Fishkills in Taal Lake and now flooding in North Cotabato and Maguindanao due to heavy proliferation of water hyacinth in Liguasan Marsh and the Rio Grande de Mindanao - these are only the most the recent cases that demonstrate how stressed to the limits our freshwater bodies are.
Last month's fishkills in Taal Lake were attributed to the overturn of lake water by government authorities. The overturn brings up the oxygen-deficient waters from underneath to the surface causing the fishkills. As of June 4, Batangas province estimates the loss from these events at 2000 metric tons of fish amounting to about PHP 142 million. As of this writing fish continue to float to the surface of the water. Whether it is a “fish kill” or “fish mortality”, to many, it spell the same thing – a reduction in food production and consequent economic losses to the communities that depend on the lake.
Meanwhile, communities along the Rio Grande de Mindanao are experiencing floods at levels that they never experienced before. While this may be a demonstration of extreme weather events due to climate change, political leaders also point to extensive water hyacinth growths as an aggravating factor.
What ties these two issues together but is rarely mentioned is pollution.
Extraneous “nutrient” sources contribute to the decline in water quality of a lake or a river and could lead to eutrophication. The excess “nutrients” then become pollutants. Pollution sources include excess fish feed, agricultural runoffs, solid waste from nearby communities, raw sewage and industrial wastes that find their way into the water bodies.
Pollution allows decomposing bacteria to multiply and increase its activity, using up whatever oxygen is available from the water, hence, a fishkill. It also allows the water hyacinth to thrive and proliferate in polluted waters.
What is missing in the current public discourse where the two issues are concerned is the long term solution to pollution which is contributing to the stresses of Taal Lake, Rio Grande de Mindanao and all other freshwater bodies in the country. There is a need to implement more strictly some of our existing policies such as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law, Sanitation Code of the Philippines, Clean Water Act. More importantly, it is high time that government and industries subscribe to a shift from a kind of production that pollutes to one that is clean and does not harm the environment, the workers and the communities. Clean Production, be it in agriculture or in the industrial sector is the way to address pollution in the longer term. With this, the stresses to our lakes and rivers are drastically reduced.