Why fishermen on Laguna Lake are yearning for the rain

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 11 2019 01:29 AM

Laguna Lake is colored green by the algal bloom. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The clear blue skies during Muntinlupa mornings stand in stark contrast to the green, pungent substance that currently covers Laguna Lake.

The lake is currently under an algal bloom, a rapid accumulation of algae in water systems and can be recognized by the water’s discoloration. 

The largest lake in the country which is bordered by Laguna, Rizal, and Manila is currently colored a deep green. It is a testament to how massive the bloom is. 

On the Muntinlupa side, the municipal cleanup crew of the Tulong Panghanap Buhay sa Disadvantaged (TUPAD) participate in a cleanup early in the morning, busying themselves by clearing water hyacinths, garbage coated in thick green muck, and other contaminated debris from the lake’s shore while wearing masks against the stench.

The stench is caused by rotting algae, exacerbated by the summer heat.

City hall river clean-up volunteers clear debris and garbage from the banks of the Laguna lake in Muntinlupa City. The lake is currently overrun by green algal bloom. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

But for Muntinlupa City Laguna Lake Management Office (LMO) Officer in Charge (OIC) Rosalina Contreras algal blooms are nothing new.

She recounts that the biggest algal bloom that happened here was in 1979. Since then, it has been happening every year. 

“Sanay na kami diyan,” (We are used to it), adding “Nangyayari yan kasi dahil sa ‘uncontrolled heat.’” (It happens because of uncontrolled heat.)

Fish pen operators here agree that algal blooms usually happen during summer, but this summer has been different. The heat has continued well into June. 

A volunteer takes a break and drinks water near the banks of the Laguna Lake in Muntinlupa City on June 10, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

In Barangay Bayanan, Muntinlupa, from a nearby fish pen viewing deck, 38-year-old Muntinlupa Lake guard Ferdinand Balag, and 53-year old Sagip Ilog Environmental Army member Rosario Villamar supervise and participate in the harvesting of tilapia freshly caught from one of the pens further off in the middle of a lake. They lift and load containers of fish onto waiting fish pen workers.

Fishpen workers harvest fresh fish among the green tinted algal blooms of their fishpens on the shores of Laguna Lake. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The fish are as fresh as they had been in previous catches, but the fishermen here are cautious. They prefer harvesting early so as to avoid possible fish kill. Residents here say the green algae blooms help somewhat because a normal amount of algae serves as food for the fish.

At the nearby market, not a lot of people buy tilapia that were caught from the pens.

Imelda Eborda tends to the fish she is selling at a market near Laguna Lake. She says there are noticeably fewer people buying fish because of fears of contamination. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fish vendor Imelda Eborda, 50, laughs as she says, “Kahit singhutin namin (ang amoy) hindi namin maubos” (Even if all of us inhale the smell, we cant get rid of it.) 

She said the fish they are selling aren’t really affected by the green algal bloom. 

However, that hasn’t stopped people from not doing business with her. She says that the sale of fish had gone down partly because customers are cautious that the fish might have been “contaminated.”

“Baka daw kasi may lasa.” (They say the fish might taste funny.)

She reasons however, that it might not be solely because of the algal bloom. 

“Nagkataon din kasi siguro na pasukan kaya hindi bumibili and mga tao ng isda.” (It could also be because of the start of classes, they have to cut down on their expenses for school needs.)

Trash and other debris are also coated in thick green much because of the algal bloom. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Fishpen workers continue trying to make a living even as an algal bloom covers Laguna Lake. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Freshly harvested fish remain healthy for people to eat even though the lake has been contaminated with green algal blooms on Laguna Lake. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A fisherman fills his boat with fish caught from pens from a part of the lake further from shore. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Ferdinand Balag 38, Muntinlupa Lake guard (R) and Rosario Villamar 53, Sagip Ilog Environmental Army member (L) show regular carp and one variety of fish called Red Carp that they harvested from their fish pens in Laguna Lake. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A fishpen worker cleans his nets as he finishes his job amidst the green tinted algal blooms around their fishpens. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Green algal blooms stretch far and wide onto the shores of the Laguna Lake in Muntinlupa City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News


Like everyone else, Eborda said the only way to be rid of the rotting algae is for the rain to wash it away.

“Basta hinihiling lang naming na umulan na sana. 'Yan lang ang solusyon. Ulan.” (All we're wishing for is rain. Thats the only solution.)

For vendors and fishermen that rely on Laguna Lake to make a living, the rainy season can't come soon enough.