The secret side of Manila Bay that’s disappearing before you even knew it existed

That awkward moment when you think you know something then realizing that you weren’t even close.

Take away the sunset and what becomes the most visible landmark of Manila Bay?

I would answer the trash on its shores and floating on its chunky exhaust-colored water, just because of the scene I encounter everytime I pass by the area.

Manila Bay trash
You won’t see this beach on any Top 10 travel lists anytime soon. Photo by Kahlil Panopio.

Sadly, because I was born in the 21st century, this is what’s left of it.

This sad state is the sole image of Manila Bay that me, and maybe everyone else, has.

Or is it?

Even after centuries of being a prime location for naval battles between colonizers, a dumpsite for the city’s factories, and for thousands of hectares of reclamation to build Asia’s largest mall, Manila Bay still keeps a part of itself secret.

And I stumbled upon it a year ago.

Take a look at this photo that one of my friends took at the time:

LPPCHEA reflecting pools
#nofilter Guess where? Photo by Zoy Pagalilauan.

I bet Manila Bay isn’t the first place that pops into your head if you were asked where that is (it doesn’t count if you guessed correctly because we’ve been talking about it for the past 5 paragraphs).

Surprisingly, pools that reflect serenity as perfectly as it does the mangrove trees around it still exist, and so do a whole lot of other nature things. I found out that later on that Manila Bay is still one of the Philippines’ most important wetland areas when it comes to harboring wildlife.

Specifically, the above photo was taken in the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat & Ecotourism Area or LPPCHEA.

To make it easier on the tongue, it was nicknamed Freedom Island by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Consider its 175 hectares of mangroves, ponds, and salt marsh as Manila’s last coastal frontier.

Here’s a map of where that is:

LPPCHEA Freedom Island Metro Manila map
Bordering Cavite to the South, Freedom lies right on the edge of Manila

LPPCHEA or Freedom Island is one of only six sites in the country recognized as having international importance when it comes to helping people and wildlife by the Ramsar Convention.


Maybe because without a wetland basin like this, people from Las Piñas, Paranaque, and Cavite would have to trade in their cars for rubber boats due to flooding of up to 5.23 meters (that’s a two story building) becoming more common.

Or that the loss of a breeding grounds for fish, crabs, and shrimp would drive communities of nearby fishing villages out of a job.

One more thing, if you paid attention to the map earlier, you would have that seen a single narrow strip of land actually connects it to the rest of Metro Manila.

This means that it isn’t an island at all.

What it is though, is a wildlife and nature explorer’s dream.

What did I find there? Wild animals that migrated from as far away as Russia, China, and Japan to escape merciless winters by spending a few months in the tropical paradise that is the Philippines.

Take the Great Egret below for example.

Great Egrets
Jurrasic Park intro music in 3, 2, 1… Photo by Ed Tiotuyco.

On top of looking like a Brachiosaurus dinosaur from the late Jurassic period, it also regularly flies 8,000 kilometers from where it nests in China to Manila Bay where they easily number in the tens of thousands, with just their fat as fuel.

Think about that the next time you complain about a 5k run.

Speaking of running, do you fancy long hot legs?

Well, get ready for a pair that gives even size 0 models a dose of insecurity. Here’s the Black Winged Stilt, fresh from a long haul flight from Siberia.

Black Winged Stilt
Dat thigh gap. Photo by Rey Sta Ana.

Then there’s the Common Kingfisher. With a body that can fit in your hand, it’s anyone’s guess on how it gets here from Japan on its own.

My guess is that its magic.

Common Kingfisher feeding on shrimp
Eat, Prey, and Fly. Photo by Rey Sta Ana.

Unfortunately, I’ve been told that these mangroves, migratory birds, and other wildlife get fewer every year as Manila Bay becomes more like a dumpsite, or worse, a casino complex.

After talking to people from various organizations and reading news reports, I found out that Freedom Island, along with a significant chunk of Manila Bay, is facing a very real possibility of destruction.

All this to put up a highway and an entertainment district by reclaming more of the coast.

It shocked me when I realized what this could mean:

We could be the last generation to see Manila Bay’s natural beauty.

Or we could be the generation that allowed it to disappear.

Which one is worse?

But we can always add a third option.

Let your government officials know you care about what happens to Manila Bay and that they should too. Sign the petition for Freedom Island here and for the rest of Manila Bay here.


Freedom Island is one of the few areas where water loving Nilad trees still grow. Never heard of it before? You might have. While the Nilads are all but gone, their legacy lives on in the place where they once thrived, which came to be known as may nilad, a.k.a. Manila.

This post was written by volunteer nature lovers. If you think it was helpful, please consider sharing it on Facebook and Twitter to help raise awareness about the Philippine environment.
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51 thoughts on “The secret side of Manila Bay that’s disappearing before you even knew it existed

  1. It’s a secret safe haven for those wild ones! Hope I could get there someday.
    Thank you for articles like these. Feeling Environmentalist is easily on my favorite blogs list 🙂


  2. This is pretty amazing. There’s a picture I found in a stack of dust-filled photo albums, it was of my mom holding baby me at the edge of Manila Bay. It looked so different from when I took pictures of it at the edge of MoA. (Smelled different too, I bet) It’s nice to know that there’s still a nice little untouched part of it. Thanks for sharing this. ❤


  3. I always see the mangroves from the bus whenever I travel from Manila to Cavite via Cavitex every weekend and with only seeing that I am already in awe, much more by knowing what help they bring to our environment! Thank you for sharing 🙂


    1. It’s time that filipinos come to realise how beautiful our nature is, and how to fight to preserve it.
      Hopefully Manila Bay could still be save.
      Feeling so sad seeing how people ruin the nature.


  4. I know this place a long time ago. Since I was a child I have been praying that this place wouldn’t be destroyed by the people who lives near there. I have been traveling from manila to cavite so I always see this place. I thought it wasn’t a protected area. Thank you for letting me know that they have made a move on protecting it. I’ve always admired the beauty of this place and its importance to our ecosystem. 🙂


  5. Hi!

    I am a filipino filmmaker and I am interested in your movement (especially this story about the dying mangroves of Manila Bay). Is there anyway (aside from the comment section) I can get in contact with you? I’d like to make a documentary about this place and your movement. Perhaps we can help you guys in spreading the word? Please let me know as soon as possible! Thanks.


  6. Thank you for this article. Never thought that this place exists in manila. Would love to go there with my family and friends soon. ♥


  7. thanks for featuring the LPPCHEA! the wild bird club of the philippines and the denr-ncr have worked hard on getting this little treasure protected. we hope more people will support this place and reject any move to reclaim the place.


  8. I was born in the early 60s. I remember we used to swim at Manila Bay every sunday. The water was clear and clean. I saw how time ravaged this area. Now, after reading your post, I was surprise that there still is a small piece of ‘heaven’ in Manila Bay. I hope this place can still be saved. We cannot control the onslaught of development, unless the people get involve.


  9. Some scenes in an indie film (“Adela,” starring Anita Linda) were shot here. The ‘island’ looked beautiful in the backdrop.


  10. Thanks for your post. Amazing area. Schools should know better than to have their field trip in shopping malls! I hope Wild Bird Club can schedule another trip to Freedom Island. I missed the April sched.


  11. Actually. I might say. This post really help me, big time! And because of this post on my cell phone screen. I now have the reason to defend and the chance to win our debate for tomorrow. Thank you very much about this inportant information you just shared. May god bless you. Continue to make our country like the old days. I’ll surely speard this incredibly news to my friends. Thank you again 🙂


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