ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy Cimatu issued Department of Environment and Natural Resource Administrative Order (DAO) 2021-36, declaring the 405-hectare Sasmuan Bangkung Malapad Coastal Wetland in Sasmuan town as a critical habitat and ecotourism area.

The move aims to intensify government efforts in the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, and the protection of mangrove and coastal ecosystem, including migratory birds that frequent the area.

Under the DAO, the said coastal wetland will now be formally known as the Sasmuan Bangkung Malapad Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (SBMCHEA) and will be sustainably managed by the DENR and the local government of Sasmuan in Pampanga.

Paquito Moreno, executive director of the DENR regional office, said the DAO would serve as a legal framework to protect the SBMCHEA mangrove forests and mudflats, which is a valuable ecosystem found within the more than 3,000-ha Sasmuan Pampanga Coastal Wetland -- a wetland of international importance and conferred last February 2021 as the 8th Ramsar Site in the country and first in Central Luzon.

“SBMCHEA is an important habitat to many endemic and threatened water birds including Philippine duck, Black-faced spoonbill, Chinese egret, Far eastern curlew, Malaysian plover, and other migratory bird species,” he said.

He said collaborative works are essential to maintain its ecological services and other biological and cultural values, which are fundamental to conserve and enable this ecosystem as a driving force in the region’s socio-economic and ecotourism growth.

With the declaration of the Bangkung Malapad as a critical habitat and ecotourism area, stricter monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws will be done to avert and combat destructive activities within the SBMCHEA.

The DAO prohibits the dumping of wastes detrimental to wildlife, squatting or occupying any portion of the critical habitat, burning, logging, quarrying, mineral exploration, and illegal fishing and fishponds and dumping of hazardous wastes within the SBMCHEA.

Moreno also urged the public to report any person found violating the law to the DENR to stop them from destroying the environment and sustain the rich natural resources of SBMCHEA.

The DENR, along with the local government and communities, will likewise implement the SBMCHEA management plan to address site management strategies and activities on habitat protection, rehabilitation, community organizing, promotion of environmental education and awareness, and other sustainability measures.

Apart from being an important habitat to migratory birds, the area is known for its vast mangrove forests where species like Api-api are abundant.

SBMCHEA is a mangrove islet in the Pasak River, and part of the large and enclosed sea of Manila Bay that was formed by the volcanic sediments from the Mount Pinatubo’s devastating eruption in 1991.