Photos show mangroves in Manila Bay ‘choked’ by plastic pollution | Philippines
There are stray and abandoned flip flops, old foil food wrappers, crumpled plastic bags and discarded water bottles. The mudflats and mangroves of Navotas in Manila Bay are buried in a thick layer of rubbish.
It “almost suffocates the roots of the mangrove,” said Diuvs de Jesus, a marine biologist in the Philippines who photographed the area on a recent visit.
Wetlands are of great environmental importance. They provide essential feeding ground for migrating birds, offer protection against flooding and help fight climate change by absorbing much higher levels of carbon dioxide than mountain forests.
Plastic pollution, however, could devastate the region. Mangroves have special roots, known as pneumatophores, “much like a snorkel that helps them breathe when seawater rises,” says Janina Castro, member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines and conservation activist. wetlands. Plastic can suffocate pneumatophores, weaken and potentially kill trees.
Mudflats and mangroves are already one of the last of their kind in Manila Bay, an area once lined with lush, green shrubs and trees. Manila is believed to be named after the Nilad, a stalked rice plant that grows white flowers and once thrived along the coast. At the end of the 19th century, there were up to 54,000 hectares of mangrove wetlands along the bay, according to an estimate cited by Pemsea, a regional marine protection partnership coordinated by the United Nations. By 1995, it had fallen to less than 800 hectares.
Today, Manila, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is more likely to be associated with traffic jams than with thriving mangroves.
“If only we banned single-use plastics, it would drastically reduce waste,” De Jesus said. He is also worried about the looming threat of reclamation – where the coasts stretch outward as rock, cement and earth are used to build new land in the sea.
The mangroves and mudflats of Navotas are essential to the survival of migratory birds that visit the Philippines as part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway – a route that spans Arctic Russia and North America to Australia and New Zealand.
A number of endangered birds have been seen feeding and resting in the wetlands, including the black-faced spoonbill, the Far Eastern curlew and the great sandpiper. The critically endangered Christmas Island frigate was also seen flying low over Navotas recently, Castro says.
Environmentalists fear that plastic pollution could ultimately harm these species. It breaks down into microplastics, which can be eaten by fish and shellfish and therefore also be ingested by birds. It can also lead to a build-up of toxic chemicals and act as a disease vector, threatening birds and their prey, Castro said.
“A number of these species are currently the focus of conservation efforts in other countries, but these efforts need to be reflected in all staging sites, including the Philippines,” Castro said.
There is a misconception that mud flats are not as valuable or aesthetic as other types of wetlands, Castro said. But they play an important role in tourism, providing livelihoods and protection from waves. “Educating the public on these benefits is essential for its survival,” she said.