Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Provide Water for Half-a-Million People

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Balinsasayao’s Twin Lakes on a sunny day. Earth’s lakes and watersheds serve as natural reservoirs for freshwater, fueling agriculture and keeping faucets flowing in the lowlands. (DENR / DOT)

Sibulan, Negros Oriental – Lake Balinsasayao is reputedly among the most beautiful bodies of water in the Visayas, its shimmering surface reflecting the vibrant turquoise of the heavens, rung by verdant walls of green, broken only by rolling mists.

If only we could see it.

We’re perched on a view deck, drenched by sheets of near-horizontal rain. With a crew from the country’s top television network, we’re trying to catch a glimpse of the lake below, but all we can see is a solid wall of white. We couldn’t just see the mist. We were inside it.

By a freak twist of fate, our visit to the famed lake coincided with the arrival of a powerful storm. Initially hoping to photograph the lake’s colorful sunbirds and flowerpeckers, we now had no choice but to wait for the weather to clear.

“Balinsasayao’s twin lakes are known mostly by tourists escaping the seaside humidity of Dumaguete, but they also serve as a vital watershed for the province of Negros Oriental,” explained Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) Viernov Grifalde a day before.

The twin lakes of Balinsasayao and Danao serve as headwaters for five major river systems including the Amlan, Ayuquitan, Hinotongan, Okoy and Cauitan Rivers. “These natural water reservoirs collect rainwater, supplying half-a-million people with potable water all year.”

Nearly 60% of the Philippines’ land area forms 142 critical watersheds. Watersheds work best when provided with healthy forests, as the trees help absorb rainwater. The country’s watersheds however, are facing numerous threats, including illegal logging, charcoal-making and destructive kaingin or slash-and-burn farming.

“We’ve fortunately managed to minimize these activities by combining effective enforcement and field patrols with a vigorous communications and public awareness campaign,” adds Viernov. “For centuries, the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes have protected both upland and lowland communities from the worst effects of storms, floods and droughts by stabilizing the local climate and water distribution. We at the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been doing our best to protect the park, so our people can continue reaping its natural services.”

Declared as a protected area in 2000, the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park spans 8016.05 hectares and is among six featured areas for the Year of the Protected Areas (YoPA), a yearlong campaign to highlight the critical role played by the country’s 247 protected areas for both people and nature.

Launched in May 2022, YoPA is being spearheaded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the United Nations Development Programme’s Biodiversity Finance Project (UNDP-BIOFIN), the Department of Tourism (DOT), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and various local governments.

The campaign’s six featured protected areas include Masbate’s Bongsanglay Natural Park, Occidental Mindoro’s Apo Reef Natural Park, Samar Island Natural Park, Davao Oriental’s Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, Camiguin’s Mt. Timpoong Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument, plus Negros Oriental’s Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, home to endangered flora like the Almaciga tree and rarely-seen fauna like the reclusive Visayan Spotted Deer.

“Birdwatchers come from across the sea to see and photograph the colorful birds in the park. The world’s rarest deer are said to live right in those hills,” points DENR’s Sargie Dura when the mists briefly lifted to allow us a fleeting glimpse of the jade-hued peaks above.

We’ve waited all morning and with worsening weather, we settled for lunch – the highlight being various dishes made from ‘pako’ or vegetable fern.

It was either the bone-chilling 16-degree cold or the potent vinegar lacing the fern salad I was crunching on, but I seemed to have a watershed moment – that all the world’s protected areas are reservoirs or ‘reserves’ for life: from the tiny ferns grown and harvested for salad to deer that were driven up the most inaccessible areas. These reserves also produce the basic elements for life – clean water, clean air and in the case of the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, clean energy through its active geothermal vents.

“Our planet’s protected areas aren’t just great places to visit. They all serve key ecological functions – from providing habitats to endangered wildlife to generating the water which keeps our faucets flowing,” concludes BIOFIN Global Manager Onno van den Heuvel. “This World Wetlands Day, let’s visit and support our local watersheds, our local reservoirs of life.” 

The Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park lies in the Talinis Mountain Range, some 15 kilometers west of Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental. The park covers portions of the municipalities of Valencia, Sibulan and San Jose and features two high-altitude crater lakes. Balinsasayao is larger at 76 hectares, followed by Danao at 30 hectares. The area is renowned not just for its cool climate and unique biodiversity, but for providing over half-a-million people with freshwater. (DENR / DOT)

Whiteout. Our composite team from the United Nations and the DENR was met by a powerful storm. This is what most of our expedition looked like. With the wind chill, the temperature dropped to around 16 degrees. (Gregg Yan / UNDP-BIOFIN)

Exploring the lake. Less rainy days allow visitors to take twin-hulled catamarans and pencil-hulled kayaks around the lake. (Angelique Ogena / UNDP-BIOFIN)

Kabalin-an pond silently sits astride the visitor center and spans 2.4 hectares. It hosts swaying stands of Indian Willow (Salix tetrasperma), whose bark yields the salicylic acid we use to combat dandruff and oily skin. The world’s forests and watersheds help supply people with clean air, timber, water and medicine. (Gregg Yan / UNDP-BIOFIN)

Raging river. Watersheds naturally capture water from rain. Shown is a river flowing down the hills of Valencia in Negros Oriental. (Gregg Yan / UNDP-BIOFIN)

Keeping the tap flowing. Although water covers 71% of our planet, lakes, rivers and streams contain just 0.01% of its water. Over a billion people around the world have zero access to safe drinking water, making it one of the most important resources of all. (Gregg Yan / UNDP-BIOFIN)


Fantastic ferns. The Balinsasayao Twin Lakes are famed for the delicious ‘pako’ or vegetable fern (Diplazium esculentum) which sprouts wild around the park. The ferns are rinsed and served as salad, used to garnish other dishes or even mixed into ricecakes to make delectable desserts. The park hosts 237 plant species and 124 of them are ferns. (Gregg Yan / UNDP-BIOFIN)


Here be dragons. Philippine sailfin dragons (Hydrosaurus pustulatus) can be seen basking around the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park on sunny days. As a protected area, it is also a haven for birds and mammals. (Gregg Yan)

Rarest deer on Earth. Beautifully-patterned Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi) still survive in the remote forests and mountains of Negros, including the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes. This captive individual was rescued in Negros Occidental. (Gregg Yan)

Tiny treasure. A harlequin tree frog (Rhacophorus pardalis) stands out among the broad leaves of the forest. More time spent in the country’s protected areas gives visitors better chances to notice tiny treasures. (Michael Hidlao / DENR PAMO-BTLNP).

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