Bird on brink of extinction flies over Apo Reef park
CITY OF CALAPAN — One of the world’s critically endangered seabirds, the Christmas Frigatebird, was spotted for the first time at Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP) in Sablayan town in Occidental Mindoro province, the third record of the species in the Philippines outside of the Sulu Sea.
Geoff Tabaranza, research program manager of Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (MBCFI), said the sighting of the bird “highlights the significance” of ARNP as a conservation site.
The park, he said, serves as “nesting ground for seabirds and a stopover feeding site for migratory species.”
MBCFI, which celebrated its 10th year anniversary late last month, documented the juvenile Christmas Frigatebird, or Christmas Island Frigatebird (Fregata andrewsi), at the ARNP on June 25.
The bird was first recorded in the country in Tawi-Tawi in 1995, said MBCFI in an e-mail to the Inquirer.
Since then, a total of 161 individuals have been recorded from the Sulu Sea with only one record from Metro Manila in 2013 and a record this year in Panay.
Bob Natural, a biologist and MBCFI’s monitoring and evaluation officer, first spotted a single juvenile frigatebird flying overhead when a survey team was taking a break along the beach.
DENR work, too
Tabaranza said the threatened bird was observed soaring over the main island of ARNP during a survey of seabirds, which was conducted in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-ARNP Protected Area Office.
The survey tallied nesting populations of hundreds of rare Bridled Terns (Onychoprion anaethetus) and Black-naped Terns (Sterna sumatrana).
Earlier on Feb. 7, MBCFI recorded three individuals of an uncommon near-threatened seabird—Streaked Shearwater (Calonetris leucomelas)—for the first time near ARNP.
The Christmas Frigatebirds are large black seabirds measuring up to a meter in length. The juvenile has black upper parts, pale cream head, dark breast band and distinctly shaped white patch in its belly and under the wings.
Tabaranza said the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has included the Christmas Frigatebird on the Red List of Threatened Species as critically endangered—the highest category assigned to species that are on the brink of extinction.
According to the IUCN, the species has a small population that breeds in a tiny area of just one island.
Its global population is in continuous decline due to hunting and accidental trapping in fishing gear.
Other threats included clearing of vegetation in nesting sites, marine pollution and over fishing.
The most recent census, conducted in 2003, estimated a global population of only 2,400-4,800 mature individuals.
The IUCN has urged immediate action to prevent the extinction of this species with the protection of all known and potential nesting habitats, including surveys to identify the extent of its foraging area.
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