FROM SALTWATER TO FRESHWATER
Famed not just because it hosts one of just two volcanoes-withinlakes-within-volcanoes (let’s say that twice), Taal is known over the world for hosting marine life, which has completely adapted to freshwater. Let’s take a quick look at some of them.
The Bombon Sardine (Sardinella tawilis) takes its moniker from the original name of Taal: Bombon Lake. The tiny bullet-like fish made headlines in January 2019 because it was finally declared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species.
Once marine fish, they have evolved to survive in freshwater, feeding on floating algae and plankton. Though other sardines can survive in freshwater lakes (like the Tanganyikan Sardine), the Tawilis is the only freshwater member of the genus Sardinella. Owing to a combination of overfishing, pollution and invasion from farmed African tilapia, Tawilis numbers have plummeted by as much as 50 percent in the last decade. To help stocks recover, the government has imposed a closed season to prevent fishers from catching the tiny fish each March and April.
The Freshwater Trevally (Caranx ignobilis) is essentially a freshwater-adapted Talakitok or jack. Commonlyencountered in coral reefs and mangroves, the marine versions of these giants grow up to five feet and weigh over 80 kilos, but the majority of Maliputo sold in Tagaytay and the towns of Taal average is just three kilos.
Like their marine forefathers, they hunt smaller fish like pack wolves. Owing to continued fishing to supply tourist hubs like Tagaytay, these spade-like fish have become increasingly rare, but are still classified by the IUCN as a species of least concern. The government has instituted a system to breed them in captivity, as reported in 2006 by Agri-info magazine, greatly enhancing their chances of survival. Maliputo are also featured on the nifty new line of fifty-peso bills.
3 SEA SNAKE
Trust me, there’s nothing as freaky as free diving through the eelgrass meadows of Taal Lake and finding yourself face-to-face with a venomous sea snake. Good thing they almost never bite. One of the world’s two freshwater sea snakes, the Lake Taal Snake (Hydrophis semperi) is usually harmless as it eats only small fish.
Often killed by fishers and townsfolk just because they look scary, our banded brothers are becoming rarer and have been classified by the IUCN as vulnerable. If you wish to see one, take a kayak or small boat, paddle around and wait for one to pop up from the depths to take a breath. Don’t approach it -- just observe from a distance and marvel at its Slytherin-like grace.
4 FRESHWATER PIPEFISH
One of my favorite fish in the lake, they usually hide out in tall reeds, eelgrass meadows, and floating debris. Pipefish are close cousins of seahorses, who are unique because of their armor plating, excellent camouflage, and because the males are ‘impregnated’ by females.
Taal Lake hosts at least three species from the genus Hippichthys, Microphis, and Coeroichthys. They are usually hard to spot because they look like horizontally-floating blades of brownish grass. Not much is known about these pipefish but in general, they are planktivores and spend much of their time in calm, vegetated areas. Aquarists are highly discouraged from capturing them, though in case you already have one, the care of freshwater pipefish would be similar to marine seahorses -- almost constant availability of high-quality live food like brine shrimp or daphnia and a quiet aquarium housing just their kind.