Officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) led by Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Director Theresa Mundita Lim and DENR-NIR Director Al Orolfo, together with local officials of Kabankalan City led by Mayor Isidro Zayco led the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of a RAMSAR marker for the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area (NOCWCA) at the Kabankalan City Hall on February 2, coinciding with the global celebration of World Wetlands Day (WWD).
In October 2016, NOCWCA was declared a Ramsar site by the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. Stretching 109.52 kilometers, this coastal wetlands conservation area in Negros Occidental straddles 10 local government units, from Bago City down to the municipality of Ilog.
In her keynote speech, Lim underscored the significance of the declaration of NOCWCA as a Ramsar site.
“With the declaration of NOCWCA as a Ramsar site in 2016, it now becomes part of the wetland system of international importance,” Lim said.
She also explained this year’s theme of WWD, Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction, saying that wetlands play a vital role in minimizing the negative impact of climate change.
“Wetlands, NOCWCA included, protect communities from storm surges and rising sea level. Also, when properly managed and continually protected, wetlands could provide sustainable livelihood to fishermen,” she said.
The BMB chief lauded the move of local officials to construct a seven-footer Ramsar marker for NOCWCA as it will serve as a constant reminder of the need to protect the coastline of Negros Occidental because of its local as well as its global significance.
“The Philippines is highly vulnerable to climate change. But because of the wetlands, we are becoming resilient during natural calamities,” she said. According to her, recent studies showed that wetland ecosystem minimize damage during storm surges and rising sea level.
The WWD was first celebrated in 1997 globally, with the goal of raising awareness about the significance of wetlands.
Relatedly, Orolfo announced the recent recognition accorded to NOCWCA as one of the newest "flyway sites" for migratory birds in the East-Asian Australasian Flyway (EAAF) region.
According to him,, the recognition was made during the 9th meeting of the EAAF Partnership held in Singapore on January 11-15.
EAAF is one of the nine major migratory waterbird flyways in the world and is home to over 50 million migratory waterbirds --including shorebirds, Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans), cranes, and seabirds (for example divers, cormorants, gulls, shearwaters, and auks) -- from over 250 different populations.
"This recognition and certification is another output achieved through common effort of all stakeholders," Orolfo said. “Starting as a community initiative, the NOCWCA is now an internationally-recognized local conservation area which the national government, through the DENR-NIR, fully supports and recognizes.”
The wetlands serve as one of the important sites for migrating shorebirds that breed from northern Asia and Alaska, and spend the non-breeding season in Southeast Asia and Austral-Asia.
Some 73 species of water birds such as Sterna albifrons (Little tern), Dedrocygna arcuata (Wandering whistling duck), and the Egretta garzetta (Little egret) are found in NOCWCA.
Five globally threatened species, including the Calidristenuirostris (Great knot), Egretta eulophotes (Chinese egret), Numenius madagascariensis (Far eastern curlew), Numeniusarquata (Eurasian curlew), and the Tringa guttifer (Spotted greenshank or Nordman's) can also be found at the newly declared EAAF site.
Two kinds of species, which are nearly globally threatened like the Limosa limosa (Black-tailed godwit) and the Limnodromussemipalmatus (Asiatic dowitcher), are also found in this idyllic paradise.
“With federalism as a vehicle for the new vision for the advancement of country’s sustainable development, the NOCWCA experience shows that local empowerment with strong support from the national government will work and achieve the common goal of conservation and preservation of our natural habitat both for humanity and biodiversity,” Orolfo said.
With the new declaration, NOCWCA joins with the other sites in the Philippines that were renowned for its international importance in the conservation of migratory waterbirds like the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, Naujan Lake Natural Park and Tubbataha Reef Natural Park. ###