The red tide phenomenon in Puerto Princesa Bay has attracted the attention of marine scientists, whom last week expressed interest to study the problem and figure out why it has been consistently present around the waters surrounding the city.

University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) chief scientist Dr. Deo Onda pointed out that Puerto Princesa Bay is one of the most affected bodies of water in the country, where red tide has been monitored to be frequently occurring.

This situation has exposed local residents to potential health risks, thus the Bureau of Fisheries has constantly been issuing advisories to avoid consumption of shellfish taken from the bays. It has also resulted in unquantified economic impacts, in terms of foregone livelihood opportunities.

It is tempting to hypothesize, ahead of these conclusive marine studies, that the city’s red tide problem may be linked to its problematic waste management situation. This, since it is well established by science that pollution of coastal bays is directly related to toxic algal blooms.

What may be specifically unique in the case of Puerto Princesa City is the factor of mercury contamination affecting Honda Bay and the barangays of Sta. Lourdes and Tagburos. It has been over two years since the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the Department of Health disclosed its own studies showing the extent of mercury contamination in these areas. The DoH even recommended the evacuation of certain affected areas in Sta. Lourdes and the closure of the city landfill, along with the treatment of residents affected by mercury poisoning.

There are no immediate solutions in place to address these pressing problems, even as the city government has undertaken some effort to relocate some residents of Sta. Lourdes.

In the case of the city landfill, which had already been issued a cease and desist order by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the city government’s plan in lieu of closure is an ambitious joint venture with a private company on a waste-to-energy project, which has yet to take off the ground.

The joint venture, as previously reported by local media, is apparently tied to the putting up of a much-needed wastewater treatment facility that shall regulate domestic and industrial water discharge into the bay.

The planned UP-MSI study is a golden opportunity to take a closer and more objective look at the city’s water pollution problem, and identify both immediate and long term solutions that are informed by science and guided by careful principles of urban planning.

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