Cimatu cites rare bird sighting in push for Apo Reef protection

ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy A. Cimatu underscored the importance of protecting the country’s National Parks, such as the Apo Reef National Park (ARNP) in the Province of Occidental Mindoro following the reported sighting of the Christmas frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi) by conservation experts recently.

“The sighting of the endangered seabird is an indicator of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystems in ARNP, and that only means that conservation efforts there are bearing fruit and the people in charge of protecting the area are doing a good job,” Cimatu was quoted in a statement as saying.

The Christmas frigatebird, a globally threatened species, is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. A juvenile Christmas frigatebird was seen last June 25 by a team from the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (MBCFI) during a scientific expedition at the ARNP.

The ARNP is home to tremendous coral diversity, as well as numerous species of fish and mammals, such as the dugong.

Located off the town of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro province, the ARNP is the largest reef in the country and the second largest contiguous coral reef on the planet. It is nestled within the Coral Triangle, which is the epicenter of the world’s marine biodiversity and a global priority for conservation.

The sighting of the bird species was first recorded in Tawi-Tawi province in 1995. Since then, more than 150 sightings of the species in the Sulu Sea were recorded.

In its report, the MBCI described the sighting as a “juvenile” seabird with “black upperparts, a pale cream head, has dark breast bands, and distinctly shaped white patch in its belly and under its wings.”

This species of frigatebird is known to breed only in Christmas Island in Australia, located south of Java, Indonesia. It is considered the ninth-most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered bird in the world.

During the 12th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species held in Manila last year, the Philippines pushed for “higher protection” for Christmas frigatebird by including it in Appendix I of the CMS.

Appendix I covers migratory species that are considered endangered or with a high risk of extinction. The listing requires CMS party-states to protect these species by strictly prohibiting their capture, conserving and restoring their habitats and removing obstacles to their migration.

The CMS, adopted by 124 nations and  under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme, is the only global environmental treaty established exclusively for the conservation and management of terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range.

The COP is its main decision-making body that meets every three years to adopt policies and laws, and propose new species under the framework.

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is a journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.