Rasa Island in southern Palawan is the last stronghold for the critically endangered Philippine Cockatoo, but maybe its days are counted!
DMCI Power Corporation is planning to build a 15 MW coal-fired power plant just opposite of Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary, in Barangay Panacan, Narra Municipality, despite massive protests from affected communities, local and international environmental groups, and the fact that the municipal government does not endorse the proposal. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development has granted clearance for the project, ignoring its own technical staff’s recommendations, foremost the relocation to a less vulnerable site.
Rasa Island is a protected area of outstanding conservation importance due to the presence of a high number of globally threatened wildlife, among these three species of marine turtles, four bird species and the rare Dugong. Since 1998, Katala Foundation (KFI), implements a comprehensive conservation project on the island and adjacent mainland. The project started with only 23 cockatoos left at that time. Presently, the number of individuals increased to more than 250 on Rasa, due to the intense conservation efforts. This represents at least one quarter of the world population of this species, since only circa 1,000 of this extremely rare parrot survive in the wild.
It is feared that the coal plant would result in cockatoo casualties due to collisions and electrocution at the feeder power lines. Even more seriously, the power plant would block the flight path of the birds’ foraging area from the mainland to the island, which in turn would result in a reduction of the carrying capacity of Rasa Island for this species, since parent birds could not any more provide their young with sufficient food.
Numerous other concerns have been raised over the project. Local residents close-by the proposed project site dread health risks which would arise as an effect of burning coal. The village predominantly generates income from fishing, and thermal pollution from the cooling water outfall would lead to numerous negative effects in the marine ecosystem, notably coral bleaching and likely would result in reduced fish catch. Impurities in coal include heavy metals, like mercury which is known to accumulate in marine food chains and can lead to severe health problems, including to immune, circulatory, digestive and nervous systems. The coal-fired power plant would disproportionally contribute to emissions of greenhouse gases and therefore would contradict efforts within the province to become more climate-friendly. Finally, the economic feasibility of the project has been questioned and initial calculations indicate that a mix of diesel-fired and hydro-plants in the Palawan setting would result in cheaper consumer prices for electricity than coal.