TO prevent the problems besetting Boracay from being repeated in El Nido, Palawan, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now taking a proactive approach before environmental problems become unmanageable.
In a press statement, Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu said he wants to implement policies to help minimize the negative impact of tourism in El Nido.
Reports showed El Nido is beset with problems of diminishing water quality, biodiversity loss, flooding and proliferation of informal settlers, business establishments and structures without a permit, and a host of other problems.
“I want people to experience the beauty of El Nido and other natural wonders of our country for as long as possible,” Cimatu said.
The DENR chief added he had instructed all DENR personnel to address such priorities as clean water, clean air and solid-waste management hounding island tourist destinations like El Nido and Boracay.
Officials of DENR in Mimaropa have identified El Nido as a priority area. El Nido used to be known for promoting sustainable tourism. Situated within the province known as the country’s last ecological frontier, El Nido boasts of rich flora and fauna, breath-taking landscapes and small-island scenery, lagoons with pristine waters.
El Nido is also hosting unique bird species and is frequented by large marine wildlife like the sea or marine turtles, sea cow or dugong, dolphins, sharks and rays.
“We do not want El Nido to face the same problems of Boracay,” DENR Mimaropa Regional Director Natividad Bernardino said in the same press statement.
Bernardino was referring to the mounting garbage problem and water contamination due to unregulated activities in Boracay.
Big resorts in Boracay are facing closure if they are found violating environmental laws. The DENR is in the process of validating a list of resorts not connected to the existing sewer system on Boracay Island.
The House committee on tourism is currently conducting an investigation into the problems besetting Boracay Island, known for its white-sand beaches and pristine waters. Foremost of these problems is its mounting garbage problem.
Acting on the problem last year, Cimatu had immediately stepped in. Within 20 days in June and July last year, 1,906 tons of garbage were hauled from Boracay to Aklan.
Two weeks ago, Cimatu and Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo agreed to step up efforts to save Boracay, including penalizing establishments violating environmental and other laws.
“We value El Nido’s contribution to the economy of Palawan and of the country. We cannot help but worry that the magnitude of tourist activities in El Nido is already way beyond its carrying capacity,” Bernardino said.
The 2016 report of the El Nido Municipal Tourism Office said tourist arrival in the town increased by more than 30 percent annually in the last three years, with last year reaching almost 200,000.
This does not only mean increased revenue for the town, but also increased demand for fresh water, timber, and other construction materials, use of fuel and consumer goods, and activities in the islands, all of which exert tremendous pressure on the rich biodiversity of El Nido.
Bernardino said the Protected Area Management Board of El Nido-Taytay Protected Area already passed a resolution limiting tourist entry and activity in three of the most-visited places in El Nido.
In the Big Lagoon, only 60 guests will be allowed at any one time or a maximum of 720 guests per day. In the Small Lagoon, a maximum of 30 guests will be allowed at any one time or a total of 360 persons per day. For the Secret Beach, only 12 visitors will be allowed at any one time or a total of 144 a day.
Limits on the number of conveyances have also been set – maximum of five boats in the anchorage area and 30 kayaks inside the Big Lagoon, only 15 kayaks inside the Small Lagoon, and two boats in the anchorage area of Secret Beach.
Moreover, activities such as fishing, cliff jumping, grilling of food, and playing of loud music have been prohibited in the three spots.
In another resolution, PAMB identified the Strict Protection Zone, areas with high biodiversity value, that shall be closed to human activity except for scientific research and/or ceremonial use by indigenous communities. These include Helicopter Island, Balinaud Beach, Turtle Island, and Pacanayan Island.
In the coming months, the DENR also plans to conduct inspection of all establishments in El Nido and ensure compliance on the disposal of solid and liquid wastes, monitor air and water quality, validate tenurial instruments of business and residents, and monitor strict observance of environmental laws, and other measures that will help lessen the harmful impact of tourism activities on the environment, people’s livelihood, and tourism itself.