Massive fish kill in Lake Bito turns lake into dead zone
MACARTHUR, Leyte - The massive fish kill in Lake Bito that occured months back has left a mark on the face of 64-year-old Diosdado Bausal as he vividly recalled how the pristine lake turned out to be a dead zone.
“The following day after the flood, thousands of dead fish floated,” Bausal said, referring to the incident last April. Less enormous fish kill occurred last March and May.
From abundant 3,000 kilograms yield of tilapia fish, Bausal’s five-hectare fish pen only yielded 600 kilograms following the series of fish kill incidents.
Viewing the fishing ground from his old house built along the lake’s border, Bausal, who have been operating fish pens in the lake for four decades, narrated how the water turned into latte-colored from the usual brownish flush during flooding.
“It’s like a mix of coffee and milk and it smells bad,” Bausal described the strange water color perceived by the community to be the cause of widespread fish mortalities.
Few meters away from the passageway of Lake Bito in Villa Imelda village is a magnetite sand extraction site, a joint project of Nicua Mining Corporation and Leyte Ironsand Corporation.
Last December 6, 2010, the mining firms had secured a 25-year permit from MGB(Mines and Geosciences Bureau) to extract black sand in the towns of MacArthur and Javier in Leyte.
Dotted with barges, roaring machines, moving trucks, and mounding sands, the land, which used to be rice and coconut farms, is now a mining site.
Lito Tiozon, the fisherman who walked with this writer along the border of the mine site, narrated how the mine waste reached the fishing ground.
“The company’s barges blocked the water ways causing the back flowing of mine tailings that reached fishing grounds,” Tiozon said.
The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) confirmed on its findings that the stopper placed to mitigate possible backflow has not functioned last May 12 due to the high volume of water that came out from mine pond causing the backflow of water towards the lake.
“There was a negligence of their barged operators who accordingly, acted on their own volition in opening the pond which triggered the backflow of water into the lake,” the report said signed by EMB senior environmental management specialist Leo Santiago Dacanay.
Tiozon and other fishermen guarded the lake’s passageway day and night to watch for possible back flow from the mine site.
Camila Wang, director of Leyte Ironsand, dismissed fisher folk’s claim and the EMB report that mining has caused the fish kill since they have been implementing good environmental practices.
“It’s not right that people should blame mining on what happened. There are many other factors,” Wang said in an interview
Massive fish mortalities in Lake Bito were first reported by fisherfolks in March 14, 2012. The same incident occurred last April 7 and May 12, this year. The incident has resulted to deaths of around 22,000 kilograms of tilapia valued at P1.7 million.
In a study conducted by Nancy Dayap, environmentalist of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), she disclosed that there were three factors that caused fish kill incidents in Bito – domestic pollution, overcrowding of fish pens and cages, and contamination from the nearby mining site.
“The high fecal coliform counts indicate that animal waste and human waste are among the main sources of contaminants affecting the water quality of the lake,” Dayap said in her paper.
The study explained that “depletion of dissolved oxygen can be traced to the excessive number of fish pens currently installed in the lake, causing slow water circulation.”
Lake Bito, a 115-hectare body of water has 48.9 hectares occupied with pens and cages, up than the 10% or only 11.5 hectares allowed under the Fisheries Code of the Philippines.
BFAR’s study conducted from March 14 to May 12, also identifie possible contamintion from the nearby mining site especially during heavy rains. “Turbid waters and the oil and grease contaminated water samples were taken from the creek adjacent to the lake.”
Wang got upset with the BFAR report that oil and grease reached the lake. “How come liquids from a lower level reach a higher place? People should know the truth.”
Nicua Mining Corporation resident manager Elmer Ragas said in an earlier interview with this paper said that their mining site activity was about 400 meters away from the lake, which is rather far for them to be accused of being responsible to the contamination of the lake. The mining firm was ordered by EMB to pay P50,000 penalty due to ineffective system that would prevent lake contamination. The fixed amount is based on the rate prescribed under Presidential Decree 1586.
In a dialogue last week, Macarthur town Mayor Rene Leria told Villa Imelda residents to stop making speculations about mining but instead on the real issue – domestic pollution and overcrowding.
“Operators are given five months to remove structures or else the municipal government will conduct clearing of the lake,” Leria said.
The new zoning ordinance will only allow each fisher folks to own a half a hectare of fish pens but BFAR suggested that instead of fish pens, the local government should promote the use of fish cages in order to benefit more residents.
Both cages and pens hold fish captive within an enclosed space while maintaining a free exchange of water. A cage is totally enclosed on all, but the top, sides by netting, whereas in pen culture, the bottom of the enclosure is formed by the lake or sea bottom.
By Sarwell Q. Meniano
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