MANILA -- Being an archipelago, the Philippines relies heabily on the sea's bounty when it comes to food. From fresh to dried to fermented, seafood is an important part of the Filipino diet. And Pinoys love seafood in general.
The country's local seafood supply mainly comes from small0scale fishermen. These fisher folk have fish ponds in shallow waters in coastal areas or simply catch fish in the open sea on their small bancas.
Several organizations are concerned about the proposed New Manila International Airport in Bulacan because this could affect fishing communities and an important fishing ground in Bulacan. San Miguel Corporation, the company that is building the new airport, plans to reclaim more than 2,000 hectares, north of Manila Bay.
The area is in Taliptip in Bulakan, Bulacan. It's a coastal area with estuaries, mangrove forests, and shallow waters that is the main spawning or breeding grounds for a lot of fish species in the area.
Non-government organization Oceana recently organized a visit to Taliptip with the media. Oceana aims to protect the Philippine seas by “promoting effective use of science-based policies to ensure sustainable fisheries and vibrant marine ecosystems.”
“Bulacan, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), is classified as a municipal fishing area and artisinal fishing ground or small-scale fisher folk. Why small-scale fishermen are important for us ordinary Filipinos? Most of what you buy at your market, it comes from them and every other market in the Philippines,” explained environmental archeologist Vito Hernandez of the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) Diliman and a faculty of the Science and Society Program of the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Several communities will be affected in the planned development. Many will be displaced and removed from their main livelihood. But most importantly, the natural environment and important food resource will be affected.
“In 2017, BFAR made studies on Manila Bay and they were able to publish it. One of the main studies there, Chapter 6, it identified where marine life spawned and the nursery area of all the fish around Manila Bay. It is where we are right now. Bulakan is the primary, the secondary is the LPPCHEA (Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area), which is protected by the law. Under our laws they are protected because they are largely mangrove areas,” he said.
Some of the fish species found in the area include sardines, mackerel, mullet, round scad, squid, blue crab, and shrimp, among others. Aside from marine life, the waters also serve as a sanctuary for sea birds that mainly get their food in the area.
According to Hernandez, building an airport in the area is an odd choice considering Bulacan is a lowland area. Its foreshore or part of the area between low and high water marks is prone to flooding and in danger due to the rising sea level.
There are several reclamation projects planned around Manila Bay and several organizations fear for the worst.
Taliptip's shallow waters is home to mangrove forests. These forests serve as nurseries for fish and also an important carbon sink, an area that absorbs a lot of carbon. Mangroves also protect the coasts from tsunamis and storm surges.
“One of the biggest carbon sinks and most effective are the mangroves. If you look at it, the sea is a carbon sink, at the same time mountains and forests are also carbon sinks. The more you take our the mangroves, the more you put yourself up to a lot of other hazards, but aside from that, the quality of air and quality of life,” Hernadez said.
As of now, the airport project has been delayed and it is yet to be part of the official list of reclamation projects.
Ideally, the waters in Taliptip need to be rehabilitated. The area is far from perfect because of several fish ponds, which is also a form of reclamation. And the communities living in the area have houses built over the waters.
“Ideally, to protect this area is to bring back the mangroves. That's a bit hardcore because you're going to step on people with fish ponds. So, maintain and conserve at this point would be the best compromise. The immediate is to stop it [airport project]. Speaking as environmental scientist, the government should have that political will which means proper management of our resources,” he said.