Say, Say, Say: NO BORACAY-LIKE CLOSURE FOR EL NIDO

Have you booked a vacation in El Nido for the end of 2018 or for the first half of 2019? Are you alarmed by the current news about its rehabilitation and afraid that your dream vacation in this beautiful island will be affected?

Well, fret no more! Here are some updates and tips, since I am also affected with my December 7-11scheduled vacation to this designated “best beach and island destination”.1

Let’s look back on this year (2018):

  1. In February, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) MIMAROPA2 formed Task Force El Nido to address the environmental problems of the island, prioritizing the delineation of the standard easement zones and timberland areas, the degradation of water quality in Bacuit Bay3, garbage disposal, unregulated construction of structures, and the wastewater management.4
  2. In March4:

(a) Malacañang urged the local government and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to immediately demolish illegal structures built along the town’s foreshore in violation of zoning and easement laws, and to take the initiative in implementing environmental laws;

(b) the local government underwent a cleanup drive and regulated the use of plastics, cellophane and Styrofoam as food and drink containers, among others;

(c) DENR Secretary Cimatu ordered the eviction of 32 businesses5 found to have been in violation of the 3-meter coastal easement provided under the Philippine Water Code for classified urban areas like El Nido, inspite of an order from local officials that gave a grace period to the affected establishments before they voluntarily demolish the structures;

(d) the Task Force issued 407 eviction notices to structures built on declared easement zones and forestlands and served violation notices to 253 establishments found non-compliant with laws regulating wastewater discharge and easement compelling them to pay penalties ranging from PHP20,000 to 200,000 per day. Erring establishment owners were given time to comply through technical conferences facilitated by the regional Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

3. Thereafter, national government officials met with local officials to discuss several problems, especially overcrowding and pollution in the lagoons due to the large influx of tourists (peaking at over 200,000 in 2017), as well as cooking and throwing trash.

4. President Duterte told Palawan residents to impose stricter regulations and put a cap on the number of tourists to protect its natural wonders.

5. In May, the town and DENR cleared the main beach in Bacuit Bay so it is now accessible to tourists.

6. In August, a photo of garbage floating around the Secret Lagoon went viral on social media.6 Actually, 140 sacks of foreign plastic trash were collected, mostly (70%) plastic bottles of foreign origin that found their way into the Secret Lagoon on Miniloc Island. Other debris were Styrofoam, rubber scraps, plastic wrappers, nylon and ropes. A DENR official said that the waste was carried by ocean currents and strong winds, made stronger by monsoon rains that hit Palawan. This led to a cleanup drive by the owners and workers of local tourist establishments and members of the Philippine Coast Guard.

7. In October, the local government demolished 95% of illegal structures in the town proper’s easement zone, according to Municipal Administrator Rene Jay Dela Calzada. He added that these structures were legal until the shoreline receded due to the gradual rise in sea level.7

8. In November, water pollution levels around the main beach area in the island have gone down significantly, according to the latest tests conducted by the EMB. DENR MIMAROPA said the results of water tests in Barangays Corong-Corong, Maligaya and Masagana in Bacuit Bay, after 7 months of Task Force El Nido’s monitoring and cleanup drive, indicated that the fecal coliform levels had gone down to “normal”. However, Barangay Buena Suerte, a populated area, has a fecal coliform level of 1,600 MPN (most probable number) per 100 millimeters, and still needs to be improved, based on the prescribed 100 MPN.

The local government also intensified its crackdown on illegal tour operators and have started apprehending boat tour operators with no proper documents.7

9. On November 28, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año went to El Nido to discuss the rehabilitation plans for the island with the local government officials, just like what they did in Boracay.

What’s next, especially in the next 6 months?

  1. El Nido will be rehabilitated but will not be closed off, according to the Department of Tourism. There are many establishments that abide by government requirements and the local government took initiatives to address the town’s problems, so total closure is not necessary.

Environment Secretary Cimatu said that he ordered the deployment of 50 personnel from the DENR to conduct a baseline assessment of El Nido and oversee the rehabilitation effort.4

The government is preparing an executive order to be issued by President Duterte detailing the rehabilitation plan for El Nido. The DENR will also ask the national government to allocate funds for activities that the town would need, including a plan to transfer the local port.4

Secretary Cimatu, on November 28, 2018, gave local officials 6 months to complete a rehabilitation program to rid the town’s beaches of pollution and enforce environmental compliance of commercial establishments. By then, the town’s water treatment and sewerage project would have been completed.4

2. It was reported that 22 establishments will be closed due to various violations. Fifty other establishments will be strictly monitored by DENR.4,7

3. El Nido Municipal Administrator Dela Calzada said authorities would soon limit the number of tourists visiting key island destinations to preserve the area.

The local government has set the tourist limit at the island’s Big Lagoon to 60 per hour with kayak trips at 30 per hour; and, for the Small Lagoon, at only 30 tourists and 15 kayak trips per hour.7

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said the government will make sure that thousands of tourist boats will not spill wastewater and oil into the bay.

4. Tour packages will also be redesigned to regulate the number of tourists. El Nido used to offer 4 standard tour packages, with 5 to 6 attractions per package; soon, there will be 7 tour packages with fewer destinations per package.7

5. Early this year, single use plastics in tour packages, particularly water bottles, have been banned. Coast guard personnel inspect boats and confiscate plastic bottles before they are allowed to sail.7

6. An interagency body is set to undertake a massive cleanup of El Nido.4,7 The DENR will follow the same time frame it employed in rehabilitating Boracay Island since it has the same problems: quality of water, improper sewage system, and easement violations. DENR Secretary Cimatu said that the rehabilitation of El Nido will only cover small areas with minimum government intervention.7

7. DENR will continue its campaign against erring establishments off Bacuit Bay3, hopefully, by the end of the year.4

8. The government has yet to determine the carrying capacity of El Nido, but funds for the study are already on standby, according to Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat.7

9. DENR Secretary Cimatu is pushing for a 20-meter no-build zone. He said the current 3-meter easement zone from the shoreline should be adjusted “to allow tourists to enjoy the sand and the view with enough space,” as a tourist destination. Unfortunately, land titles were issued by the DENR in the 1980s/earlier.7

10. The local government is building a centralized sewage treatment plant that is expected to be operational in 2019.7

11. The government is pushing for the strict implementation of Municipal Ordinance No. 29, or the sanitation ordinance, that prohibits any house or establishment from discharging liquid waste directly to the ocean, according to Mayor Nieves Rosento.7

12. A dedicated security task force is also in the pipeline to ensure the safety of all tourists visiting the islands.4

So, what should tourists do when visiting El Nido, starting December 2018?

  1. Be a responsible tourist. Be cooperative; follow all new guidelines as well as rules/regulations set by the local government/Task Force El Nido, if any.
  2. Be an eco-warrior: bring your personal refillable water bottle. Remember, single use plastic water bottles are banned during island hopping.
  3. Drink alcoholic beverages only in licensed establishments. Do not drink on the beach to avoid generating trash and broken glass.
  4. Do not litter. Keep your garbage until you find a trash can.
  5. Smoke only in designated places and properly dispose of your cigarette butts.
  6. Respect the environment. Do not collect shells, sand, and other natural resources.
  7. Leave only footprints. Just keep taking photos and videos of the beautiful landscape and flora/fauna.
  8. Level your expectations, be patient and understanding. Bear in mind that El Nido is undergoing rehabilitation so there would be on-going construction, repairs, etc. Just remember that all these projects are for sustainable tourism in the municipality, for future generations to visit, appreciate and enjoy.

Did you find this post informative? I would like to hear from you. Are you a responsible traveler? Do you have any other tips for El Nido travellers? Simply scroll to “Leave a Reply” and enter your comment in the box. Please scroll and click the “Like” tab and “Facebook” to share this post. Do not forget to follow me by clicking “Follow” on the lower right corner of your device.

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1CNNGo named El Nido as the “Best Beach and Island Destination in the Philippines” for its “extraordinary natural splendor and ecosystem,” according to the Wikipedia page “El Nido, Palawan”.8

2MIMAROPA, or the Southwestern Tagalog Region (as of 2016), is a Philippine region located in the island group of Luzon, with Calapan as its regional center. It has 6 local government units (LGUs): Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Palawan, Puerto Princesa (a city in Palawan), and Romblon. This region was formerly called Region IV-B (2002-2016). NOTE: MIMAROPA is an acronym for this region’s provinces: MIndoro (Occidental and Oriental), MArinduque, ROmblon, PAlawan.

3Bacuit Bay is a huge archipelago or group of 45 limestone islands clustered together, offering clear and cool watershome to interesting marine life and coral reefs, plus captivating beaches, marble cliffs, awesome lagoons, mangrove forests, enchanting dive sites, caves, among others. It is considered one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The largest town in the vicinity is El Nido so tourists enter this bay through that town.9

4www.newsinfo.inquirer.net

5A municipal order was served on March 2018 to the following establishments7:

  1. Amigo’s Inn
  2. Engel Nido
  3. Angel Wish
  4. Caalan Beach Resort
  5. Cadlao Resort
  6. Cadlao Resort Extension
  7. Café Athena
  8. Chislyk
  9. El Nido Beach Resort
  10. El Nido Boutique Art and Café
  11. El Nido Garden
  12. El Nido Reef Strand Resort
  13. Golden Monkey
  14. Hadefe Beach Resort
  15. Hidden Beach Resort
  16. Isla Expeditions
  17. Jarace Grill
  18. Kalinga Beach Resort
  19. La Salanganne
  20. Lally And Abet Extension
  21. Linda Leona Store
  22. Mezzanine El Nido
  23. Nido Bay Inn
  24. Organic Spa
  25. Palawan Pawnshop
  26. Prince’s
  27. Relucio Inn
  28. Rosanna’s Pension
  29. Shorepass Lodge
  30. Sonny Sails
  31. The Nest
  32. TTD Store

These establishments were given 30 days to vacate and demolish their property that crossed the 3-meter easement zone. I still need to find an article regarding an update on these establishments.

6www.news.mb.com.ph

7www.news.abs-cbn.com

8“El Nido, Palawan,” accessed October 26, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Nido,_Palawan.

9www.elnidotourism.com

Photo Credit: Some photos in the featured collage image were obtained from Gani Ricarte of Hello El Nido! Just search for his website: www.helloelnido.com

Short and Simple: WHAT IS THE TOURIST CARRYING CAPACITY FOR BORACAY’S 2018 RE-OPENING?

We, Filipinos, have only seriously considered the carrying capacity of our tourist destinations when the very popular island of Boracay was closed on April 26, 2018. The truth hurts, dearest Seniors, and yes, tourism inevitably impacts on tourist destinations!

So, tell me, do we really know what tourist carrying capacity is? Well, just to be sure, and before the October 26 re-opening of Boracay, read on.

The Tourist Carrying Capacity, according to the World Tourism Organization, is the process of determining the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing the destruction of the physical, economic, socio-cultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors’ satisfaction.1

Former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo stated that the carrying capacity of Boracay was set at 25,000 tourists, but, in recent years, it went as high as 75,000!2 Wow, that was triple the set capacity, no wonder the island had problems!

But what is an acceptable carrying capacity for a particular destination? It seems that acceptable conditions are a matter of human judgment and not an inherent quality of a particular site. It is difficult to calculate the maximum number of visitors since this is also dependent on other factors, amidst an unstable and unpredictable world.

So, tourism, environmental, local government, public works and transportation officials, the local community, and other stakeholders must get their act together to objectively implement the carrying capacity not only of Boracay but of other tourism destinations as well, so the latter will not suffer the same fate as the former.

Anyway, these stakeholders must take into consideration the 4 different forms of carrying capacity: physical3, economic4, socio-cultural5, and biophysical6. A framework for the limits for acceptable change7, developed by The US Forest Service in the 1980s, should also be considered, along with sustainable tourism8 and sustainable transport9.

The international tourism industry has generally accepted guidelines or formulas in determining carrying capacity. Alas, there is no one-size-fits-all checklist. Nonetheless, the bottomline, in all cases, is that the natural features of the tourist area, or the things/places that attract visitors to it, should be preserved for the benefit of its residents and the people who may, in the future, want to visit and enjoy them as well.2

The implementation, or enforcement, of the carrying capacity also takes a lot of political will on the part of the tourist area’s local government executives and stakeholders.3 Let this challenge all local government units in the country!

I pray that the 6-month long Boracay closure be the wake-up-call for national, regional, and other local leaders to redo their tourism development plans for all tourist sites, using all the aforementioned factors and setting stiffer penalties for non-compliance of rules/regulations, especially during peak season, and/or when local officials, or their kin, are also owners of tourist facilities.

So, anyway, after waiting so long from authorities, how many tourists will be allowed to go to Boracay, for example, on a daily basis, taking into consideration its current infrastructure, residents, workforce, and state of natural resources? What are the guidelines for ensuring the tourist carrying capacity? Will there be a maximum number of days to stay in the island? Let us wait for such guidelines/policies.

As of end of August 2018, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) set the tourist carrying capacity of Boracay to 19,000, taking the number of workers and the local population into account. And based on a study done by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau11 and the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, Laguna,12 the island can only accommodate a total of 55,000 people (local population, workers and tourists, combined).10

Alas, only 3,000-5,000, out of the 15,000 hotel rooms, can be made available to tourists during the reopening date. The remaining accommodation entities still need to comply with the new permits and accreditation set by the multi-agency task force.10

There will be on-going roadwork/sewage rehabilitation and limited accredited accommodations, among others, when Boracay opens on October 26, but I am sure that the first batches of tourists will be excited to see the changes in the island. Instagram and Facebook will surely be filled with such pictures!

Most of the information was taken from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1

Did you find this post informative? I would like to hear from you regarding your concerns about tourist carrying capacity and sustainable tourism, not only in Boracay but other tourist destinations in the Philippines. Simply scroll and click “Leave a comment”. Do share this post with your Facebook friends, follow me by clicking on the bottom right corner of your device, and do not forget to like this post.  Thank you!

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1”Tourism carrying capacity,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_carrying_capacity.

2www.business.inquirer.net

3The physical carrying capacity (PCC) is the maximum number of tourists that an area is actually able to support. It is the maximum number that can fit on the site at any given time and still allow people to be able to move, i.e., one meter per person. The formula used is: PCC per day = area (in meters squared) x visitors per meter x daily duration. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1

4The economic carrying capacity (ECC) is the level of acceptable change within the local economy of a tourist destination. It is the extent to which a tourist destination is able to accommodate tourist functions without the loss of local activities. It is also used to describe the point at which the increased revenue brought by tourism development is overtaken by the inflation caused by tourism. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1

5The social carrying capacity (SCC) refers to the negative effects of tourism development to the socio-cultural state of a destination. Reduced visitor enjoyment and local tolerance as well as increase in crime rate are indicators that the SCC has been exceeded. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1

6The biophysical carrying capacity (BCC) is the extent to which the natural environment is able to tolerate interference from tourists. This is made more complicated by the fact that because it deals with ecology which is able to regenerate to some extent, so the carrying capacity is when the damage exceeds the habitat’s ability to regenerate. Environmental carrying capacity is also used with reference to ecological and physical parameters, capacity of resources, ecosystems19 and infrastructure. Wildlife sanctuaries, for example, would be better off when there is a set of guidelines for regulating tourism without much disturbance of the wildlife. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1

7The limits of acceptable change (LAC) is based on the idea that any tourist activity has an impact, and therefore visitor management should be based on constant monitoring of the site as well as the objectives established for it. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1

8Sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting a destination as a tourist and trying to make a positive impact on the environment13, society, and economy. Tourism development should always be sustainable but how to achieve this is debatable, according to Wikipedia page “Sustainable tourism”.14

9Sustainable transport, or sustainable mobility, refers to transportation that is sustainable in terms of social, environmental and climate impacts, and the ability to, in the global scope, supply the source energy indefinitely, according to the Wikipedia page “Sustainable transport”.15

10www.news.abs-cbn.com

11The Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) is the principal research and development unit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) focused on 5 major ecosystems20 of the Philippines: coastal zones and freshwater, forests, grassland and degraded areas, upland farms, and urban areas, created on June 1987.16

12www.denr.gov.ph

13The impact on the environment, or environmental issues, refers to the harmful effects of human activity on the biophysical environment17, according to the Wikipedia page “Environmental issue.”18

14“Sustainable tourism,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_tourism.

15“Sustainable transport,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_transport.

16www.erdb.denr.gov.ph

17The human impact on the environment includes the changes to biophysical environments19 and ecosystems20, biodiversity21, and natural resources, caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming22, environmental degradation23, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crises, and ecological collapse, according to the Wikipedia page “Human impact on the environment”.24

18“Environmental issue,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_issue.

19A biophysical environment of a population refers to the (living and non-living) surroundings of a population, and consequently includes the factors that have an influence in its survival, development and evolution, according to the Wikipedia page “Biophysical environment”.25

20An ecosystem is a community made up of living organisms and non-living components (air, mineral soil and water), according to the Wikipedia page “Ecosystem”.26

21Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth, according to the Wikipedia page “Biodiversity”.27

22Global warming, or climate change, is the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system and its related effects, according to the Wikipedia page “Global warming”.28

23Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through the depletion of resources such as air, soil and water; the destruction of ecosystems20; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution, according to the Wikipedia page “Environmental degradation”.29

24“Human impact on the environment,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_impact_on_the_environment.

25“Biophysical environment,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophysical_environment.

26“Ecosystem,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecosystem.

27“Biodiversity,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiversity.

28“Global warming,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming.

29“Environmental degradation,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_degradation.