MANILA, Philippines — A proposed coal power plant in Palawan could spell the end for more than a decade of intense conservation efforts for the critically endangered and endemic Philippine Cockatoo, locally known as the Katala, that number only around 1,000 worldwide.
A proposed power plant of DMCI power corporation in Barangay (village) Panacan, Municipality of Narra, Palawan is just a kilometer away from Rasa Island, a major wild life sanctuary of the Katala where more than a quarter, around 280, of the global population of the bird resides.
Indira Widmann, Chief Operations Officer of the Katala Foundation that has been heading the conservation efforts since 1998, said in a phone interview with INQUIRER.net that the construction of the coal power plant would have a severe impact on the birds.
“The electric lines [and] the plant [would be built] in the direct flight path of the cockatoos from the island to the mainland,” Widmann said.
The structure of the plant itself and the power lines will be in the shortest route of the birds when they gather food in the mainland and bring it back to the island for their offspring, she said.
“If there is a [power] plant there, they will look for other ways to go back to the island, which will consume more energy leaving them with little energy left to care for their hatchlings,” Widmann said.
She said that there have been cases of electrocution when some of the Cockatoos landed on the power lines that were already in the area.
“[The Katala is] only found it in the Philippines, but it has global importance. Rasa [Island] does not only house the cockatoo but also other threatened species, its really an area of global importance,” Widmann said.
Started with 25
The Katala Foundation began their conservation efforts on Rasa Island with just 23 individual birds back in 1998.
Since then, they have managed to raise the number of the birds to around 280 in the island through nest protection, a feat that took a lot of time and effort because of the low birth and survival rate of the bird.
“They only breed once a year, and in a clutch of two to four, but the survival rate is [half],” Widmann said.
“There can even be a failed breeding season where we will not have any fledglings,” she said citing extreme season such as El Nino affecting the birds.
The proposed 15 megawatt coal power plant will add stress to the birds and further affect the conservation efforts of the foundation, Widmann said.
The proposed power plant has been approved by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) despite the lack of an endorsement from the Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) of Narra, councilor Marc Angelo Palanca Miguel told INQUIRER.net in a separate phone interview.
PCSD is the multi-sectoral government body, created through Republic Act 7611 or the Strategic Environmental Plan for Palawan Act, charged with the governance and implementation of the law.
Miguel said that there was an endorsement for the project from the Panacan barangay council that was received by the Narra municipal council but this was “lost in the floor” because nobody seconded it.
“After a long process of consulting with public and because of health and environmental concerns, we were hesitant to endorse that project,” he said.
“It was supposed to be under second and final reading … [but no one] seconded the motion for endorsement [so] it was lost in the floor,” Miguel said. “It’s neither approved nor disapproved.”
The endorsement was supposed to pass through from the barangay council to the municipal council and then to the regional council before the PCSD can approve the project, he said.
“I’m wondering why the PCSD endorsement came first before the municipal, when the endorsement is supposed to pass through Barangay, Municipal, and Provincial councils before arriving at the level of the PCSD,” Miguel said.
Katala Foundation has started an online petition (http://bit.ly/saveourcockatoos) to ask PCSD Chairman Governor Abraham Kahlil Mitra to withdraw its endorsement of the power plant project.
“The proposed site is the last stronghold of the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo, a species for which the Province of Palawan has particular responsibility,” the petition read.
“The power plant would disrupt the flight path of foraging cockatoos, resulting in starvation and reduction of the population. It would push the already highly [endangered] species even closer to extinction,” it said.
As of April 9, 2013, the petition has 2,630 signatures and needs 2,370 more.
Environmental group Haribon Foundation has also expressed support for the Katala Foundation saying in a statement that it was “saddened by the controversial decision by the PCSD to issue a Strategic Environmental Plan or SEP clearance to allow the construction of the facility in Narra.”
“What we have right now is potential electricity from a dirty source, one that will disturb a very rich ecosystem, and that will threaten the peace of an endangered endemic bird,” Haribon said.