Boracay Island

Malay folk push protection of Aklan’s Nabaoy forest, Boracay’s water source

Jun Aguirre

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Malay folk push protection of Aklan’s Nabaoy forest, Boracay’s water source

PROTECT PARADISE. News of good results for tests on the quality and quantity of water in Nabaoy river and its environs has renewed calls for stronger, longer safeguards for a critical water source in Panay island, and the only major source of potable water for the resort island of Boracay.

Richard Cahilig/Aklan Trekkers

The results of the study should spur the local government’s plan of turning Malay town, which has administrative control of Boracay, into an ecological tourism destination

BORACAY ISLAND, Philippines – Tests on the Nabaoy Watershed in Malay, Aklan have confirmed a “unique ecosystem” that allows better conservation of groundwater, reigniting calls to cement long-term safeguards for the lone source of potable water of Malay town and the global tourism hotspot, Boracay island.

Raymond Sucgang, a senior researcher at the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) led the team that presented the results of the 2022 Nabaoy River study at the Malay Sangguniang Bayan (SB) hall on Monday, February 6.

Sugcang and Nabaoy Elementary School principal Bryan Rey Solano, who joined the sample-collection team, urged the local government to draft strategic policies to ensure sustainability of their water source.

 “We found out that the Nabaoy Watershed has an unique ecosystem,” said Solano, who presented the results of the full study.

“It (Nabaoy) is characterized by sandstone compared to other  watersheds in the country which usually are made of limestone liquifier.  We also learned that the watershed could be able to save waters for 16 years from the top before it could be downloaded to its river tributaries,” he added.

The watershed has an elevation of three meters above sea level and nestles in a national park that is home to rare and threatened species.

The 2022 study is part of a program to make Boracay, one of the world’s top resort islands, a model for water resource management. 

SAMPLING. A personnel of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) collects water samples from the Nabaoy River. Raymond Sucgang

All water sources including wells, ground and seawater in Nabaoy and in Boracay were tested for the study.

These are some of the study’s findings: 

  • Boracay’s ground water chloride content, with an average of 250 mg/L, was at the Maximum Allowable Level. It is not fit for drinking since it is salty water.
  • Boracay well water is turning salty but still safe for drinking.
  • Presence of nitrate in the Nabaoy watershed is very low
  • Flouride content at 2.5 pm is at a low limit; no traces of soap detergent have been found along the tributaries of the Nabaoy River.
  • Sodium presence at an average of 200 mg/L in Boracay is normal but salty
  • Magnesium is zero at Nabaoy.
  • Ph salinity in Nabaoy is at 6.5 to 8.5,  where seven is normal and nine is considered alkaline water.
  • Total coliform level at the watershed is  1.1 (most probable number 9MPN) 100 ml and treatable. This is a natural offshoot as the Nabaoy park is a forest and natural habitat of wild animals and frogs that excrete waste along the river.
  • There are no traces of pesticide, insecticide and hazardous radioactive materials detected in Nabaoy.

Aside from checking the water quality and quantity of the Boracay water basin and the Nabaoy watershed, the study also reviewed the dynamics  and recharge mechanism of Boracay’s groundwater system.

Researchers also assessed the potential for degradation of fresh water from the Nabaoy watershed and tried to determine sources of impending pollution.

LIFEBLOOD. The Nabaoy River is the main source of potable water for Malay town and the famous island resort of Boracay. Richard Cahilig/Aklan Trekkers
Potential, dangers

The results of the study should spur the local government’s plan of turning Malay town, which has administrative control of Boracay, into an ecological tourism destination.

Councilor Dante Pagsuguiron, chair of the committee on laws told Rappler he would push legislation that would strengthen policies in the goal of conserving the Nabaoy Watershed.

Earlier, Malay Mayor Floribar Bautista said he plans to expand the tourism lure of Boracay to include the wonders of the Malay mainland.

But in 2021, the Nabaoy River became the center of controversy due to San Miguel Corporation’s proposal to build a P26-billion hydro power dam system to boost power supply for the regional grid under then president Rodrigo Duterte’s 2017-2040 Philippine Energy Plan.

Strategic Power Development Corporation (SPDC), a subsidiary of Philippine mega conglomerate San Miguel Corporation, described its plan as a 300-megawatt pump-storage hydro facility that would include two dams and reservoirs, 9.6 kilometers of new roads, and the upgrade of 1.8 km of existing roads.

The proposed complex would cover 122.7 hectares, including 97.9 hectares of forest, with a quarter of that area representing protected land within Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, which includes the .Nabaoy watershed.

The 12,009-hectare Park sprawls across the borders of Aklan and Antique provinces and is home to the critically endangered Visayan warty pigs and writhed-billed hornbills, as well as endangered Visayan hornbills.

BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT. The Nabaoy watershed nestles in the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, home to various endangered species and some of the last stands of primary lowland rainforest in central Philippines. Richard Cahilig/Aklan Trekkers

The park also holds some of the last remaining stands of primary lowland rainforest in the central Philippines. It serves as a key watershed providing potable water to Panay and neighboring islands. It is home to a community of Indigenous Malay Ati people, who rely on the park  fish in the Nabaoy River and rely on the forests for sustenance.

SPDC’s proposal still requires approval from local governments and the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Local officials have distanced themselves from endorsing the proposal. In a phone interview in 2021,  Malay Mayor Floribar Bautista refused to endorse the project as the possible effects on the community are not clear. 

The village of Nabaoy also canceled its previous 2018 endorsement of the project.

Jun Aguirre is a recipient of the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation’s Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship 2023.

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