Conserving our lakes, marshes
During the past months, I was able to visit several lakes and marshes in the country, and I was surely fascinated by their aesthetic values.
More than the captivating features of these lakes and marshes that are vital when it comes to tourism, they offer numerous economic and social benefits if only they will be effectively managed from destructive activities. These ecosystem types have numerous ecological services, and they are also critical habitats to a good number of flora and fauna, including endemic and migratory species.
The Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro, one of the Seven Wetlands of International Importance of the Philippines, is one example where surrounding communities are dependent to it for livelihood and income. The lake, approximately 8,098 hectares, is an important site for economically-productive migratory fish species, which are frequently staying in this freshwater ecosystem and return to the sea the moment they are already sexually mature.
There are 18 economically viable species in the Naujan Lake based on the commissioned study of the Mindoro Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. to the Museum of Natural History of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
The adjacent Balinsasayao and Danao Lakes in Negros Oriental are no longer popular on fishery production, and instead they are now considered as one of the major tourism attractions in Negros Oriental. The pristine environment of these two lakes and their adjoining sites, comprising the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, is providing income to community members who are engaged in ecotourism services in the area. The twin lakes showcase that resource extractive economic activity, like fishing, although it can be done through sustainable means, is not the only source of income for communities.
The Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur is another freshwater ecosystem that gives plentiful benefits to the people. A large portion of the marsh is home to the Manobos whose lives are deeply rooted and adjusted to conditions when the marsh dries up or the water level is relatively high. It is by these circumstances that floating houses are already part of the scenery in some areas of the Agusan Marsh.
Just like the Naujan Lake, Agusan Marsh is another Wetland of International Importance of the country. Within the marsh, several lakes are found that play host to the so-called “floating forests”, because various forest blocks look like they are floating freely in the water. Interestingly, some areas within the Agusan Marsh have been identified as peatlands, which store millions of tons of carbon since they are known as carbon sinks.
While the picturesque Taal Lake in Batangas, with panoramic view from Tagaytay in Cavite, is a popular tourism destination, it is also worth noting that it is the only host of Tawilis, a species not found elsewhere. The superimposing view of the Taal Volcano within the lake makes this area a must-see destination in the country. Taal Lake is a commercial fishing ground, too.
The Laguna Lake, the largest inland body of water in the Philippines, at about 76,000 hectares, is already home to me for several years now, as I am residing just beside a section of it. Since Metro Manila and its adjoining provinces bound it, this lake is facing enormous environmental issues and concerns, from pollution, reclamation, to overfishing, among others. Portions of the Laguna Lake have already been converted into residential and commercial areas. This lake is an important drainage and catch basin of several river systems.
There are still other lakes and marshes in various parts of the country, some of them can be found in smaller islands. Just like other ecosystems, such as forests and coastal and marine ecosystems, our lakes and marshes have tremendous direct and indirect benefits to the people and, therefore, their protection should be taken into serious account in our local, regional, and national development agenda.*
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