The country’s only endemic duck will soon make a fifth-class municipality a must-see destination for environmentalists in tourist-haven Camarines Sur.

Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje recently signed DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2011-10 declaring a 27-hectare wetland area of Cabusao in Camarines Sur as a critical habitat for the Philippine duck (Anas luzonica).

“This DAO is a step to protect the Philippine duck, whose existence is true to the phrase, ‘only in the Philippines.’ It will hopefully give this unique bird a chance to live and propagate in a place free from exploitation and destruction caused by high-impact human activities,” Paje said.

The Philippine duck is a large dabbling duck that frequents both fresh- and saltwater habitats such as mangroves, open sea and rice fields, feeding mainly on shrimp, fish, insects and vegetation. It is characterized by a black crown, nape and eye stripe; a blue-grey bill; a cinnamon-colored head and neck; and grayish-brown body and legs. Its wings, when spread, show a glossy-green patch with a black and white border, with a white underside. It has been described as “the tropical version of the mallard,” a duck commonly found in more temperate regions such as the Americas and Europe.

An Asian Waterbird Census conducted in 2005 pegged the Philippine duck population at 4,428. Since then, there have been less reported sightings, attributed to “high levels of hunting and trapping, conversion of natural wetlands, mangrove destruction, and recently the extensive use of pesticides on rice fields.” This population decline has thus given the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) cause to classify it as “vulnerable” under its Red List of Threatened Species.

Paje said that the DAO is in accordance with Republic Act (RA) 9147, also known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, which promotes ecological balance and enhance biodiversity by conserving and protecting wildlife species and their habitats. The same law defines a critical habitat as land located outside a protected area that is characterized by the presence of threatened species, considering its endemicity and richness in the area as well as the presence of threats to its survival.

Under the DAO, the DENR Regional Office 5 in Legazpi City, Albay, is tasked to delineate the boundaries of the designated critical habitat. It will also manage the area alongside the local government unit (LGU) of Cabusao, or co-manage it with the LGU and/or other organizations.

DENR Bicol and its partners will also ensure the preservation of existing ecosystems and safeguard the area’s ecological integrity to support the existence of the Philippine duck. They are also tasked to jointly prepare and implement a Critical Habitat Management Plan to address management issues and strategies, including the enforcement of applicable environmental laws and prohibited acts under RA 9147 such as waste dumping, mineral extraction, quarrying, burning and logging.

Although also sighted in other areas such as Lake Naujan and Mt. Iglit-Baco National Parks in Mindoro, and Olango Island in Cebu, avid bird watchers have particularly noted “near-disappearances” of the Philippine duck at the Candaba Marsh in Pampanga due to aquaculture and fishpond creation.