A large number of black-faced spoonbills (Platalea minor), a migratory bird considered an endangered species, was spotted during the annual Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) in Barangay Taliptip in Bulakan, Bulacan last 11 January.
Twenty-four individual black-faced spoonbills, the highest number ever reported for the species in the Philippines, were recorded during the census and were seen feeding and resting along the tidal flats and mangrove areas along the Manila Bay section.
The last sighting of this species in the country was on 12 January 2019 also in the course of the AWC along Manila Bay in the coastal wetlands of Sasmuan, Pampanga.
For over a century before last year, sightings of the black-faced spoonbill have not been recorded in the Manila Bay as the species’ most recent appearances were recorded in Palawan, the Bicol River Estuary, Olango Island in Cebu and Batanes.
This rare migratory bird originates from mainland China and North Korea and travels during the winter to the southern coast of China in countries such as Hong Kong, Macau, Japan and Taiwan.
According to Arne Jensen, Wetlands International Associate Expert and WBCP records committee chair, around 200,000 waterbirds spend the winter months along Manila Bay’s coastline.
The black-faced spoonbill is the only spoonbill categorized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as endangered. It is heavily dependent on undisturbed coastal wetlands rich in tidal flats.
Its migration route along the East-Asian Australasian Flyway needs the involvement of countries and policy agreements between government agencies and the private sector for the conservation of coastal wetland areas.
The AWC was conducted in multiple sites in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau, Wetlands International Philippines and the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines.
International conservation societies such as the Taiwan-based Black-faced Spoonbill Association monitor the sightings of these birds to help guide efforts to bring up populations from the drastic drop to under 300 individuals in the ‘80s to the 2018 census count of 3,941.
For two-thirds of the population to survive, 10 areas along river deltas and mudflats have been identified as needing protection and restoration. Yet, only 1 percent or 200 hectares of Manila Bay is protected and reclamation threatens to destroy critically vulnerable wetlands.
Jensen reminds that the Philippines, as a signatory to the Convention for Migratory Species and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International importance, has to take immediate actions to protect and restore remaining wetlands. This is not only for the survival of migratory species that the country agreed to protect through international agreements.