Las Farolas: A living museum in the heart of Ortigas

These days, Frontera Drive in Ortigas Avenue, Pasig has become much more than a destination for dining, and shopping but also an ideal place for field trips or simply an educational activity with the family.

In only less than three months after its opening, "Las Farolas, The Fish World" is attracting a growing number of both children and adult visitors who are curious to see the more than 2,500 exotic freshwater fish species from all over the world.

Unlike other water parks, the first-of-its-kind facility boasts of 100 percent freshwater aquatic wildlife with a touch of nature and culture. The museum features rare aquatic species such as Arapaima, Alligator Gar, Wels Catfish, Australian Lungfishes and the famous Arowana.

For Henry G. Babiera, president and CEO of Moment Philippines Theme Park Planner and Management Corporation, Las Farolas used to be his hobby which later on turned into an obsession.

"It's more than just money. Ang gusto ko talaga ma-achieve ay 'yung malaman ng sambayanan kung gaano kahalaga ang pagbibigay proteksyon sa ating kalikasan, sa ating freshwater aquatic biodiversity, kung gaano siya ka-ganda, gaano siya kayaman at ang kanyang potential. Ang problema, nakatutok tayo sa tilapia, sa bangus, sa pagkain, pero 'yung ornamental aspect ay nakakalimutan," he explains.

According to him, the over 10,000 fishes they have in their breeding and growing-out facilities in Tagaytay and Parañaque City are all raised under natural conditions.

"You cannot breed all these fishes pag peke. What I mean is natural. Even though they're in the cage or aquarium, malalaking mga biotopes, mga ponds, we simulate their habitat," he says. "The most critical factors are the food they eat and the water parameters, 'yun ang ibibigay mong exact para mapaanak mo. But if you miss one of those, they won't reproduce. You're just wasting your time," he says.

MORE THAN JUST FISH

Other features that make this water park unique are its facilities. In the first floor, the aquatic adventure starts with a tour of the flora and fauna in the country and a glimpse of history through the replicas of centuries-old churches in the Philippines.

The name Las Farolas is a Spanish word for lighthouses which are the main attraction in the upper floor of the museum. These, as well as selected tribal and cultural artifacts and houses of indigenous peoples in a diorama, are on display at this section.

Babiera explains that this distinct attraction elicits a certain radiation effect that enables Las Farolas to present a deeper and more intense message to its viewers.

"Ni-replicate namin ang mga luma, makasaysayan at hindi nakikitang mga simbahan at lighthouses sa buong Pilipinas. The radiation effect is we are promoting domestic tourism. Inuungkat namin ang edukasyon, kasaysayan, at kultura ng Pilipinas na madalas nakakalimutan kasi lahat nakatutok na sa internet," he adds.

With a 5,600-square-meter exhibition area, Babiera is planning to put in more attractions in the museum in the future. But that would all depend on the availability of freshwater specimens, he says.

"It's not on the commercial side. It's more on meron pa bang available na natitira sa mundo? Baka mamaya 'yung kanilang natural habitat tinabunan na at ginawa nang condominium, mall, o airport," adds Babiera, who is also the president of PHILZOOS, a national organization of zoo and aquaria operators in the Philippines. He is likewise the president of the Ornamental Freshwater Breeders and Exporters Association of the Philippines (OFBEAP) and the country representative to the board of directors of the Southeast Asia Zoo and Aquaria Association (SEAZA).

But besides generating awareness on the rich biodiversity of the world's freshwater resources, Babiera hopes that visitors of Las Farolas will leave the museum with a renewed sense of stewardship, particularly in fighting for the extinction of aquatic life.

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