The waters of Coron Bay, Palawan, have been found to be so polluted with human excrement they are no longer safe for swimming.
An official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued the warning about dangerous levels of coliform bacteria today (Saturday, March 17).
Regional director Natividad Bernardino said: “If you will only see the waters in Coron Bay, it’s not safe anymore to swim there for the locals and our tourists.”
This is due a rapid increase of coliform bateria in the waters from 2011 to 2017. The bacteria indicates the presence of faecal or human waste pollution. In the case of Coron, the source of this pollution is likely to be commercial establishments and informal settlers.
Tests conducted by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau show that six locations in the bay have high total coliform levels.
These are Tagumpay, Barangay 1, Barangay 2, Reclamation Area, Barangay 5 and Governor’s Wharf.
In 2016, the highest coliform level was recorded in Barangay Tagumpay, registering 104,818 ‘most probable number’ (MPN) per 100ml, which was alarmingly higher than the recognised safe limit of 1,000 MPN.
Although the test result in Tagumpay decreased in 2017 to 9,758 MPN, it’s still well above safe limits, Bernardino said.
In Barangay 5, a 2017 test result showed a total coliform level of 25,269 MPN, the highest among the five areas.
All six areas also registered high faecal coliform levels from 2011 to 2017 per water quality guidelines with Barangay 1 showing the highest at 2,958 MPN in 2017 from an excessive test result of 21,315 MPN in 2012.
“Coron’s dilemma right now is that it has no centralised sewage treatment plant. El Nido appears better than Coron now because its water quality has improved after two years based on tests,” Bernardino said.
El Nido Mayor Nieves Cabanalda-Rosentohas has ordered all commercial establishments to hire in private contractors to remove sludge from their septic tanks.
“This is what we had suggested as an immediate solution to the municipal government of Coron to bring down coliform levels in the bay. Order the establishments to desludge their septic tanks,” Bernadino said.
She added that, ultimately, the best solution would be the removal of informal settlers who have set up homes in mangrove areas and the commercial establishments that have been discharging wastewater to the bay.
“Remove immediately the 1,000 informal settlers along the bay in the three-metre easement zone, and relocate them. Then eventually, every structure that releases wastewater and faeces,” she said.
Bernardino appealed to the provincial government of Palawan and local leaders in Coron to find new homes for the settlers, who were beneficiaries of the typhoon Yolanda relocation programme.
Pollution of Philippine tourist resorts has been in spotlight recently, after President Duterte described Boracay Island as a “cesspool”. The government is now considering closing and rehabilitating the white-sand resort.