bacuit bay
DENR, EMB, LGU eye to make Bacuit Bay
swimmable again by May 2019

 

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Environmental Management Bureau, with the cooperation of the local government of El Nido in Palawan, are aiming to bring back the water quality in some portions of Bacuit Bay as Class SB or suitable for ecotourism and recreational activities, such as bathing, swimming, and skin diving.

This, the agencies are eyeing to achieve in May 2019 by establishing Bacuit Bay as Water Quality Management Area (WQMA) in consonance with the provisions of Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004. WQMA is an integrated water quality management system designed to protect and save bodies of water through the collaborative efforts of the government and various stakeholders.

“Water quality management is one of the priorities of Secretary Cimatu, and the establishment of Bacuit Bay WQMA adheres to the major thrusts of his administration. We look forward to having a sustained and collective action towards saving Bacuit Bay and the rest of our natural resources here in El Nido,” Assistant Secretary for Field Operations - Southern Luzon Reynulfo Juan said during the First Environmental Forum held in preparation for the proposed Bacuit Bay WQMA.

The forum, which was held at El Nido’s Legislative Building on January 29, was organized by EMB - MIMAROPA Region to orient stakeholders on the stages of establishing a water quality management area. These stages involve public consultations and the creation of a governing board that would craft and implement a 10-year action plan to address water quality issues specific to the locality. The members of the board shall be composed of representatives from pertinent national government agencies, local government units, water utility and business sectors.

“We can say that this is a progress made in line with El Nido’s six month rehabilitation period, which would end in May. Masaya ako na nandito tayo para makibahagi sa paglilinis ng Bacuit Bay. Tayo ang kalikasan dito sa El Nido,” Mayor Nieves Rosento remarked in her opening message.

Around 200 participants—mostly commercial establishment owners and business operators, as well as representatives of pertinent government agencies—attended the forum and actively participated in the discussions to save Bacuit Bay.

“The number of attendees shows that we are ready to take part in the protection and conservation of our environment. I hope this forum would serve as our guide in performing our respective roles in protecting Bacuit Bay and preventing it from turning into another Boracay,” DENR MIMAROPA Regional Executive Director Henry Adornado stated.

Saving Bacuit Bay

Similar to the famous island of Boracay, Bacuit Bay in El Nido has been receiving thousands of tourists all over the world annually because of its majestic beach and crystalline waters. Unfortunately, the inflow of tourists and human activities contributed to the degradation of the environment in El Nido, specifically the water quality in Bacuit Bay. Business establishments and households discharge untreated waste water directly into the bay resulting in high levels of total and fecal coliform.

To address this, the DENR has created Task Force El Nido as early as February 2018 to spearhead coastal cleanup and ensure strict enforcement of environmental rules and regulations in town. The task force, which is composed of personnel from the regional and provincial offices of DENR and EMB in MIMAROPA, works closely with the local government and concerned agencies such as the Department of Tourism, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, Philippine Reclamation Area and Philippine Coast Guard, to name a few.

To date, Task Force El Nido has served notices to vacate to structures protruding to declared easement zones; and notices of violation to those who fail to comply with environmental regulations, especially those that concern discharge of untreated waste water.

On November 28, 2018, at the height of rehabilitating tourist destinations in the country following the successful reopening of Boracay, Secretaries Roy Cimatu (DENR), Bernadette Romulo-Puyat (DOT) and Eduardo Año visited El Nido for an intergency meeting and site inspection.

Based on the evaluation of the agency heads, El Nido was spared from being closed down, but was given six months to address problematic areas, such as the water quality in Bacuit Bay. The DENR Secretary gave specific instructions to restore the bay and even ordered banning of swimming in areas found to have high coliform levels. Signages are now in place to restrict tourists from bathing and swimming in the areas.

“We are mindful of the instructions of Secretary Cimatu and we recognize the urgency to establish WQMA in Bacuit Bay, which we expect to take place in November 2019,” EMB MIMAROPA Regional Director Michael Drake Matias said.

RD Matias was referring to the pressing need to bring down high coliform levels found in Bacuit Bay. While the figures went down towards the end of 2018, some areas still fail to meet the water quality guidelines of 100 Most Probable Number (MPN)/100ml for Class SB waters (Department Administrative Order 2016-08).

Based on the water testing conducted on December 28, 2018, the coliform levels were recorded as follows: Brgy Masagana - 110 MPN/100ml, Brgy. Maligaya 130 MPN/100ml, and Brgy. Buena Suerte 130 MPN/100ml.

The same water sampling also revealed swollen coliform levels from four outfalls that drain into the bay: Cabugao - 79,000 MPN/100ml; Masagana - 13,000 MPN/100ml, El Nido Estero - 11,000MPN/100ml and Corong-corong - 17,000 MPN/100ml.

As such, topics discussed during the environmental forum not only included the phases and boundaries of the proposed Bacuit Bay WQMA. Waste water treatment technologies, possible financing institutions that would help commercial establishments improve their facilities, and application process in securing DENR permits and other requirements (discharge permit, permit to operate, hazardous generator’s ID, and designation of a pollution control officer), were also tackled to inform stakeholders of their role in preventing further degradation of water quality in Bacuit Bay.

Currently, DENR is working with the LGU to put up a one-stop-shop to assist concerned stakeholders in complying with the abovementioned requirements. Following the instructions of Secretary Cimatu to dedicate a large portion of the DENR presence in Palawan to focus on the efforts of Task Force El Nido, the agency is also working on building an additional office and a bacteriological laboratory where the EMB can immediately perform necessary water tests without having to fly back to Manila every now and then.

“There is still so much to be done but we are banking on the same unified efforts we manifested in the early undertakings of Task Force El Nido. We are confident that as we meet our ultimatum in May 2019, we can present to the public an improved water quality in Bacuit Bay that is safe and fit for bathing and swimming,” RED Adornado concluded. ###