TALISAY and MATAAS NA KAHOY, BATANGAS – Looking down from the wind-swept resorts and hotels of Tagaytay City, vacationers see Taal Lake as pristine and as inviting as before. Indeed, from a distance, the 24,356 – hectare body of water that is part of one of the country ‘ s most popular tourist attractions remains a sight to behold, with gentle breezes often rippling its surface.
Usually overshadowed by Laguna de Bay next door, Taal Lake is tapped for aquaculture, fishing, navigation, and tourism purposes; it is even the water resource of the posh Tagaytay Highlands resort.
Taal Lake hosts endemic species across many families as it was intermittently part of the ocean during its long and interesting geological history. The Hydrophis semperi, a freshwater seasnake, and the Sardinella tawilis, a freshwater sardine and the basis of commercial fisheries in the lake, are only two of the vertebrates that are endemic to the lake. Remaining unnamed are probably a wide variety of invertebrates that have adapted to freshwater just as the snake and the sardine. Furthermore, many of these may actually be threatened with extinction.
Taal Lake was created by numerous phreatic explosions that formed a very large caldera lake throughout the centuries. Lying submerged beneath its waters are the remnants of four pre-Hispanic towns that were evacuated to higher ground after the water level rose. It is now around 3-10 meters above sea level.
Taal Volcano Protected Landscape consists of around 65,000 hectares of the Taal Lake Basin, with 24,000 inside it comprising the lake area. The entire basin was proclaimed a protected area in 1997 pursuant to a 1992 law called the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS). 16 towns are included and 187 villages, and to ensure stakeholder ownership, all of these villages and towns have a legal right to be represented in the Protected Area Management Board which should meet at least yearly.
Main threats include unregulated fishcage culture, overfishing, sewage discharge and erosion from real estate development and unregulated mass tourism. Fishcages have reached an alarming 10,000 units and still increasing, even as consultants from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic resources identified that the numbers are 30-45% above the carrying capacity of the lake for cages. Up to 40% of the feed used for the cages go uneaten and drift to the bottom to pollute the lake.
Commercial fishing called Basnig and Suro were the reason for the establishment of a lakewide fisherfolk organization. While these have decreaesed in the last few years, some are still trying to evade enforcers, especially Suro operators from Talisay town.
These issues are addressed in Unified Rules and Regulations on Fisheries for the lake, approved by the Protected Area Management Board and awaiting signature by the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources. Once in effect, enforcement can be undertaken.
Pusod was instrumental in several studies that led to the drafting of the rules and in the strengthening of the people’s organization, Kilusan ng Maliliit na Mangingisda sa Lawa ng Taal. It is also represented in the Protected Area Management Board’s Executive Committee, and its representative Enrique Nunez, is head of the Disaster Management Subcommittee. Management planning slated to commence in September will be a process steered by Pusod, with expected funding support from IUCN-NL’s Ecosystems Grants Program. The project will include capacitation of the PAMB and the people’s organization and biodiversity monitoring. Pusod has also done research on the invasive species Guapote tigre, which has been found in small populations on the Laurel side of the lake. The management plan will address the remaining issues that threaten the lake basin. Pusod was also instrumental in making Taal Lake an Associate Lake in the Living Lakes Network.