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Laguna de Bay is the crown jewel of the Philippines. Set in Luzon, the largest island in the Philippine archipelago, this 240,000-acre freshwater lake is the largest in the Philippines and third-largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia*. Less than 20 miles east of Manila Bay, Laguna de Bay was undoubtedly part of the bay at one time in prehistory and was cut off from the ocean by a series of geological and volcanic events around 6000 years ago. Laguna de Bay's only outlet, the Pasig River flows into Manila Bay. During dry seasons, the lowered lake levels allow sea water to backflow into the lake, changing its salinity. Only four feet above sea level, this occurs regularly and is considered by fishermen to be a necessary cleansing of the lake's waters.
Shaped somewhat like 'W', the lake features three bays at the north end. Center Bay is the flooded caldera of Laguna volcano. The lake holds nine islands, the largest of which is Talim Island that forms part of the division between West Bay and Center Bay. East Bay is on the less populated side of the lake, and the West Bay shoreline is heavily developed all the way to Manila proper.
Laguna de Bay is an integral part of Philippine culture, and its watershed is shared by 66 local governments, 5 provinces, 49 municipalities, 12 cities and numerous small villages with a population of over six million. With such a dense population along its 176-mile shoreline, it is understandable that the lake has encountered serious water quality problems. Laguna de Bay is stressed by too many competing interests and purposes; not all of them can simultaneously be met.
Laguna de Bay's waters are used to irrigate many acres of crops near the lake, including rice paddy fields, sugar cane fields, coconut plantations, vegetables, fruits and poultry which are sold to feed the large populations of Manila and Quezon City. The lake also provides cooling water to the new industrial plants springing up along the shoreline. The Philippine government also has plans to increase the amount of drinking water by using Laguna de Bay as a reservoir. A rapidly-increasing population, often the poorest people, have built unauthorized housing along the lake and its many tributaries, often directing wastewater directly into the streams.
Little infrastructure has been built to handle industrial wastes, which also tends to end up in the lake. The Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure was built across Pasig River to prevent seawater backflow to the lake, prevent possible pollutants from entering Manila Bay, and to assist with flood control in Manila. However, the structure proved harmful to the ecological balance of the lake, and has since been opened. For many years the lake also served as the lower pool of a pumped storage hydroelectric plant along the eastern shoreline, but is no longer considered a vital source of electricity in the area.
One of the mainstays of the Filipino diet is fish. And one of the main locations for fish farming is Laguna de Bay. At one time over 75,000 acres of fish pens and cages nearly covered the huge lake's surface, making navigation nearly impossible. The shallow average depth of about eight feet meant water levels were ideal for aquaculture. Local fish farmers raise Nile tilapia, bighead carp, white goby, introduced milkfish, sea catfish and silver perch among other species. Some fishing is still done from boats in open water, but there is little open water left. As the lake has over 100 inflowing streams of varying sizes, turbidity in the shallow water sometimes doesn't allow sunlight to penetrate adequately to propagate the plankton which many of the fish feed on. The nearly annual saltwater backflows from Manila Bay clear the water and allow the plankton to flourish. The lake is also a major transportation route between villages and is a part of the flyway for migratory birds.
To begin to alleviate some of these problems and to institute an organized system of lake usage regulations, the Laguna Lake Development Authority was formed in 1966. Charged with promoting sustainable development along Laguna de Bay lakeshore, the LLDA develops and enforces environmental management, particularly water quality monitoring, conservation of natural resources, and community-based natural resource management. The LLDA enforces the licensing of fish pens and cages, works with municipalities to control and treat both industrial and household waste, and helps to determine how much water can be withdrawn for what purpose. It will be a long and hard struggle, but progress is being made in order to meet the needs of all parties and to better protect water quality. Fish pen acreage has been reduced to 25,000 acres and is both strictly licensed and organized to allow for open boating channels. Soon it is hoped Laguna de Bay may become a more attractive tourism destination and further strengthen the economy in the region.
Laguna de Bay is often called Laguna Lake but that is incorrect: Laguna means lake - Bay is the actual name of that lake. The name originates from the village of Bay on the south shore. One of the oldest towns in the area, the old Tagalog community was the first capital of Laguna Province. The Spanish named the lake after the town. The phonetic name Bay is linguistically related to the Tagalog word for shore, but also for woman and for priestess. It is unknown which of these meanings the town was originally meant to portray, and a number of popular myths have developed to explain the meaning of the lake's name.
The Laguna de Bay lakeshore has been inhabited for many thousands of years, which can be seen in the Angono petroglyphs in the lakeshore town of Binangonan Rizal. A world cultural heritage site, tour guides offer tours of the protected caves at Binangonan Rizal where these depictions of humans and animals exist. Due to the many years of Spanish influence, several old churches exist around the lake that are most interesting to those with an eye for architecture. One of the most unusual is the Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery in Nagcarlan near Mount Banahaw-San Christobal National Park. This unique architectural treasure holds the only under-church cemetery in the Philippines. The church and cemetery are no longer used but are a favorite among historians and architecture students.
Near Laguna de Bay's south shore, Mount Makiling National Park holds a number of locations of interest to tourists. The mountain itself is a dormant volcano rising to 3576 feet. The mountain is ideal for hiking, camping, trekking, mountain biking, and bird watching. The Mount Makiling Forest Reserve holds approximately 2,048 species of plants and is a favorite of bird watchers. Climbers are allowed to climb in some areas. The park also holds the 'Mud Springs', a hot spring where volcanic heat and sulfuric acid break down the rocks into bubbling, boiling mud. The park also holds the Makiling Botanical Gardens and the National Art Center.
Areas around Lagune de Bay hold numerous sites and activities the entice visitors. Some lodgings exist in the form of modest hotels. Nearby Manila holds all types of hotels, guest houses and even beachfront properties for popular water sports and boating. The Laguna de Bay area is certainly worth a visit as there are many activities and unusual sites to enjoy. So bring the camera, prepare to bargain shop for local crafts and textiles, and enjoy the friendly culture and hospitality of the Filipino people. It's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
* Surpassed in size by Cambodia's Tonle Sap at 667,184 acres and Sumatra's Lake Toba with 279,229 acres.
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