Manila Bay’s Reclamation Projects: A Good Idea?

Manila Bay’s Reclamation Projects: A Good Idea?

By Denise Ramos


According to the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), 22 reclamation projects are currently planned in Manila Bay and half of them are already underway. Manila’s local government explains that reclamation is needed in order to accommodate the city’s other development projects.

Last year, the PRA also approved Waterfront Manila Premier Development Inc.’s request to avoid regulatory fees and directly embark on its 34.3 billion peso (US$616 million) reclamation project in Manila Bay. This highlights the lax regulations for major corporations, regardless of their environmentally problematic construction projects.

Another major reclamation project is the construction of the new airport. San Miguel Corp. (SMC) has been constructing the New Manila International Airport at the bay, which once completed in 2024, will be the biggest airport in the country. Subsequently, SMC has also been funding the construction of an expressway connecting the airport to the city of Manila.


The Adverse Effects of Reclamation

“My last resort is to tell anyone who wants to buy property on reclaimed land: Make sure you can get damage insurance,” said Kevin Rodolfo, a geologist and professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The geologist further clarified that the reclamation projects at the bay could result in numerous environmental problems that might cause fatalities.

One such issue is land subsidence, which could occur due to the immense pressure from the weight of new buildings on the reclaimed land. Based on a 2014 study on the geological hazards of Manila Bay’s reclamation projects, Metro Manila’s coastal areas were found to be sinking by 9 centimeters every year. The coastal areas could eventually show signs of seismically induced liquefaction, where sediments near water act like quicksand. Dramatic storms and earthquake-induced ground shaking would also become more prevalent.

Aside from the long list of safety hazards, reclamation projects also disturb ecosystems, leading to economic disruption.

The environmental repercussions of reclamation projects also have a huge impact on the fisheries industry in the bay, which according to non-government organization Oceana Philippines, accounts, for 67% of Manila Bay’s total economic value.

Indeed, fishermen working in the bay noticed in recent years that the waters changed from transparent to murky and reddish, raising questions about the conditions of fish populations. They also experienced a decrease in the number of fish caught, threatening the state of the fishing industry and the economic status of Manila Bay.

The pollution brought by these reclamation projects could threaten biodiversity in the nearby area. Contrary to popular belief, reclamation activities do not only harm marine life but also their habitats.

Mangroves are integral to combatting climate change as they absorb much more carbon dioxide than mountain forests. They also provide protection against floodwater. Unfortunately, between 1890 and 2016, a whopping 99% of the mangroves in the bay have been destroyed mostly by environmentally unfriendly behavior. Such a drastic drop in mangroves results in the mass migration of fish and birds, generating a dramatic change in the ecosystem.


Can Rehabilitation and Reclamation Co-Exist in Manila Bay?


The PRA argues that the bay can have both rehabilitation and reclamation, explaining that other regions strategically reclaim land for the greater good. Indeed, cities like New York City and Mumbai perform reclamation to deal with the growing population.

However, most reclamation projects in Manila Bay are considered excessive and unnecessary. For example, the construction of the new airport does not serve the productive purpose of tackling overpopulation or land shortage.

Categorized as an integral biodiversity area by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and other groups, Manila Bay needs to be recognized as a home to not only Filipino people but also an array of animals.

Furthermore, having no set guidelines for approving reclamation projects provides an opportunity for unfair or even corrupt transactions that undermine the gravity of Manila Bay’s environmental issues.

Reclaiming land could help provide more space for settlers but it will definitely cost the lives of many marine species. Consequently, economic industries tied to marine life will be threatened as well.

Instead of reclaiming an already polluted body of water, the government should completely devote itself to fully restoring Manila Bay. It should also focus on effective urban planning to relocate the bay’s informal settlers and ensure that there is not a trace of rubbish floating on Manila Bay waters.

There is only one way to preserve Manila Bay. It is not through continuous seabed abuse, nor is it through lax regulations – it is only through complete rehabilitation.


Back to blog