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.
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.
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]