CAMALIG, Feb. 3 (PNA) -- Only five years ago, there was not a square meter of water to be found in Sumlang Lake, the newest ecotourism destination in the town of Camalig, Albay that has recently been seeing an influx of visitors.
“The villagers themselves worked to help remove the water lilies growing in abundance at the wetland area,” said Felipe “Jun” Napa Jr., head of Barangay Sumlang.
He told guests from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Bicol (DENR-Bicol), which chose the lake as site for the observance of World Wetlands Day and National Wetlands Day on Feb. 2, that currently a total of seven hectares have been cleared of water lilies by the villagers.
Owing to the villagers’ hard work, bamboo rafts are now able to take tourists on a cruise around the lake for a panoramic view of Albay’s iconic emblem, the Mayon Volcano.
Tourists pay Php25 each for an hour-long ride at a bamboo raft manually steered by three village men with long bamboo poles that push the watercraft as it glides along the lakewaters said to be as deep as ten feet. The raft could seat as many as ten passengers.
Napa said a “food-for-work” program was started in 2011, whereby villagers worked “bayanihan”- style each Sunday to ensure clearing of the wetland area of the water lilies in exchange for several kilos of rice.
“The provincial government of Albay donated around 100 sacks of rice for the program,” recounted Napa.
Barangay Sumlang, which is located 300 meters away from the poblacion of Camalig, has a land area of 20 hectares with a population of 2,003 -- mostly engaged in handicraft work, farming and now eco-tourism.
Napa said Sumlang Lake occupies a total of 12 hectares: seven hectares of space for the cruise around the lake and the remaining four hectares still being cleared of unwanted vegetation by the villagers.
Yolanda G. Sa-ong, head of the Protected Area Management and Biodiversity Section of DENR-Bicol, said their agency has been conducting an assessment and preparing a management plan for the protection, conservation and proper management of the wetlands in the Bicol Region.
“Our assessment last year identified Sumlang Lake as one of the eight wetland sites in Bicol,” she said.
Sa-ong said a management plan will take into account the kinds of species endemic within and around the lake and help preserve the lake as a habitat for these species.
Around a hundred villagers attended the lake-side audio-visual presentation of DENR-5 which highlighted the theme of the celebration of World Wetlands Day in 2016--Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods.
The presentation cited the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on Feb. 2, 1971, which identified wetlands as any land area saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally, along with all beaches and shallow coastal areas, that provide natural sponges against river flooding, and store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change.
“There is a need to protect the world’s wetlands, 64 percent of which have disappeared since 1900, while freshwater populations have declined by 76 percent between 1970 and 2010,” the same presentation said.
Gilbert C.Gonzales, DENR regional director, said he gave instructions to the City Environment and Natural Resources Officer in Guinobatan, Albay to serve as a “liaison or coordinator in the assessment and management plan for Sumlang Lake."
He said it was “the first step in the development and protection of Sumlang Lake.”
Napa said gathering the community together for World Wetland Day observance is important.
“In five years, Sumlang Lake could deteriorate if there is no management plan to take care of garbage segregation and disposal,” he said.
“Caring for the environment is a shared responsibility. The people around Sumlang Lake have a responsibility to take care of the lake,” he added.
Napa said there is need to increase public awareness in protecting the lake, as they did not expect it would generate this big number of visitors, especially in recent months.
Records from the municipal tourism office showed that in 2015, there were around 90,000 tourists who came to Camalig town. Of this number, 50,000 came to visit Sumlang Lake.
Last month (January), there were around 8,000 tourists who came to visit Sumlang Lake, no doubt now a fast-rising star of Camalig town, which is more known for its enticing “pinangat,” a native delicacy consisting of gabi leaves (natong in Bicol) cooked in creamy coconut milk.(PNA) FPV/FGS/GVR/CBD