Bataan’s ‘natural outdoor museum’

Bataan’s ‘natural outdoor museum’

3 December 2018
Bataan’s ‘natural outdoor museum’

A white egret walks past the marker of the City of Balanga Wetland and Nature Park in Barangay Tortugas, Balanga City.

Imagine being with a flock of thousands of migratory birds in a wetland and nature park. It would surely give one a natural high, and relieve the body and soul of stress from daily chores. And Instagram-perfect photos.

The park is the City of Balanga Wetland and Nature Park that is fast-becoming Bataan’s popular tourist destination.

The view deck at the City of Balanga Wetland and Nature Park in Barangay Tortugas, Balanga City

Every day, visitors arrive in the 11-hectare area in the coastal  of Barangay Tortugas to enjoy the scenery and commune with nature in the protected area, hoping to catch a glimpse of the thousands of birds there.

The park is a bird sanctuary frequented by tens of thousands of migratory birds during the so-called “ber” months, from September to December, the peak of the bird migration season.

Migratory bird site

Being part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, one the world’s great flyways, the Philippines is frequented by tens of thousands of migratory birds coming from Australia and New Zealand.

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway covers 22 countries and is used by an estimated 5 million birds from 55 different species to escape the colder regions during winter. Bataan, a peninsula, is one of many migratory bird sites in the Philippines.

Birds of different features, sizes, colors of feathers, shapes of beaks and wingspans can be seen at the park.

Little egrets, purple herons, brahminy kites, peregrine falcon, chestnut-checked starling, white-breasted waterhens, rails, wood sandpiper, rufous-necked stint, grey heron and species of kingfishers, flowerpeckers and sandpipers are just a few of the ibong dayo or migrant birds that can be seen in the park.

Credit goes to the thick mangrove forest, the grassland and wetland, which is ideal for roosting, making crows, waterhens, kites, falcons, hawks, pigeons, herons and egrets very visible in the area.

Tourist destination

Established within an estuary at the mouth of the Talisay River facing Manila Bay, around 4 hectares of the park is already developed for tourism.

It has a parking space, a vast place for children to play on, an information center with assorted articles and reading materials from booklets, pamphlets and other knowledge products about Bataan’s rich biological diversity. It has two concrete view decks and several huts.

The park’s eco-trail, a path walk of bamboo poles leading to the heart of a 7-hectare mangrove forest where 15 visitor’s huts set, is temporarily closed for rehabilitation.  Upon the proposal of the City Tourism Council, the park is planning to replace the wooden eco-trail with concrete stilts and path walk for the safety and convenience of visitors.

According to Alan V. Balbuena, tourism operations assistant of the city, the park is becoming a popular place for family bonding.

“Many are visiting the place now.  This month alone [as of November 15], I estimate that we already have 500 visitors,” he said.

Garcia legacy

Established in 2005, the natural outdoor museum which showcases a well-diversified bio-network, can be considered as a legacy of Enrique “Tet” Garcia Jr., the patriarch of the Garcia clan of Bataan.

Balbuena said it was the former governor who envisioned the establishment of the City of Balanga Wetland and Nature Park, seeing its potential as a tourist magnet while conserving and protecting the migratory birds and their habitat.

Garcia, who passed away on June 13, 2016, at 75, was the father of incumbent Bataan Gov. Albert S. Garcia of the Second District of Bataan, Rep. Jose Enrique “Joet” S. Garcia III and Balanga City Mayor Francis S. Garcia.

The elder Garcia held the positions of governor and Second  District Representative of Bataan since 1987.  He was Bataan’s vice governor when he passed away.

ICM strategy

The development of the park was part of the integrated coastal management (ICM) strategy of the province’s leaders.

Bataan leaders has partnered with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (Pemsea), an intergovernmental organization operating in East Asia, as a strategy to ensure the province’s growth and development while protecting and conserving its environment and natural wealth, including its rich coastal and marine natural resources.

Bataan has sent two delegations in Pemsea’s East Asian Seas Congress 2018 and  Fifth EAS Youth Forum from November 27 to November 30 in Iloilo City.

Among the ongoing ICM activities in Bataan, which targets several Sustainable Development Goals, such as SDG 11, or the Sustainable Communities, and SDG 14 on Life Below Water, are coastal strategy development, beach cleanups, public-awareness campaigns, mangrove rehabilitation and fish/turtle sanctuary establishment.

Ibong Dayo Festival

Balbuena said the development of the park started when the elder Garcia heard stories about the thousands of birds that flock the area.

“It was in 2005 when the former governor, popularly called Mang Tet, started this area.  He invited the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, led then by Michael Lu. They proved that there are lots of birds.  The Department of Tourism, then headed by Secretary Ace Durano, recognized its tourism potential,” he said.

In 2009 Bataan hosted the fifth  Philippine Bird Festival, held every December, which also paved the way for the province’s local festival, the Ibong Dayo Festival.

Last year, however, the festival was moved to February. “Next year, the festival will also be in February,” he said.

During the festival, Balbuena said the government of Bataan, in coordination with the DENR, leads the annual bird count in the province.

Last January the count was 15,000 birds. This is considerably lower than the 25,000 bird count in 2017, wherein around 35 species were recorded by volunteers.

He explained that the decrease might caused by the bird count done during high tide, where the migratory birds may have gone to other low-lying areas.

An outdoor classroom

According to Balbuena, the lone “tour guide” in Balanga City, visitors get to learn not only about the importance of the sanctuary and the ibong dayo but about caring for the environment.

“During the festival, we hold coastal cleanups, we also do mangrove planting,” he said.

Visitors from Balanga, he said, are charged with a measly P5 entrance fee, while those from other Bataan towns are charged with P10.  Those from outside the province are charged P20, the P10 represents the environmental fee and goes to various projects dedicated to promoting environmental awareness.

Several weeks ago, he said New Era College students visited the park and planted mangrove trees.

Another group of students from the Pampanga State also planted hundred mangrove seedlings.

“We also provide an educational tour. Every year, before the Ibong Dayo Festival, all Grade 5 and Grade 6 [pupils] from public schools in Balanga and other Bataan towns, come here to learn about the environment.  It is called Lakbay Kalikasan. The park is open to all students, even college students,” he said.

Important wetland

Even if it is not yet listed among the country’s wetland of international importance, or Ramsar Sites, the City of Balanga Wetland and Nature Park is well on its way to gaining such prestige and stature, said Raul Mamac, head of Bataan Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office.

A Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, or the Convention on Wetlands. It is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The convention has 170 contracting parties and 2,334 sites. It got its name after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the Convention was signed in 1971.

Mamac said Bataan, particularly the wetland and nature park is an important wetland that plays host to wintering migratory birds, as well as endemic bird species that thrive in the province.

There are currently seven Ramsar sites in the Philippines, which are temporary habitats of migratory birds that use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

“We are going there [listed as Ramsar site]. That’s why the DENR and local officials of Bataan are working together to protect the province’s coastal and marine areas. We have thick mangrove forest from Orion to Abucay, and we continue to rehabilitate some areas around Bataan,” Mamac told the BusinesssMirror in mixed Filipino and English in a telephone interview last month.

He hopes that Bataan’s wetland will get its recognition and join the prestigious list of Ramsar sites in the Philippines sooner than later.

Published in Business Mirror.