Rasa Island

This small island near the coast of Narra Municipality, Palawan is the oldest project site of the Philippine Cockatoo Conservation Program (PCCP), starting in 1998. Back then, only 23 to 25 cockatoos were left, and extinction was imminent. On Rasa most of the conservation tools of Katala Foundation were developed and field-tested, particularly the wildlife warden scheme. Due to intensive management of the cockatoo, including supplemental feeding of nestlings and rescue of helpless birds, in early 2019 there were close to 400 individuals inhabiting the island. Rasa Island remains the single-most important site for the Philippine cockatoo globally. Close cooperation with local communities and governments was a key strategy of the PCCP. The municipal government supported attempts conservation efforts from the very start of the project. It is now largely financing the warden scheme and takes a proactive role to protect the birds which are increasingly visiting coastal communities to feed. Members of local communities are collecting data on cockatoo movements on a regular basis, and are propagating food plants of the cockatoo in their own backyards. The sense of pride to having this unique parrot species in their community is palpable. The long-term commitment was rewarded when in 2015 the Municipality of Narra was bestowed the prestigious Galing Pook Award, the highest recognition for local governance in the Philippines for the conservation efforts for the Katala.

Rasa Island is home to the best studied Philippine Cockatoo population. Nesting success and population development are closely monitored. Present and increasing impacts of climate change become discernible during very dry years, so little food is available that without intervention all hatchlings would die of starvation. Wildlife wardens then climb nest trees several times daily to supplement the food of the hatchlings. If too many nests are affected, birds need to be rescued and hand-raised in Katala Institute. The latter individuals are then available for translocation into other suitable habitats.

Despite the astonishing recovery of the cockatoo population on Rasa, one has to be vigilant because the pressure on natural resources in Palawan is increasing, and new threats can emerge at any time. In 2013 plans emerged to build a coal-fired power plant just opposite of Rasa. Aside from the expected air pollution, the structure and power lines would have fatally disrupted the flight path of the cockatoos to and from their foraging grounds. Heated water used for cooling purposes would have additionally stressed coral reefs and seagrass beds near the island. Fortunately, the project could be prevented in a joint effort of local government, affected communities, civil society groups and Katala Foundation. Other threats which need careful monitoring include introduction of diseases, for example through the pet trade, establishment of monocrop plantations which would destroy foraging habitats, large-scale construction projects in the coastal area, just to mention a few.

Rasa Island itself is unique since it retains a widely intact coastal forest, with less than five percent of its land area transformed into coconut plantation, behind a belt of old-growth mangrove. In 2006, the complete island was protected, including the adjacent marine portion with tidal flats, seagrass beds and coral reefs. Presently, 113 bird species have been recorded on Rasa, including small island specialists like the Mantanani Scops-owl Otus mantananensis and the Grey Imperial-pigeon Ducula pickeringii.

Three marine turtle species have been recorded in the water surrounding Rasa, as well as four species of marine mammals, including Dugong Dugong dugon. Fisher folks in Narra appreciate Rasa Island as nursery ground for commercially important species and some are active in monitoring of stocks of selected marine life.

It is relatively easy to visit Rasa Island. Access to the island is possible between July and December. From January to June the island is closed due to the breeding activities of the cockatoo and other species. A birdwatch tower on Rasa is open year-round, but access may be restricted due to certain conditions, e.g. weather events or fire hazard. Snorkeling outside of the core protected areas and observation of cockatoos by boat or on the adjacent mainland is possible at all times. Certified boats and guides need to be used at all times. For more information and reservations, please write to kficacatua2016@gmail.com