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In 2009, El Nido Foundation Inc. made a partnership with the Municipal Tourism Office and Coastal Resource Management Office in formulating modules for training tour guides. The said modules are focused more eco-awareness and visitor management. In this kind of training, skills are aimed to protect the fragile eco-system from the damage caused by tourists. With the participation of of local veteran tour guides, the modules were finally made.

The training of local tour guide instructors was conducted first in December 7-10, 2009. On January 27-29, 2010, the 1st Eco-Tour Guiding Training was conducted wherein 12 out of 20 trainees passed  written and oral examinations. They were taught basic El Nido facts, basic ecology and basic tour guiding techniques.

As tourist arrivals reached 37 thousand mark in 2010 and 2011 and is poised to reach 40 thousand in 2012, the organizers decided to increase the number of guides who know how to protect the eco-systems. The 2nd Eco-Tour Guiding training, which was attended by 32 aspiring tour guides, was finally conducted in September 26-28, 2012. This time, basic food handling and ‘Green Fin’ eco-awareness campaign was added to the modules which was in preparation for the Green Fins’ accreditation program in El Nido. Green Fins is an international organization assessing and promoting dive companies that prevent their guests from damaging underwater eco-systems. This will be the 1st time that they will accredit snorkeling tour operators.

Once the number of eco-tour guides needed are met, the organizers plan to conduct advanced eco-tour guiding trainings that will include in-depth nature interpretation and eco-tour designing. Specialization in different eco-systems is also eyed in order to produce mangrove guides, cave guides etc. With these developments, El Nido seems on track in its push to diversify tourism products.

El Nido Municipal Tourism Office, in partnership with El Nido Coastal Resource Management Office and U.S. Peace Corps, launched the Reef Watch program on January 8, 2011. The move aims to minimize the impact of the fast growing tourism industry to El Nido’s fragile eco-system. Aside from the natural culprits such as Climate Change and Crown of Thorns [COT] outbreak, the reefs are dying because of illegal fishing and uncontrolled tourism activities such as the overcrowding in El Nido’s snorkeling sites.

Reef Watch team has 5 environmental law enforcers whose task is to implement solid waste management ordinance, gather Crown of Thorns [COT], monitor boat anchorage and teach tourists about snorkeling ethics. Their training began with an orientation about the project’s mission at Shimizu Is. on January 8, 2011, followed by Training on COT Gathering on February 2 and Mandarin lessons on February 4 & 5. Lecture on Basic Ecology is scheduled on March 17, 2011. The Reef Watch Training Program will be completed with a training on First Aid and Rescue Operations on May. Currently, the Reef Watch Team guards and cleans the islands daily. Every week they conduct COT gathering and underwater clean-up.

In view of adding more manpower to the program, the Municipal Tourism Office invites tourists and community members to volunteer. There are already 3 foreign volunteers who went with the team, 1 from Taiwan, 1 from Germany and 1 from Canada. The office also hopes to involve the Philippine Coast Guard [PCG], Philippine National Police [PNP] and the Naval Special Operations Group [NAVSOU] in future Reef Watch operations. [CRM Council, El Nido]

The atmosphere was festive in Barangay Sibaltan. Loudspeakers were blaring, children were lined up and in their traditional costumes, and silver buntings were draped all over the village center. Delegations from the nearby barangays Villa Paz, New Ibajay and Mabini were also in attendance. It was fiesta like, but this was no fiesta. On this day, January 22, 2011, these four barangays are welcoming representatives from their partner in conservation and livelihood – Seacology.

Barangays Sibaltan, New Ibajay, Villa Paz, and Mabini are four remote barangays in the eastern part of the Municipality of El Nido, Palawan. Their combined population is estimated at 6,390 (2005 data), roughly 5% of the total population of El Nido, with fishing and farming being the main sources of livelihood. Until recently, charcoal-making was also done, if surreptitiously, at the expense of mangrove trees.

Seacology meets Maglalatik Boys.

In terms of natural resources, eastern El Nido is rich. Over 900 hectares of thick mangrove surround the 4 barangays. Dugong sightings near their coasts have often been reported, and dugong feeding trails are frequently seen on the seagrass. Barangay Sibaltan in particular has also been identified as a nesting ground of sea turtles.

In forging their partnership with Seacology, the communities agreed to protect their mangroves and set aside certain coastal areas as no-take zones. In return, Seacology agreed to provide two guardhouses, small patrol outrigger boats, marker buoys and signages, and communication equipment to aid in the enforcement of the protected areas. To encourage a viable and more environment-friendly alternative to fishing and charcoal-making, equipment for the area’s fledgling cashew industry were also provided.

In the morning program, Sangguniang Bayan Member Rosano Llanera read the message of Mayor Edna Gacot-Lim, where the significance of the commitment of each barangay for the success of, and the unequivocal support of the municipal government to, the protected areas was reiterated. Putting action behind words, the Municipal Government of El Nido enacted the ordinances that would provide the legal framework for the protected areas. Seacology Executive Director Duane Silverstein in turn expressed his gratitude to the four barangays for taking the initiative in protecting their natural resources.

Turn over of patrol boats.

Assisting the 4 barangays throughout the project’s implementation is the El Nido Foundation (ENF). The ENF has been facilitating Seacology projects in El Nido since 2006, when the Tres Marias Reef Restoration Project was conducted in Bacuit Bay.

As a tourist destination, eastern El Nido still has some ways to go. It takes one hour through unpaved road from El Nido town proper to get there, room and board may only be had by special arrangement with a resident, there are no restaurants, and there are no marine sports facilities. However, with the residents so actively protective of their relatively pristine environment, nature tourism in eastern El Nido has the undeniable potential to take root and develop. [El Nido CRM Council]

Volunteers for Environmental Governance [VEG] funded the Training on Community-Based Crown of Thorns [COT] Gathering in El Nido. The project was spearheaded by US Peace Corps, represented by Lia Cheek, in partnership with El Nido Coastal Resource Management Council, represented by Mr. Eduardo Lorenzo, and El Nido Foundation Inc. The project started on November 4, 2010 and ended January 14, 2011. There were 107 participants who came from barangays Masagana, Corong-Corong, Teneguiban, Pasadena and Buena Suerte.

There are other US Peace Corps volunteers who helped in the project from November 4-15, 2010. They were Katie Supler from Morong, Bataan, Charlotte Marks from Romblon, Romblon, Bryan Jacobs from Camarines Sur and Ryan Goehrung from Taytay, Palawan. They also joined the COT Terminators, a task force created by the CRM council to eradicate the COTs, in their dive operations in Caoayan Is., Caverna Is., Malbinunga Is., Mitri Is., Tres Marias Marine Sanctuary, Ubugon Cove and Dilumacad Is.

Aside from COT Gathering, community members learned basic ecology, facts about pollution and other threats to the reef eco-system. The lectures included the benefits from protecting the eco-system. At the end of the lectures, the participants were given an examination wherein they answer in the form of poetry, song, drama, dance, facial expressions or just a simple explanation.

El Nido is currently suffering from COT outbreak. From 2008 up to present, the COT Terminators already destroyed 115,000 COTs. Tough funds and available divers are limited, the CRM team is still hopeful that the involvement of the fisherfolks would turn the tide on COT Terminator’s side. [Arvin Acosta, LGU]

Lots of people in El Nido, Palawan are confused with the word “marine zoning”.  Many ask questions what does this word implies, its importance, the benefits everyone can get out from this and much more the benefits it can give to sustain the tourism industry in the town.

According to Mr. Raffy Cabate of Coastal Resource Management Office (CRMO) of the municipality of El Nido, marine zoning “is a term used to identify or describe the different uses of marine area”.  Added by him, “marine areas can be divided in terms of their uses.  It can be one part or zone is for fishing, another area is for the so-called mariculture like for instance, seaweed planting, lobster culturing, pearl farming to name a few.  Another very popular zone present in almost if not all marine areas is the marine protected area or marine sanctuary where no activities are allowed to conduct for its sole purpose is for the protection and preservation of the resources beneath as well as the breeding grounds for fishes and other marine life.  There is also what we called as recreation zone.  This zone offers activities related to tourism industry like swimming, snorkeling and diving activities to name some.”

Why is there a need to zone the marine areas?  What are its purposes and goals?  These questions were being answered by Mr. Edmund Piamonte, the Program Manager of El Nido Foundation (ENF). According to him, “it is indeed very important activity to zone the marine areas and this activity can be considered as a very effective way of identifying and setting aside of one part of the area for its integral and suitable use”.  He also added that “marine area is like a house with lots of divisions.  Each division has its own role, use and responsibity to take.  Take a glance to the house’s dining area where solely it is used for eating purposes so as the bedroom for sleeping purpose only and living room for accepting guests and attending to some social gatherings.  These are just to name a few.  Through this proper division, prevention and avoidance of conflicts among the various users of marine area can be gained and addressed.”

It cannot be denied that nowadays threats in marine areas are emerging very rampantly.  These threats include destruction of the marine resources, overcrowding or congestion in some marine areas and conflicts that arise between the users of the marine areas.  In this regard, the CRMO under the Local Government (LGU) Unit leads in the implementation of marine related projects, with the collaboration of ENF and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as the NGOs.  They work hand in hand to answer the questions, solve the problems related to marine areas.  Other Local Government Unit offices such as the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO), Municipal Planning and Development Office (MPDC), Municipal Engineering Office (MEO), and Municipal Agricultural Office (MAO) help in the preservation and conservation of the marine resources which is the bread and butter of the tourism industry of El Nido.

Enormous amounts of money are being spent by the government and by the other national and international foundations and corporations to fund the project for marine zoning.  There are also other concerned agencies that extend their help through financial and technical assistance just to pursue and materialize the projects for marine zoning.  All are envisioning and aiming to protect and preserve and conserve all the resources bestowed to us by the sea for the next generation.

There are still lots of projects CRMO wants to put into action with the help of the different concerned sectors.  That is why all are encourage to participate in pursuing the projects really of great importance and benefits for all the people and to the town of El NIdo as a whole. [Venice Badiang, Visayas State University Student]

In response to the growing needs of environmental protection, resource rehabilitation and tourism development in El Nido, the Local Government Unit [LGU], under the leadership of Mayor Leonor D. Corral, implemented the Eco-Tourism Development Fee [ETDF] ordinance on November 27, 2009. In this fee system, each tourist pays an amount of Php 200. Palawan residents outside El Nido pay a discounted amount of Php 100 [Php 50 for Palaweno students]. Tickets issued upon payment will serve as access to all tourism sites within El Nido for a period of 10 days.

This Eco-Tourism Development Fee ordinance, authored by Councilors Nieves Rosento and Rico Fernandez, was passed by the Municipal Council and was approved by the mayor in 2008. The ordinance stated that 50% of the fund will go to environmental protection, resource rehabilitation, solid waste management and tourism development. 10% of it will go the Protected Area Office [PAO] while another 10% will go to the different barangays’ coastal resource management and watershed projects. 20% of it will be used to defray administrative costs such as printing of tickets, salary of ticket inspectors and information materials. The remaining 10% will go LGU’s general fund.

After 12 days of implementation, the Municipal Treasury reported that it has already collected a total of Php 104,400 as of December 2, 2009, 2:15PM. Php 67,800 [65%] were collectected by the Municipal Tourism Office, Php 18,000 [17%] by Artcafe, Php 6,800 [6%] by Green View Resort, Php 6,000 [6%] by El Nido Beach Hotel, Php 2,800 [3%] by Islandfront Cottages, Php 2,400 [2%] byFour Seasons Resort and Php 600 [1%] by Alternative Inn. The LGU hopes that more resorts and booking offices would participate in the collection in 2010.

During the Tourism Stakeholders’ Workshop on December 3-4, 2009 at El Nido Foundation’s [ENF] Community Learning Center, resort owners, divers, boatmen and tour guides identified projects to be funded by ETDF in 2010. Regulation of tourism activities was prioritized in the planning process. This regulation includes installation of marker bouys, training of tour guides about ecology and observance of carrying capacity in every tourism sites. Construction of tourism facilities such as comfort rooms and information centers were also discussed. ETDF Task Force, the group tasked to implement the said fee system, presented to the participants a process flow that would ensure transparency in the management of funds. The process includes quarterly report about the status of fund and projects.

ETDF Task Force expects El Nido Environmental Law Enforcement Council [ENELEC], PAO and the barangays to submit project proposals before the year ends. [Arvin L. Acosta, LGU]

fish study

Datu gali sa El Nido mi 888 species y isda. D’ya ang resulta y ang research nga ing buat ni Dr. Gerald R. Allen, isarang Fish Scientist nga kilala sa bilog nga kalibutan, asta ni Dr. Mark V. Erdmann, isarang Coral Reef Ecologist. Ag eseb sanda sa mga dive sites agalin Bacuit Bay tegka isla y ang Imorigue sa Dewil. Ing buat ang research umpisa June 2007 tegka June 2009.

Pinakamarakeng species ang akita sa Cagbantang Cove sa Matinloc Island nga mi 211 species; agdasun ang Pangulasian Island nga mi 208; pangatlo ang Tres Marias Marine Sanctuary nga mi 197. Midyan dang adiskubre nga 11 bagong species y ang isda sanda Dr. Allen.

Sa pagkadiskubre nga dia, ang El Nido ron ang pangarwa sa pinaka-manggaden sa kalibutan pag-abot sa species y ang isda. Nauna ang Maumere Bay sa Flores Island, Indonesia nga mi 1,111 species. Agadason kanaten ig sa pangatlo ang Togean asta Banggai Islands, sa Indonesia ra, nga mi 819 species. Pang-apat den lamang ang Komodo Island nga mi 722.

Animan dadi pursigido ang munisipyo asta ang El Nido Foundation sa pag-betang y ang mga marine sanctuary sa mga barangay agud ma-protektan ang ateng mga isda. Sigue ra sa pandakep y ang mga manig-bungbung ig manig-sodium ang mga tauhan y ang Municipal Environmental Desk Office [MEDO].  Basi pang magtabang kamo ra agud midyan kita pang makawil sa madasun nga mga dagun [Arvin L. Acosta, LGU].

There is a Crown of Thorns [COT] outbreak in El Nido at present. This was first noticed by coral scientists Emre Turak and Lyndon Devantier during their reef’s Carrying Capacity Study last July 2009. They immediately informed El Nido Foundation [ENF] about the said outbreak.

Upon knowing this, Mayor Leonor D. Corral called for an emergency meeting on July 8, 2009. She formed a group called the “COT Terminators” to immediately address the problem. This team, which she personally led, is composed of divers and snorkelers from El Nido Divers Association [ENDA], Joint Task Force Malampaya [JTFM], Local Government Unit [LGU], ENF, El Nido Resorts [ENR], Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary [PCGA], World Wildlife Fund [WWF], Protected Area Office [PAO] and the community. The LGU allocated a certain amount from the calamity fund for the COT Terminators’ mission. ENF provided boats, dive equipments and thongs.

The Terminators started search and destroy operations at Lalutaya Is. where they collected a total of 3,908 COTs. Mitri Is. operations followed with 5,114 COTs killed. More operations followed at Commando Beach, Matinloc Is. and Tres Marias Is.

On August 26, 2009, Global Environment Facility [GEF]-funded COT guns were tested at Kulasa Beach. ENF facilitated the purchase of those guns that sped up the process of terminating COTs. That day the total number of COTs destroyed leaped to 15,937.

The team now is eyeing Tapuitan Is., Cagbantang Cove and the eastern coast’s reefs with a hope of ending this environmental threat before it was all too late. [Arvin Acosta, LGU].

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