convention on Migratory Species, said Michael F. de la Cruz , head of Sibugay Technical Services of the Provincial Office of Environment and Natural Resources (Penro), in a June 6 press release.

Besides the presence of important ecosystem-forming species like coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and mudflats, SCW serves as a gathering, resting and feeding ground for other equally important species like sea turtles. and whale sharks.

Ramsar sites are covered by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

Known as the Convention on Wetlands, it is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971.

Philippines Ramsar Sites

As a member of the Ramsar Convention, the Philippines is required to work towards the wise use of all of its wetlands and to designate suitable wetlands as Ramsar sites.

The country currently has eight Ramsar sites, namely: Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Naujan Lake National Park, Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area, Negros Occidental Coastal Sasmuan Pampanga Coastal Wetlands and Wetlands Conservation Area

International significance

Executive Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity (ACB) told BusinessMirror the importance of acquiring such a distinct title as a Ramsar site.

“We support the DENR and the LGU of Sibugay [local government unit] on their nomination of the SCW as a Ramsar Site. The area being used as a watering place and sanctuary by migrating birds, [it] is a crucial part of the East Asian-Australasian flyway,” said Lim, former director of the DENR Bureau of Biodiversity Management (DENR-BMB), when asked for her comment via Messenger on June 22.

According to Lim, a biodiversity conservation expert, the Sibugay Coastal Wetlands Complex also has huge potential for nature tourism and is already a source of income for locals.

The key to sustainable fishing

Keeping coastal areas healthy is key to sustainable fisheries food supplies, she added.

“Before the pandemic, I could visit the [Sibugay] of wetlands, and I saw the amazing flight of fruit bats at dusk from a panoramic terrace in the municipality of Siay, and I got a taste of the rich fishery resources, attributed to wetlands as a place of spawning and growth for seafood,” she recalled.

The ACB provided support to Siay for bird monitoring and to help with its enforcement before the pandemic.

“We look forward to supporting more activities related to the listing of Sibugay Wetlands Nature Reserve as a Ramsar site,” Lim said.

Ecological connectivity

Anson Tagtag, OIC Division Chief of DENR-BMB’s Caves, Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division, said that wetlands around the world are connected and used by migratory species. at different stages of migration.

In the Philippines, Ramsar sites are places of gathering.

“We need to preserve these habitats. Once lost, the [birds’] the migration process will be interrupted,” he said, referring to the destruction of important habitats.

Tagtag said wetlands are important for the survival of various species.

“Inland and coastal wetlands host different groups of migratory birds. Of course, in coastal wetlands, besides migrating waterbirds or shorebirds, there are mangroves and grasses,” he added.

Migratory waterfowl ‘restaurant’

Tagtag described Sibugay’s coastal wetlands as a ‘restaurant’ for migratory waterbirds.

“Those migrating from Alaska to Australia, from October to March, many waterfowl stop at Sibugay to feed,” he told BusinessMirror by phone June 23.

Tagtag also noted that SCW is known to have mudflats and seagrass beds, which are essential for the survival of many coastal and marine species.

As the Philippines lies in the middle of an important flyway for waterbirds, the need to protect and conserve Ramsar sites is paramount.

“Imagine if our mudflats were destroyed? Where will migrating birds stop to rest and eat? He asked.

According to Tagtag, what makes Sibugay’s coastal wetlands so special is its vast expanse of mangrove forests that are home to more than 300,000 flying foxes or fruit bats, whose existence cannot be overstated.

“These flying foxes are silent planters. They help maintain a healthy forest,” he said, compared to inland wetlands.

Ecological and economic importance

A coastal area located in the southern part of the peninsula, Sibugay Coastal Wetlands has a total of 5,154.74 hectares of mangroves, 3,697.15 hectares of mudflats, as well as estuarine and coastal waters, DENR’s Penro told Zamboanga Sibugay.

The SCW stretches along a 146 kilometer coastline covering a total of nine municipalities and 63 barangays.

It plays an important role in the natural functioning of a river basin or coastal system.

Sanctuary for migratory waterbirds

According to the Zamboanga Sibugay Penro, the wetland serves as a gathering, resting, feeding and breeding ground for various waterbirds, including migratory species.

“During AWC 2018 [Asian Waterbird Census]291 endangered Far Eastern Curlew heads have been recorded in the wetland,” says a document from the Zamboanga Sibugay Penro which was provided to BusinessMirror.

Proponents of the study revealed that banded or reported birds were also documented in the wetland with banding sites in China, Russia, Australia and Japan.

Home to endangered species

SCW also supports endangered species, such as sea turtles, whale sharks, sea cows and saltwater crocodiles.

The vast mudflat is also home to a variety of oysters, scallops and other shellfish.

The bay supports fishing and other sea-related livelihoods which are the main source of livelihood for most coastal barangays.

In a June 21 telephone interview, Georgina L. Fernandez, Head of Conservation and Development/Focal-Nagao Funded Project Section of Penro Sibugay, said mapping of the Sibugay Coastal Wetland is underway to include an updated list of mangroves and mudflats.

“To date, we have documented 68 species of waterbirds, 42 of which are considered migratory. And we have identified four endangered species. Eleven are considered near threatened species,” Fernandez said.

Open up new opportunities

The Sibugay Coastal Wetlands will be renamed the Sibugay Wetlands Nature Reserve upon its Ramsar listing when contracting parties meet in Gland, Switzerland in December.

As such, it will be subject to a more rigorous management regime.

Fernandez said the title will also open up opportunities for international research cooperation, allowing DENR and its partners to learn more about SCW.

“It will also help raise funds for the conservation and protection of the site,” she added.

Judicious use of resources

For his part, Chief Penro Edgardo P. Montojo said in a press release that it is important to advocate for the wise use of wetland resources so that they benefit future generations.

“Here, the Ramsar list will play a unique role,” he said.

Currently, DENR-Region IX is preparing the documents for the inclusion of the SCW in the list. The documents will be submitted to the DENR-BMB, the designated National Ramsar Administrative Authority, for approval to the Office of the DENR Secretary who will then send them to the Ramsar authorities.

Picture credits: DENR/Growth Edition

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