The silent killer of Macajalar Bay

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By Orlan R. Ravanera

Kim's Dream

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


THE onset of the rains that is battering Mindanao saw dead fish floating in Macajalar Bay, particularly near the mouth of Agusan River. The culprit is believed to be the toxic chemicals coming from the surrounding vast plantations that are heavily using pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. These non-biodegradable petroleum-based agricultural inputs are washed from the soil into the rivers and into Macajalar Bay.

This will be the subject of the public hearing next week called by no less than the chairman of the committee of environment, Hon. Kag. Zaldy Ocon. I heard that experts who have examined the dead fish are coming to present their diagnosis.

Pity the fish but pity more Macajalar Bay. Every time I see Macajalar Bay, I remember the lines of the beautiful poem, which begins with “Rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light...” Deep inside I feel the pain and the anger not because of the “dying of the light” but in the impending death of an ecosystem, the natural world of Macajalar Bay whose beauty is both awesome and humbling.

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The grandeur that is Macajalar Bay from Sulawan Point in Laguindingan to Punta Gorda in Balingasag, speaks well for itself. But the same grandeur is now fast disappearing as it undergoes progressive state of impairment and with it, the marginalization of the coastal populace.

In the opening lines of the poem, “Charge of the Light Brigade,” there are “cannons at the left of them, cannons at the right of them, cannons facing them.” Such is also true in Macajalar Bay, not cannons but vast plantations. Every day, these plantations are applying chemicals at every stage: applying Nematicide during land preparation, Phosphoric Acid (fungicide), Actara (Insecticide) and Duiron and Promacil (herbicide) during pre-planting. Immediately after planning, they apply Duiron and Ametryne.

Tons and tons of chemical fertilizers are applied as basal then bombarding the growing crops with foliar fertilizer at 1,500 kilograms per hectare. There are about 48,000 hectares of plantations surrounding Macajalar Bay, multiply these by 1,500 kilograms, you imagine 100 trucks dumping chemicals every day in Macajalar Bay as ultimately, these chemicals find their way into the bay and of course, into our water table as these toxic chemicals are non-biodegradable.

These toxic chemicals are ingested by fish that cause their sudden death, and if the fish survive with carcinogenic elements in them, these are bio magnified that find their way into our bodies when we eat fish. Are you still wondering why many are dying of cancer in Cagayan de Oro? Indeed, these poisonous chemicals poison sea life and even entered food chains.

Many of our fisherfolk can attest to the fact that when it rains, many fish float dead in the rivers and in the sea. Worse, we strongly suspect that the water table may already be contaminated by these toxic chemicals. In fact, no less than the former Regional Executive Director of the DENR, my best friend, Dr. Raoul Geollegue claims that our drinking water may have been contaminated already. If that be so, then, we can aptly say, “drink now, die later.” Following the precautionary principle, we in Sulog have been clamoring that our water table be examined as the Cagay-anons may be drinking or bathing or using water for cooking which are already contaminated with these toxic chemicals. But until now, such plea falls on deaf ears. One day, the people of Cagayan de Oro will wake-up and only then that such horrible reality be promptly checked or face the collective anger of the deceived people.

In Malaybalay, an ordinance has been passed disallowing these plantations to expand because so much harm has been done already to ecological integrity. The people of Cagayan de Oro are still sleeping on this issue. I hope that the good councilor, Hon. Zaldy Ocon, can awaken the Cagay-anons by way of a public hearing, then, crafting policies to regulate the heavy use of chemicals by these plantations that ultimately harming Cagayan de Oro, not only in terms of making it vulnerable to Sendong-like disasters but in polluting the bay and the water table.

As if these chemicals are not yet enough to kill the bay, there are other death blows such as industrial pollution as the bay is treated by surrounding industries as their waste pit. The bay is also a victim of soil erosion and siltation. What men do in the uplands affects the life in the sea. Because trees were logged by the powerful loggers which left hundred thousands of hectares denuded, soil has been eroding and washing in the silted rivers and into the bay. The eroded soil or silts has harmed sea life, coral reefs and cause fish and other organisms to die.

Our fisherfolk and their families have been painfully witnessing the fading away of the bay’s fishery and aquatic resources. They are vehemently condemning the massive ecological degradation as it deprives them of their legitimate livelihood. Let us not sacrifice the Bay to the altar of greed and profit!

As a tribute to Macajalar Bay, I compose this poem:

Will the bay which reigns to give life

Be now devoid of breath? It has always been like a mother to us,

As we bountifully reaped its blessings.

Fishing lies at the heart of our culture,

The fisherfolk its careful guardians.

The bay is now facing a crisis,

Representing a danger to coastal communities.

Soon, we will see a time when the unavoidable

Reality of hunger will stalk the earth again.

Then how heavily will the meaning of a single fish

Weigh in our human heart!

Pray sons and daughters of the Earth

That the Bay be restored to health!

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 22, 2014.

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