Water hyacinths: Bane or boon?

"Other productive and beneficial uses can be found for these plants."


Water hyacinths first entered the public’s consciousness during the past administration, when then-President Noynoy Aquino declared war on the pesky plants that were choking up to 20 hectares of the Rio Grande de Mindanao in Cotabato City.

Photos of the river at the time show a wide expanse of green plants so thick and dense that it blocked boats and other traffic and caused floods. Aquino said the government would study means to control the growth and spread of the water hyacinths, and explore using the plants’ fiber and as biofuel or alternative energy source.

The plants, however, are hardy, and appear regularly during the wet season. They are seen blanketing the Pasig River as a huge green biomass, having traveled from Laguna de Bai.

Fast-forward to today. According to a recent advisory from the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, water hyacinths aren’t all that bad and in fact have important uses particularly in rehabilitating waterways.

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is one of the most known aquatic plants and is present in the waterways of Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.

In its advisory released June 7, PRRC executive director Jose Antonio E. Goitia informed the public “with the start of rainy season comes the bloom of water hyacinth plants, which have now started to spread across the Pasig River all the way from Laguna Lake.

“Being a tidal estuary, the coming of water hyacinths to the Pasig River is an indication that the water level in Laguna Lake is getting higher than Manila Bay’s mean sea level.

“We received reports from concerned citizens about sightings of “green slime” at some parts of the river. We would like to clarify that the green “slime” or pigment is actually water hyacinth algal bloom. Indeed, water hyacinths are coming.”

Though the plants are known to cause problems in ferry operations, they are used to remove heavy metals from the Pasig River and its tributaries.

The plants are also benefiting poor families in BASECO through a handloom weaving livelihood program at PRRC’s White House facility. Artisans there strip the fibers from the plant stalks and weave them into high-quality bags, table runners, fans, slippers, blankets, shawls, and bracelets. Proceeds from the sales of water hyacinth products provide the craftspeople with a livelihood.

Among those who have visited the White House to buy the handicrafts are foreigners, journalists, and politicians, among the latter Senators Emmanuel D. Pacquiao and Cynthia A. Villar, who donated more weaving equipment.

The PRRC acknowledges “that the quick proliferation of water hyacinths might cause inconvenience to the riding public of Pasig River Ferry Service.

“To prevent this problem and to keep the Pasig River navigable, we reactivated the PRRC Task Force Water Hyacinth group.” Presumably this task force will remove the plants from the paths of the ferries, allowing them and other boats clear passage.  

PRRC is a government agency whose mission is “to transform Pasig River and its environs into a showcase of a new quality of urban life” towards the vision of  “a new Pasig River clean and alive reflecting the country's noble history and progress.”

Recently, the PRRC, with their “limited resources,” did their best “to control the backflow of garbage from the Manila Bay,” Goitia said in his advisory.

“We intercepted more than 300,000 kilos of solid waste that could have killed the aquatic life in the Pasig River. It was not easy, but we did not give up because our Pasig River is worth loving and fighting for,” he added.

Water hyacinths might seem a bane for the conduct of human affairs on the waterways, but it turns out they actually serve a purpose in water rehabilitation and livelihood programs. Management of their growth and proliferation is key, as are information dissemination and public awareness about the topic.

PRRC should also consider reaching out to the Department of Science and Technology and other related agencies and private bodies to explore using water hyacinths for energy and fuel, as former President Aquino proposed.

By bringing other brains to bear on the challenge, other productive and beneficial uses can be found for those plants, and they needn’t be considered pesky after all. 

Help rehabilitate the Pasig River and assist marginalized communities by visiting the PRRC White House for your souvenirs and gifts. /FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , Water hyacinths
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