Why fear Manila Bay reclamation?


Environmentalists and so-called cause-oriented groups are raising the clarion call for the Marcos administration to suspend reclamation projects along Manila bay, citing environmental concerns and loss of livelihood among fisherfolk communities, particularly in the province of Cavite. Among those hazards cited are storm surges, a naturally recurring phenomenon not just in Manila bay but in many parts of the world. Some Filipinos fear that inland and coastal flooding may worsen if island raising continues along Manila Bay’s coasts. Flooding, they claim, may lead to the loss of coastal wetland habitats.

Though concerns about the effects of climate change have hugged global headlines since the start of the 21st century, what these groups are not telling us exactly is that Sea Level Rises (SLR) are not a recent phenomenon but a centuries-long dynamic of the earth. Earth’s crusts are moving, and ice caps are melting, and with this, sea levels rise. This is a natural phenomenon that humans already know. What concerns many governments worldwide is the acceleration of SLRs at such a pace that it threatens human existence. SLR’s rise doubled over the last half a century due to anthropogenic activities such as burning fossil fuels. The long-term solution is obvious–lessening carbon footprints, yet, such is not a permanent one–it is just delaying the inevitable.

Flooding typically occurs in Manila bay because of SLRs. Manila’s coastal areas are shrinking, but it is not because of SLRs only– most of it is caused by anthropogenic activities such as groundwater extraction that affects soil density. Over migration and urban congestion are the true approximate causes of soil subsidence, not solely on SLRs.

Coastal wetlands are also being threatened naturally by annual SLRs, not because of island raising or reclamation. Studies show that SLRs lead to the death and destruction of coastal wetlands mainly due to the absence of additional spaces for the biosphere. More room or land is needed to avert the loss of coastal wetlands, as oceanic water occupies the marshlands, enabling these wetlands and mangroves to thrive. In reclaimed lands in various parts of the world, such as Singapore, Japan, the United States, Europe, Malaysia, and the Maldives, island raising or reclamation often contributes towards the growth and existence of wetlands. Moreover, island raising also leads to groundwater expansion as reclaimed land becomes aquifers that trap rainwater. More land means more space for wetlands to thrive. This has been scientifically proven.

Without doing anything to fortify our Manila bay, sea level rise will inevitably transform Manila as an SLR hotspot alongside low-lying areas such as Chennai, Western Pacific islands, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and others. Experts say by 2100, sea level rise hotspots will surely harm more than a billion people and cause the destruction of habitats and economies by trillions of dollars. Experts predict a loss of 960 billion euros in Europe due to SLR, and more than 4 million Europeans may become affected.

Of course, SLR may only threaten human lives if people live along coasts. If island raising or reclamation is not undertaken, migration may be the only viable solution. The question arises: What happens now when the government of Cavite decides to evict coastal communities in vulnerable areas of Manila bay? Where will these thousands of fishing families relocate? How about Pasay, Las Pinas, and Paranaque–vulnerable megacities with huge populations? Where will their residents go when subdivisions, commercial establishment, and villages already occupy their available spaces? 

The ideal solution is inland migration, but the lack of available spaces remains a colossal headache; plus, where will the government find money to cover the vast logistical costs of such migration? Urban development is simply not pushing inland or to the East, a reality caused by the greed of real estate developers. SLR is a fact, no doubt about it. The solution remains a difficulty for the government.

Taking a cue from what the Maldives, the US, and other first-rate countries are doing, island raising is one viable solution. With 21st-century technologies, mitigation measures may be used to control tidal waves caused by storm surges, thereby protecting wetlands and mangroves from complete eradication. We now have suitable scientific methods to strengthen further and enhance coastal defenses against SLR, a fact well-known even by environmentalist experts. The beneficial effects of reclamation or island raising far outweigh the imagined costs to the ecology of environmentalist groups.

How about the livelihood of thousands of fisherfolk living along these coasts in Manila bay? Where will they go? How would they provide food for their families?

Question– are these fishermen really subsist daily from their fish catch even in those years when there were no reclamation projects there? Were these folks really living the high life off fishing Manila bay?  Besides, if no such coastal management and disaster mitigation are undertaken by the government, most likely their fishing livelihood will eventually disappear anyway given that SLRs would surely destroy wetlands and mangroves naturally over time. The solution is not an outright call for the cessation of reclamation; rather, communities must help government mitigate the effects of SLR by allowing agencies such as the Philippine Reclamation Authority or PRA to do their job. Fortify bay defenses by island raising. Integrate programs for affected coastal families with the overall reclamation plan.


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