San Pablo wakes up to 7-lakes challenge
The city government of San Pablo, where the seven interconnected lakes in Laguna are found, cried foul over a recent declaration by an international group that its volcanic lakes are facing an “advancing destruction”caused by fish farming and several years of neglect.
The Germany-based Global Nature Fund (GNF) named the seven Philippine crater lakes the “Threatened Lake of the Year 2014” in its statement released on Feb. 2 in time for World Wetlands Day.
But Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) general manager and presidential adviser for environmental protection Neric Acosta said the government welcomed the GNF declaration that, he said, was an “honest diagnosis” of the current condition of the seven lakes.
In fact, he said, the LLDA last year endorsed the initiative from San Pablo City environmental groups to nominate the seven lakes for the 2014 GNF title.
“We wanted it classified as the most threatened (because) that brings in global attention to an ecosystem. It’s not like we are being shamed,” Acosta said in a phone interview on Wednesday.
“In a sense, I’m glad because when you call it ‘threatened,’ you get all the help for scientific studies and sustainable tourism. It doesn’t become just a local issue anymore,” he said.
GNF, according to its website, is a nonprofit international foundation founded in 1998 to “foster protection of nature and environment as well as animals.”
As listed on its website, the GNF has been declaring lakes in various countries as “threatened” since 2004. It is the first time that a lake in the Philippines was cited for environmental deterioration.
No monetary aid comes with the GNF declaration, Acosta said, although he explained that this helps the government and organizations to apply for funding for environmental conferences and researches.
The foundation called for measures to protect the water quality in the 1.04-square-kilometer Lake Sampaloc, the largest among the seven, as well as in Palakpakin, Calibato, Bunot, Yambo, Pandin and Muhicap Lake.
The GNF declaration included an interview with Bobby Azores, chair of its local partner nongovernment organization, the Friends of the Seven Lakes Foundation.
Azores was quoted in the GNF release as saying that the lakes are “extremely threatened” by illegal squatting and crowding illegal fish pens.
“Through the years, we have had very small success (to clear illegal constructions). We have been unable to get the government to approve the aquaculture zoning map that would move and reorganize the fish cages to their designated aquaculture zone,” Azores said.
Satellite images taken in 2012 showed that the fish cages still occupied 40 percent of the lake surface, exceeding the 10-percent limit allowed for structures, the GNF said.
In separate phone interviews on Tuesday, resident and lake advocate Mandy Mariño said about 100 families of illegal settlers dump domestic wastes into Lake Sampaloc, “turning it into a 24/7 sewer.”
Engineer Moises Fule, member of another NGO called Seven Crater Lakes and Watershed Management Council, said LLDA, an agency tasked with the management of the seven lakes, failed to restrict the number of fish pens.
No longer true
But City Tourism Officer Donnalyn Eseo called the international label “unfair,” citing big improvements in the lake’s condition over the past 20 years.
“(The GNF declaration) could be true during the ’80s and ’90s. But now, I don’t think it still applies. We were very much saddened by this,” she said in reaction to the findings of the NGOs.
She said the LLDA, which regularly monitors the water condition, is the sole authority that determines if a water body is “deteriorating.”
Eseo also said the number of fish pens no longer exceeds the lakes’ carrying capacity, while the number of illegal settlers has been reduced to 80 families from about 400 during the earlier years.
Eseo could not give the exact number of fish pens but, she said, fish pens occupy 10 percent of the water surface of each lake, contrary to GNF findings of 40 percent as of 2012.
She said the city government is coming up with a Tourism Master Plan, in which measures to conserve the environment are incorporated. It also includes a zoning map and measures to relocate illegal settlers.
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