By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
CANDABA, Pampanga–Part of the solution to surviving the impact of climate change may be Central Luzon’s Candaba wetlands.
According to an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) Director Crisanta Marlene Rodriguez healthy wetlands, in general, provide natural solutions in coping with climate change. Peatlands, mangroves, swamps and seagrass beds are the world’s most effective carbon sinks, she added.
Joy Navarro of the DENR-BMB’s Caves, Wetlands and other Ecosystems Division said peatlands cover 3 percent of our planet’s land yet store approximately 30 percent of all land-based carbon, which is twice the number of all the world’s forests combined.
Rodriguez said inland wetlands, like rivers and lakes, absorb and store water from excessive rains and reduces floods, while coastal wetlands act as a protective buffer against storm surges and tsunamis, providing a shield to coastal communities.
This year’s World Wetlands Day celebrated on Feb. 2 under the theme “Wetlands and Climate Change highlights the importance of healthy and intact wetlands to one of the most pressing challenges of our times that is climate change.
The BMB chief cited that wetlands are often seen as “wastelands” but when well-maintained, healthy wetlands absorb and store excess rainfall and store it for the dry season, which helps communities cope with extreme weather events protecting them from disasters. They then function as “kidneys” of the earth, she added.
DENR-Central Luzon Conservation and Development Division chief Minerva Martinez said the 32,000-hectare Candaba swamp in Central Luzon serves as one of the 117 important bird areas in the Philippines.
It has consistently been listed in the Asian Bird Map as an important wintering area for migratory birds, regularly supporting between 5,000 and 10,000 birds from October up to April.
Martinez said there are about 54 species of migratory birds recorded in Candaba wetlands since 1940.
Migratory birds coming as far as China, Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand prefer the Candaba swamp as a wintering refuge, feeding and breeding area from October to March to escape the cold winter, said DENR-Central Luzon Assistant Regional Director for Technical Services Arthur Salazar.
However, Rodriguez pointed out that there is now a “quiet” crisis of disappearing wetlands that have affected the population of migratory birds.
Salazar said that in the 2018 Waterbird Census, only 1,149 water birds were seen. This is the lowest recorded migration since 2010, according to DENR and the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, he pointed out.
“We hope this figure will improve this year since the average bird count in Candaba from 2010 to 2017 is more than 7,000,” he added.
Martinez explained that some problems and challenges have beset the Candaba swamp in recent years. These include excessive growth of vegetation, drying of wetlands and fishponds due to climate change, land conversion of wetland into agricultural land, and hunting/trapping/poaching of birds in the area.
“The appreciation for Candaba wetlands means to also consider the ecosystem values of the wetlands including its biodiversity,” Martinez said.