UPLB botanist wants science brought to Laguna Lake, riverside communities

November 6, 2010 12:22 am 

LOS BANOS, LAGUNA, Nov. 5 -– Botanist Macrina T. Zafralla is pursuing a project aimed at bringing science to Asia’s second largest fresh water lake – Laguna De Bay, including the underserved on the lakeshores and riverside communities to empower people to take action in protecting and preserving the country’s freshwater resources that are vital to their survival.

Dr. Zafralla, who was responsible for devising a simple bamboo-and-water hyacinth barrier that filters pollutants, won the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST)-Hugh Greenwood Environmental Science Award in April this year.

She was recognized for her studies of Taal Lake and water bodies which show how volcanic eruption, river flow, aquaculture and human settlements affect the food chain.

Zafaralla is a professor at the Institute of Biological Sciences at UP Los Baños. She specializes on the study of algae.

"On its 10th year, the NAST award was an indication of the importance of environment-related research, one of four DOST priorities. More environment-related studies are being funded in recent years. That’s how important they are. We need to know more about the environment to nurture it for the generations to come," said a former DOST secretary.

According to Zafaralla, she wants "to bring science to the underserved, especially the lakeshore and riverside communities as a way of people empowerment to take action in protecting and preserving freshwater resources that are vital to their survival."

The NAST said Zafaralla demonstrated that "there are no limits to how much a scientist can do to help save natural resources on which people depend for their livelihood."

The Zafaralla studies on water quality led Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos to reduce in mid-2008 the number of fish cages in Taal Lake from 11,000 to 6,000, UPLB records show.

In less than three months, there was an increase in fish diversity while algal blooms and the muddy taste of tilapia were eliminated, the study said.

But more importantly, Dr. Zafaralla wants to do the same thing for Laguna Lake whose proposed rehabilitation has been stalled due to conflicting interventions from government and private sector organizations.

Among Zafaralla’s many achievements is her rehabilitation of Molawin River in UPLB in less than a year, using a simple technology of water hyacinth plants framed in bamboo that filtered water pollutants. The river was officially declared a biopark.

Three bamboo barriers of water hyacinth roots, three meters deep, it filter the water rushing downriver. "It can absorb as much as 80 percent, for example, of heavy metals that pass through," Zafaralla said.

Dr. Zafralla said "The same technology can be applied at the Pasig River, but it will need engineering designs as the river is wide and strong and should use water hyacinths that thrive in salty portions."

”We can also use other plants like kangkong, camote and river grass, but we need to maintain the floating barriers regularly," she said.

”The technology is essentially a `banig’ or mat of roots that, together with planktons and microorganisms, degrade organic matters," she said.

"In China, they call it a floating garden because the mat encourages fish growth underneath and you can harvest the plants and fish. It is quite common in China and India so we know it will work here," Dr. Zafralla stressed. <p”"We are currently studying whether kangkong or camote that filter pollutants are edible," she said, adding, "We are also looking into the possibility of using the plants as compost," she added. (PNA) LOR/FMB


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