DENR aims to make Bacuit Bay in El Nido swimmable again by May

PALAWAN, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is aiming to make some portions of El Nido’s Bacuit Bay – found to have high coliform levels – fit for public swimming by May 2019.

“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,” said DENR Mimaropa Regional Executive Director Henry Adornado in a statement sent to the media over the weekend. (READ: El Nido: Tourism’s boon and bane)

The DENR is also eyeing to declare Bacuit Bay as a Water Quality Management Area (WQMA), a move that would mandate the government and other stakeholders to protect the body of water.

On Tuesday, February 26, DENR Assistant Secretary for Field Operations for Southern Luzon Reynulfo Juan said in a statement that hailing Bacuit Bay as a WQMA is part of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu’s thrust for clean water.

“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,” he added.

In November 2018, El Nido was spared from being closed down, but was given 6 months to address problematic areas, notably the water quality in Bacuit Bay that received untreated waste water coming from business establishments and households. (READ: El Nido rehab to focus on water quality, coastal easement, carrying capacity)

Cimatu had ordered the bay’s restoration by declaring a WQMA, as mandated under the Republic Act 9275 or the Clean Water Act of 2004. He also imposed a swimming ban in areas found to have high coliform levels.

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.

While the coliform figures went down as 2018 ended, some areas still fail to meet the water quality guidelines of 100 most probable number (MPN)/100ml for Class SB waters or those suitable for ecotourism and recreational activities.

Based on the water testing conducted on December 28, 2018, the coliform levels were recorded in the following barangays:

The same water sampling also revealed swollen coliform levels from 4outfalls that drain into the bay:

Last week, the regional Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) held a forum orienting El Nido stakeholders on the stages in establishing the Bacuit Bay WQMA. These include public consultations and the creation of a governing board that would craft and implement a 10-year action plan to address the bay’s water quality issue.

To inform stakeholders of their role in preventing further degradation of water quality in Bacuit Bay, the forum also tackled waste water treatment technologies, possible financing institutions that would help commercial establishments improve their facilities, and the application process for securing DENR permits and other requirements.

“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,” Adornado said.

The DENR is working with the El Nido municipal government to put up a one-stop-shop to assist concerned stakeholders in complying with the requirements, such as securing a discharge permit, a permit to operate, hazardous waste generator identification, and the designation of a pollution control officer, among others.

The agency also prioritized the building of an additional office and a bacteriological laboratory in El Nido where the EMB can immediately perform necessary water tests without having to fly back to Manila every now and then. – with a report from Anna Gabriela A. Mogato/Rappler.com