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The Tragedy of Lake Lanao, Southeast Asia's Only Ancient Lake

There are only 15 ancient lakes in the world. Lake Lanao is one of them.
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Fifteen species of fish endemic to Mindanao’s Lake Lanao no longer exist. They were among the 36 species of plants and animals declared extinct in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species in 2020. 

The lake was home to 17 species of Barbodes. Of that number, 15 are now extinct. 

The 15 extinct species are Barbodes amarus, Barbodes baoulan, Barbodes clemensi, Barbodes disa, Barbodes flavifuscus, Barbodes herrei, Barbodes katolo, Barbodes lanaoensis, Barbodes manalak, Barbodes pachycheilus, Barbodes palaemophagus, Barbodes palata, Barbodes resimus, Barbodes tras, and Barbodes truncatalus.

According to the IUCN, the extinct native species of freshwater fish were likely eaten by invasive species introduced into the lake for commercial purposes. 

One of the most destructive invasive species cultivated in rivers and lakes in the Philippines is the cream dory or pangasius, a large predatory fish that eats endemic species. Meanwhile, tilapia, also an invasive species, compete with native species for food. 

Lake Lanao is Southeast Asia’s Ancient Lake

Lake Lanao is the second largest lake in the Philippines after Laguna de Bay. It is one of only 15 ancient lakes in the world. It is volcanic in origin and is estimated to be around two million years old, making it a perfect lake where the world’s most unique species could thrive. Unfortunately, poorly planned aquaculture has disrupted the ecosystem of the lake. 

“This is not the first time we are witnessing the impacts of invasive alien species, which eat or outcompete native species,” says Dr. Theresa Mundita Lim, executive director for the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity.

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“While the introduction of invasive alien species like tilapia or pangasius may be perceived as valuable for livelihoods, food production or pest control, science-based assessments should be undertaken to determine if it leads to adverse impacts on the environment and biodiversity.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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