Organized by the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in partnership with the Office of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda, the third episode of the PA Talk #ProtectedAreasforAProtectedFuture streamed live on August 25, Tuesday, 10:00 a.m.
Atty. Ipat Luna and Asec Ricardo Calderon, the Assistant Secretary for Climate Change and concurrent Director of the DENR-Biodiversity Management Bureau, opened the discussion for the third episode of PA Talk. The episode’s theme is “Ecotourism in Protected Areas”, and as such, showcased the best practices in ecotourism of the featured protected areas, Batanes Protected Landscape and Seascape, Apo Reef Natural Park, and Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape.
The respective Regional Executive Directors (REDs), Protected Area Superintendents (PASus), and representatives from partner ecotourism service providers/People’s Organization (PO) served as resource persons. Representatives from the Department of Tourism (DOT) and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) were also invited to discuss ecotourism and resilience in the new normal. They shared insights on strengthening local knowledge on heritage and ecotourism. Deputy Speaker and Antique Lone District Representative Loren Legarda emphasized the value of ecological and heritage tourism in the management of protected areas.
Batanes Protected Landscape and Seascape (BPLS)
RED Gwendolyn Bambalan introduced Batanes Protected Landscape and Seascape, a group of islands found in the northernmost part of the Philippines which encompasses the entire province of Batanes, and is characterized by a complex terrestrial, wetland and marine ecosystems.
PENRO/PASu Victoria C. Baliuag continued the discussion and presented the unique biological and physical features of BPLS which attract many local and foreign tourists. She discussed how the tourist arrivals in BPLS almost doubled from 2015 to 2019. As a result, collection of fees also increased. These funds are utilized for the protection and management of the protected area.
ASec Calderon asked whether the pandemic affected BPLS and the PASu responded that there was a decrease in tourist arrivals in 2020 and this threatens the fund collection for the management of BPLS. RED Bambalan said that they will make the necessary coordination once they have finalized their mitigation programs.
Videos from Earthlink and Dayaw, which were previously done in partnership with the DENR and NCAA, showcased the uniqueness of Batanes PLS and the resilience of the Ivatans. Deputy Speaker Legarda, shared the photos she took from her visits in BPLS and inquired why there are many Arius trees in Batanes. PASu Baliuag explained that the Arius tree was declared by the provincial government as Batanes Tree. The tree is also used to make wine and provide reinforcement against strong winds. Atty. Ipat and ASec. Calderon added that Arius trees are indigenous to BPLS but may be transported as long as it is accompanied with appropriate permits.
Ms. Emily A. Balderas, the Chairperson of Milagrosa Multi-purpose Cooperative, People’s Organization in BPLS, shared that their organization did not have a livelihood program in the past. When BPLS became known as a tourist destination, they turned to making products such as “dibang” or day-old flying fish with the assistance of the DENR for the livelihood of its community members. She also shared how their organization is proactive in the management of BPLS by participating in various programs such as the coastal clean-up.
Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP)
RED Ma. Lourdes G. Ferrer presented Apo Reef Natural Park, the largest coral atoll-like reef in the country and the second largest contiguous reef in the world. PASu Krystal Dayne Villanada indicated that ARNP is also dubbed as the “Underwater Paradise of Occidental Mindoro.” She shared that prior to its establishment as a protected area, ARNP was a fishing site but due to the proliferation of unsustainable fishing practices, then it was declared as a no fishing zone.
Presently, the people living around ARNP turned to ecotourism-related jobs. Although the Covid-19 pandemic caused a decline in the number of tourists and collection of fees in the park, PASu Villanada noted its positive impacts. PASu shared that since the pandemic, they observed that the number of sea turtles in the area increased while the crown-of-thorns starfish, which destroy the corals, decreased. She also said that it gave them time to capacitate more rangers to prepare for the reopening of the protected area. RED Ferrer added that they are also using this time to review and enhance their management plans to complement Mts. Iglit-Baco Natural Park, an adjacent protected area. Atty. Ipat Luna suggested incorporating environmental/biodiversity education to student modules to increase their knowledge and appreciation of the environment.
Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape (AIPLS)
RED Paquito Melicor, Jr. introduced Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape, a volcanic island found in Negros Oriental. AIPLS is the second oldest marine sanctuary established in the country and serves as the home for many endangered species such as the green sea turtle and hawksbill turtle.
Just like Apo Reef Natural Park, PENRO/PASu Nestor M. Canda shared that the main livelihood in AIPLS used to be fishing, but the people shifted to ecotourism-related jobs when the protected area was established. The funds raised primarily goes to the protection of the protected area. RED Melicor also shared that they are aiming for AIPLS to be declared as an ASEAN Heritage Park (AHP) or UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS). Deputy Speaker Legarda said that she will help in endorsing AIPLS as a UNESCO WHS.
However, challenges for the PA such as typhoons, influx of migrants and the current pandemic remain. Mitigation measures such as budget allocation for PA wardens, information dissemination for zero-waste in the communities, purchase of septic tanks for cleaning household water waste, among others, are being done to reduce the risks in the park.
Hon. Mario Pascobello, Punong Barangay of Apo Island, Dauin, discussed how their organization used to be reliant on fishing. However, since the declaration of AIPLS as a protected area, they shifted from fishing to tour-guiding to help take the pressure of overfishing off the seas. Unfortunately, the community still needs to be introduced to alternative livelihood programs especially when tourism is down.
Department of Tourism (DOT)
OIC-Director Warner Andrada of DOT’s Office of Tourism Development Planning, Research and Information Management, discussed the difference between tourism and ecotourism. He said that ecotourism should be an instrument for education about the environment and should encourage community participation. Director Andrada also shared that many risk reduction plans miss a very important component – resilience. He said that resilience from disasters should not be the sole priority; resilience from economic factors should also be considered. He also emphasized the need to review ecotourism action plans in protected areas and make adjustments when necessary.
National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA)
NCCA Representative Arvin Manuel Villalon discussed the importance of natural heritage and the laws protecting it, such as RA 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act. He said that natural heritage is the wellspring of all cultural heritage. He emphasized that protected areas should be viewed not only in a scientific perspective but also in a cultural point of view. By marrying the science and the knowledge of locals, protected areas will be viewed in a holistic manner. He also added that millennials can be engaged to help in the conservation of the environment since the generation has witnessed many unfortunate disasters, most of which resulted from the destruction of the environment.
Deputy Speaker Legarda reiterated the importance of the implementation of RA 9003 on the management of ecological solid waste in protected areas and suggested having rainwater collectors on structures put up in protected areas to conserve and utilize rainwater. She also emphasized the need to have a biodiversity database/website for all the flora and fauna as well as documentation of the cultural heritage of the people living inside each protected area.
As the principal author and co-sponsor of the ENIPAS Act of 2018, she hopes to introduce the protected areas of the country to a wider audience, and engage the public to help study, protect, and conserve them.
PA Talk #ProtectedAreasForAProtectedFuture is a monthly online series that aims to promote public participation/involvement in the management and protection of protected areas by highlighting the biological, physical and cultural features of protected areas and by showcasing the various facets of protected area management through the stories of experiences of the Regional Executive Directors, the Protected Area Superintendents and other stakeholders.