Ecotourism for wildlife conservation

In Photo: Black noddy in Tubbataha Reef

Endowed with rich natural resources, white sandy beaches, pristine waters, astonishing landscapes surrounding inland water bodies and a variety of wildlife, the Philippines has the potential of pump priming the economy through ecotourism.

According to the latest report from the Department of Tourism (DOT), the first seven months of the year yielded the country 3.93 million foreign tourists—a marked increase of 11.02 percent from the same period last year

Candaba Swamp in Pampanga is an important staging and wintering area for ducks and other threatened waterbirds. As part of the East Asia Pacific Migratory Flyway, the Philippines has 117 Important Bird Areas covering 32,302 square kilometers that act as refuge for as many as 115 globally threatened species of waterbirds.

Visitor receipts from January to July 2017 hit some P179.86 billion, an increase of 21.07 percent from the same seven-month period in 2016.

Clearly, the Philippines is taking the opportunity of generating the much-needed revenues from tourism while spurring economic activities in various parts of the country through ecotourism.


Manila Declaration

Recognizing the important role of migratory wildlife in achieving global sustainable development goals (SDGs), the recent 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS-COP) held in the Philippines adopted a resolution recognizing the role of migratory wildlife in achieving global sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Manila Declaration, a resolution drafted and proposed by the Philippines, marked an important milestone in international efforts to protect migratory species and habitats critical to their survival.

Whale shark, also known as butanding

The resolution acknowledges the significant contribution of migratory wildlife to sustainable development, especially in the areas of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism, energy, transport and trade.

Significant milestone

In a statement released by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Undersecretary Ernesto D. Adobo Jr. said the adoption of the Manila Declaration is a significant milestone in the global effort to protect migratory species as the resolution calls on the CMS Range States to develop national frameworks and implement relevant plans to achieve the goals of the convention, with a view of contributing to the achievement of the SDGs.

The resolution also invited the private sector to engage in a dialogue to align the policies and objectives of the CMS, and recognized the crucial role of indigenous and local communities in the sustainable management of natural resources.

Environment Undersecretary Juan Miguel T. Cuna, for his part, said the Manila Declaration is consistent with the SDGs set by the United Nations to ensure prosperity for mankind and protection of the planet.

Sustainable tourism and migratory species

Another Philippine-drafted resolution, this time on Sustainable Tourism and Migratory Species, was adopted by the 124 Range States.

The resolution aims at understanding the effects of interactions brought about by tourism on migratory species, and managing these activities according to the precautionary principle at the national level.

The resolution urged the Range States to adopt appropriate measures, such as national action plans, regulations and codes of conduct and, if required, binding protocols or additional legal frameworks and legislation, to ensure that ecotourism activities do not have adverse effect on species anywhere within their migratory range.

Among the resolution’s objectives is to encourage the Range States to develop appropriate guidelines for wildlife interaction—taking into account basic philosophies, such as tourism activities shall not inhibit the natural behavior and activity of migratory species nor adversely affect the associated habitat.

Migratory birds, ‘butanding,’ tarsiers

Besides showcasing its white-sand beaches, soaring mountains, awesome trails and breath-taking waterfalls, ecotourism in the Philippines means an opportunity for wildlife interaction.

Bird-watching is a common tourist activity in the country, it being part of the East Asia-Australian flyway.

There are six Ramsar Sites in the Philippines, which are recognized as wetlands of international importance. These are the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecosystem Area, Naujan Lake National Park, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Tubattaha Reefs Natural Park, Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary and the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary.

Besides bird-watching, the Philippines is known to promote interaction with the whale shark, locally called butanding, which was uplisted during the recent international wildlife conference. There is whale watching in Donsol, Sorsogon, and interaction with the species on Oslob Cebu.

Bohol province also boasts of interaction with tarsier, which is endemic to the Philippines.

Tourism guideline

Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) admitted that there is a need to draft a guideline for wildlife interaction in the country.

The DENR-BMB encourages resort owners to help protect and conserve the country’s threatened animal wildlife and avoid promoting captive wildlife.

Lim said the resolution adopted during the wildlife conference encourages all signatories to the CMS, also called the Bonn Convention, to come up with proper guidelines in promoting wildlife interaction, including consideration of the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, or causing disruption that will alter the behavior of wild animals.

Moreover, she added it is important for concerned local government units (LGUs) and other stakeholders to work together to explore other tourist attractions to lessen the dependence on wildlife interaction, so as not to adversely affect the species being showcased by proponents of the tourism activities.

“There should be alternative livelihood or other activities that will not affect the livelihood of the communities,” she said.

Lim said wildlife interaction, such as the practice in Oslob, on a positive note, has led to the residents’ increased appreciation of the presence of whale shark, altering their behavior to “tolerating” it rather than “hunting” for food.

“We really need to communicate and involve the communities and LGUs and other stakeholders to improve ecotourism practice, and translate these into policies for proper implementation,” Lim added.

For people, environment

What is sustainable tourism? Environmental activist Clemente Bautista said in its truest sense sustainable tourism is the promotion of the country’s beauty in terms of culture, history, economy and environment.

“But in government terms, it is more of the commodification of our places and people,” Bautista told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview last Tuesday.

He lamented that ecotourism should benefit the communities in terms of jobs or livelihood, and not lead to their economic dislocation or displacement.

“Such is the case of ecotourism which supposedly highlights our rich and beautiful environment, such as coastal and forest areas,” he added.

However, he lamented that tourism programs and projects of government in partnership with big business resulted in the displacement of communities, privatization of land and seas and degradation of the country’s ecosystems.

“Look at our experience in Puerto Galera in Mindoro and Boracay in Aklan. IPs [Indigenous people] like Mangyan and Ati, and the basic sectors like fishermen and peasant were displaced in their communities and land,” he said.

Good practice

Gregg Yan, Oceana Philippines director of communications and Best Alternatives Campaign founder, said ecotourism is simply tourism with positive environmental, economic and social impact.

“We’ve all heard about our carbon footprint, the negative impacts on the areas we visit. We’re now promoting the idea of our carbon handprint, the positive impacts enjoyed by the communities, wildlife and habitats we visit,” he said in a text message last Tuesday.

“Yesterday, we dove with rare and endangered dugongs in Palawan. It was a fine example of wildlife-based ecotourism. We were briefed twice and were accompanied by a pair of Bantay Dugong to ensure we complied with dugong interaction regulations.”

Yan said one of the guides was a local Tagbanua tribesman who was an amazing spotter and knew lots about dugong.

“Part of the funds go back to the protection and conservation of Palawan’s dugong—so forking over a few hundred pesos actually felt more good than painful!”

Bad practice

Yan said wildlife-based ecotourism have its drawbacks.

One of the most well-known, yet controversial, offerings is Oslob’s whale-shark program in Cebu, where thousands of tourists line up to have selfies taken with whale sharks while they were being fed, according to Yan.

He said environmentalists are up in arms to stop the practice, but it can’t be denied that tourism has uplifted the lives of the townsfolk.

“Feeding poses many potential problems,” Yan added. “The natural behavior of whale sharks is altered, forming a dependency on humans to augment their diet. Feeding and pollution from too many resorts could also overload an area with nutrients, causing plankton blooms—which are good for filter feeders like whale sharks but very bad for light-dependent creatures like the corals which create the world’s reefs.”

“In time, local communities and visitors will see the advantages of ecotourism—an exchange where all parties—humans, animals and their habitats—are enriched,” he explained.

Another bad tourism practice recently caught the attention of several environmental and conservation advocates who called the attention of the country’s top environment official.

Vince Cinches, Oceans and Political campaigner of Greenpeace, Danny Ocampo of Rule of 2/3, and Ana Oposa, executive director of Save Philippine Seas, have urged Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu to facilitate the immediate release of caged sharks, rays and marine turtles in Sibadan Fish Cage, which is operating a seafood restaurant and resort at Port Lamon in the town of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

The DENR is conducting an investigation into the report.

“The Philippine Marine Ecosystem is currently facing a crisis due to illegal, unregulated, unreported and destructive fishing, destructive land-based development and unsustainable tourism.… While only a few sharks and ray species are protected in the Philippines, it doesn’t mean that other activities that will lead to their demise should not be regulated or ceased,” they said.

The caging of the marine wildlife for tourism attraction, they said “is a representative of a bigger problem hounding our seas and marine ecosystem due to unsustainable tourism.”

“We hope this will lead to a bigger and sustained intervention to pursue responsible, sustainable and culturally sensitive tourism activities across the country for the benefit of all Filipinos. Protecting our marine ecosystem and the animals in it is important as ‘their future is our future,’” they added.


Image Credits: Gregg Yan, DENR website, Mau Victa

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