The Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary
The Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary (OIWS) is located at the southwest side of Olango Island; the island of which lies between the Bohol Strait to the south and the Camotes Sea to the North and is part of the Central Visayan Region of the Philippines. It is part of the Cebu Province and likewise under the jurisdiction of the City of Lapu-Lapu.
The OIWS is a vast tidal flat that lies at the center of Olango Island and other neighboring islets. These wetland areas on Olango are comprised of mangrove forests, mudflats, and sea grass beds which are critical spawning, nursery, feeding and transient shelter areas to hundreds of fish species, crustaceans and invertebrates. With the proliferation of marine life in the area, countless of birds come to feed and roost, and some eventually made it their habitat.
In fact, these wetland areas is now a critical stopover for tens of thousands of migratory birds travelling the East Asian Migratory Flyway, one of the most important shorebird and water bird migratory flyways in the world. Included in the bi-annual “travellers” are a number of endangered and threatened bird species.
In virtue of these findings, then President Corazon Aquino declared the 1,020 hectares tidal flats in Olango a protected area under Proclamation No. 903 on May 14, 1992. Eventually, it was included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance on July 1, 1994 and is now one of the seven best-known flyways in the world for migrating birds.
Thus, the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary became the Philippines’ first wetland of international importance for waterfowl. It is managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources through a locally constituted Protected Area Management Board with representatives from the national and local government and the private sector.
The largest concentration of migratory birds in the Philippines is found in Olango Island. The birds hail from the Northern Hemisphere countries such as Siberia, Northern China and Japan. By inner radar or instinct and in anticipation of the scarcity of food brought about by the winter cold, they fly thousands of miles in search of warmer climates which lie along the Southern Hemisphere such as the Philippines to as far back as Australia and New Zealand.
The birds fly as far as Australia and New Zealand from late July until late November and this is referred to as the Southward Migration. Come February until May, these birds fly back to their breeding grounds in the reverse Northward Migration. Each way, the birds stop to rest and seek food at the sanctuary.
The Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary serves as a major “refuelling” ground for the birds. Feeding on the rich marine life in the intertidal mudflats and finding shelter in the mangroves, the birds gain back their lost “reserves” to finish the next lap of their journey which covers from 3,000 to 15,000 kilometers of non-stop flight.
Over 10,000 migratory birds flock to Olango each year. Overall, there are 97 species of birds in Olango; 48 of which are migratory species, 42 resident and 7 are unclassified species. Out of the 97 species, 54 are water-birds: 32 waders (those with long legs such as the egrets and herons), 13 waterfowls and 9 seabirds. Seen frequently are the Chinese Egrets, Asiatic Dowitchers, Eastern Curlews, Plovers, Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwit and Red Knot.
The OIWS receives visitors through two entrances: the Department of Environment and Natural Resources operated visitor center and through a locally organized and community-based ecotourism group called the Olango Birds and Seascape Tour. Part of the tourism proceeds are given to the Suba, Olango Ecotourism Cooperative wherein it is paid out as salaries and wages to workers and a corresponding amount to Mactan Island based boats or tour organizers.
The best months to visit the sanctuary are in time for the Southward Migration which is around the months of July to November. During these months, the birds congregate in the area and the number of species sighted would be of much joy to birders.
Check the local calendar for the high tide schedule. The best tide is at 1.2 to 1.4 meter high tide since at this level, one will see a large concentration of the birds basking out in the sun. Other than those levels, the birds cannot feed and are in the mangroves for shelter.