Sustainable Tourism Thrives in El Nido, the Philippines’ Largest Marine SanctuaryCatch of the Week
Popular tourist spot El Nido, a protected area of 45 islands and islets covering a total of 903 square kilometers, is actually the largest marine sanctuary in the Philippines.
Situated in Bacuit Bay, about 420 kilometers southwest of Manila, El Nido is protected for its breathtaking geological formations, and unique flora and fauna. It boasts of one of the most diverse ecosystems in the region, which include over 447 reef-building coral species, and 44 unconfirmed species — making it a scuba diving and snorkeling paradise.
In the last 10 years the number of tourists flocking to El Nido has more than tripled. In 2013 the famed marine sanctuary welcomed over 60,000 tourists to its white sand beaches, lush mangrove and evergreen forests, and magnificently sculpted jade islands.
Across the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean, Green Fins provides the only internationally recognized set of environmental standards to provide guidance and support for business owners and national authorities to promote best practices in sustainable tourism – particularly scuba diving and snorkeling.
Coordinated internationally by The Reef-World Foundation and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other partners, Green Fins ensures that diving companies, and tour services, are regularly assessed against the Green Fins internationally recognized environmental Code of Conduct, and that business owners and staff are appropriately trained in environmental best practices.
While tourism is a mainstay of El Nido’s local economy, it is also an industry that is especially sensitive to reef conditions. Once coral reefs are damaged, their ability to support the many creatures that depend on them is greatly diminished. As a consequence, those reefs and local areas lose their attraction as tourist destinations.
“The coral cover of living hard corals is about 26 per cent, which is fair. Meanwhile, soft corals average 4 per cent, which is typically low,” said Irma Rose Marcelo, Executive Director of El Nido Foundation Inc. (ENFI).
“Tourism in El Nido remains both a threat and an opportunity. It is a threat because corals are exposed to anchor damage, snorkeler and diver damage, boat strike, and pollution.”
According to the Head of UNEP’s Coral Reef Unit, Jerker Tamelander, diving and snorkeling driven tourism is the “biggest driver of reef degradation”.
It has been estimated by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network that the world has effectively lost 19 per cent of productive reef area, with another 15 per cent under immediate threat of loss.
Approximately 500 million people depend on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, and income from tourism, including 30 million who are totally dependent on coral reefs for their livelihoods or for the land they live on.
As a result, when reefs are degraded, millions of people are deprived of the goods and services they provide, such as food from fish, mollusks and algae, tourism benefits and shoreline protection.
Ramil Panganiban, El Nido snorkeling and dive shop owner, is adamant that snorkeling and diving should be a sustainable activity. “If we do not protect the environment, we will go out of business,” he said. Now it turns out that sustainability is paying dividends for Mr. Panganiban, who started his company with just a table and a bond of paper to let people know of his business in 2011, and now handles 10 to 20 tours a month, with three boats and a shop.
Sustainable tourism is an important means of safeguarding ecosystems while ensuring that local communities and businesses benefit from tourism. By introducing more sustainable consumption and production patterns into the tourism sector, resources can be better managed, costs lowered, and biodiversity protected.
(Story courtesy of IW:Learn. Photo by UNEP)