Archive for the ‘Ecotourism’ Category

In the Philippines, forests have become denuded due to logging and mining concessions, while coastal areas have been polluted and destroyed due to navigational accidents and destructive fishing methods. Fisheries resources have been plummeting and recovery has been deemed to be unsuccessful as fisher folks continue to fish endlessly. Fish stocks have difficulty in recovering, and as a result, catch composition have shifted. Thus, in light of the recent occurrences of fish stock depletion, many communities have realized that exploiting environmental resources is no longer sustainable. With this realization, an alternative livelihood such as tourism is very important.

Tourism is highly valued in the Philippines. The country is endowed with vast coastal areas with a coastline summing up to 17,460 km. It is known for having one of the most ecologically rich coastal resources in terms of diversity and endemicity. (BFAR 2003, http://www.haribon.org).

Biggest fish in the World

The whale shark, Rhincodon typus (Rhiniodon typus), the largest fish in the world circumnavigates in subtropical to tropical climates (Figure 1). It is of high importance in fisheries and in industries because of its liver oil. This slow swimming and harmless shark is a filter feeder that depends on plankton and krill (www.fishbase.org). It swims to the Philippines to feed and mate with its kind.


Figure 1. The whale shark – the largest fish in the world is not a whale but a shark (www.fishbase.org).

Figure 1. The whale shark – the largest fish in the world is not a whale but a shark (www.fishbase.org).

Whale Shark Capital of the Philippines

The whale shark, just like in other countries in Asia has been captured by commercial fishers. However, in the small town of Donsol in Sorsogon province, the gentle giant or locally known as the butanding has become one of the most loved animals. Donsol locals have started to protect it rather than capturing it. In 1998, with the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund – Philippines and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, the town has instituted the protection of the shark through ecotourism (www.donsol.gov.ph, http://www.wwf.org.ph).

Since these fish are passive and slow swimming, whale shark interactions has been made as the tourist attraction in Donsol. Selected fishermen have been educated and trained on how to handle and behave around whale sharks and on safety protocols for tourists as well. The fishermen which were highly dependent on fishing, now has an alternative livelihood by serving as Butanding Interaction Officers from the months of November to May. This form of ecotourism has not only been significant in protecting whale shark populations in Donsol and in the Philippines as a whole, but served as good information, education, communication (IEC) campaign not only to the townsfolk but to all the tourists that have come there as well (www.donsol.gov.ph, http://www.wwf.org.ph).

Other means aside from Whale Sharks

Swimming with the whale sharks has been ranked as the Best Animal Encounter in Asia as stated in the Time Magazine in 2004 (en.wikipedia.org). Because of this popularity and the frequency of the whale sharks venturing in the Donsol, the locals have come up with other ways of improving their tourism services. Aside from establishing more resorts and accommodations, other tourist attractions were added to make more revenues for the town. Additional attractions that were set up as packages aside from the butanding interactions were firefly and bird watching and diving in Ticao Pass (www.donsol.gov.ph).

Bird watching is very popular in the Philippines, since many areas in the country have been named as Important Bird Areas by BirdLife International (www.haribon.org.ph). Donsol, even if not named as an IBA still has numerous bird species that could fascinate a beginner or an avid bird watcher. Firefly populations have been dwindling in the whole world due to development. However the fireflies in Donsol river is so many that one who watches them might think that mangrove trees are burning because of them. The firefly watching is a night activity that starts with a boat ride under the stars from the beach area of a tourist resort to the river. The Philippines is famous for its coral reefs. Ticao Pass which can be accessed through Donsol is ventured by advanced divers for its strong currents and manta rays and thresher sharks (www.donsol.gov.ph).

Community-based Ecotourism and CRM

Donsol has come a long way from protecting an endangered species to providing locals alternative means of livelihood. They have begun to learn the value of their ecosystems and their resources and thus have been very adamant when it comes to protecting these resources. Hopefully, more coastal communities in the Philippines take the example of the community involvement if not in ecotourism but in coastal resource management. Hopefully, other communities begin to realize the importance of habitats and resources and not just think practically, or commonly succumb to the ‘tragedy of commons’.


BFAR. 2003. Fisheries Statistics Profile. http://www.bfar.gov.ph/FishProf.asp

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2007.FishBase. http:// http://www.fishbase.org, ver (04/2007).

Haribon. 2005. Ang Paraisong Pinaka… a showcase of superlatives. http://www.haribon.org.ph/?q=node/view/216.

Municipality of Donsol, Province of Sorsogon, Philippines. http://www.donsol.gov.ph

Wikipedia. 2007. Donsol. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donsol,_Sorsogon.

World Wildlife Fund for Nature – Philippines. 2004. Community-Based Ecotourism and Coastal Resources Management Project in Donsol, Sorsogon. http://www.wwf.org.ph/about.php?pg=wwd&sub1=00011


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Last year, we at Dumaguete and its surrounding Municipalities heard about plans to conduct oil explorations in Tañon Strait. For those who have not heard about this important piece of Philippine treasure, this area follows dolphin and whale migration routes. Bais City’s famous dophin and whale watching tours depend on this relatively small area between Cebu and Negros. Talk of this exploration died down last year, but have now resurrected, thanks to the vigilance of some marine biologists and concerned citizens. I am thus attaching an on-line petition against oil drilling in the Tañon Strait. I hope this initiative helps policy-makers overcome thier short-sightedness and start to think about longer-term benefits.

Bow Riders

Dear Friends,

Please take time to read and sign this online petition against drilling for oil in the Tanon Strait. We need all the help we can get.
I have also attached a brochure so that those who are not familiar with the issue can learn what they should know.

Kindly write your name address at the end of the petition and for those who are signing on the 10th, 20th, 30th, etc. slot, please CC me (portianillos@yahoo.com) so that we can keep track of the people who have signed online.

We are hoping to get at least 5,000 signatures so that we can present this to the people in government who did not consult the people about their intention to ruin the future of fishing communities in Negros
and Cebu.

Thank you very much for your support.

Portia Joy Kleiven

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At What Cost?

Let it be known to all and sundry that we are not against development and progress! But development and progress must be obtained in a responsible manner and must ensure the sustainability of resources and the future of our nation’s children. Consequently then, we stand opposed to destructive forms of development and progress that regards the short-term influx of investment and employment. We stand opposed to a development and progress that disregards and neglects the long-term negative impact of such development on both the environment and humanity.
Upon such premise do we come and raise issues and concerns over the on-going development efforts at the Tañon Strait and Bohol-Cebu Strait.

1. Under Pres. Decree 1234, a law which has not been rescinded nor repealed, Tañon Strait is and remains to be a protected marine area, how on earth is it now up for development inconsistent to its protected status?

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR-R7), Tañon Strait ranks in the Top 10 major fishing grounds in the country. It produces big and quality fish stocks, including blue marlin and tuna. It is also well-known for its schools of dolphins, which has put Negros in the map for eco-tourism.
Tañon Strait is home to a marine biodiversity (11 species of cetaceans alone) that would be critically disturbed and destroyed by development aggression.

Tañon Strait is a vital food source for millions of peoples living in 45 towns and cities covering three provinces: Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and Cebu.
Tañon Strait is home to 60 marine sanctuaries and the Cebu-Bohol Strait has 80 marine sanctuaries. The local government units have consistently invested in coastal resource management Oil exploration will surely affect in the negative environmental gains and progress made.

2. We call to task national government agencies, like the Department on Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), that are there supposedly to protect our natural resources from entry of destructive development aggression but instead have been very liberal in giving Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECCs) and Certificates of Non-Coverage.

It is only when there is public outrage and high media visibility that these agencies “review” the clearances they have given.
Like the case of the Korean construction atop the crater of Taal Volcano, an ECC has been given, but subjected to thorough review only when it was exposed. It is a fact that national agencies at times totally disregard and ignore Local Government Units (LGUs). It was admitted by no less than the Department of Energy Secretary that in the very beginning of the project, that it has done oil exploration in Tañon Strait without informing the LGUs.

3. Development for Whom and for What?

  • Former Secretary of the DENR Heherson Alvarez has aptly put it: “What does it gain a nation to be short-sighted and merely think of money when an irreparable damage to the environment will cost human lives, health, and livelihood capacity of our farmers and fisherfolk endangering the food security of our people?”
  • If we are to use the figures used in a similar exploration between Cebu and Bohol, for every $100 gross proceeds of the project, only $3.46 will go to the local government (this miniscule amount to be further divided between the province and the municipalities).
  • Mining companies can avail of economic privileges like 100% repatriation of capital and profits; 6 years tax exemption on profits; 10 years tax exemption for export; tax exemption for imports; employment of foreigners; right to transfer or sales of mining agreement; and confidentiality rights. They are also given other rights like timber, water, easement and ingress and egress rights. In the past, the multi-national mining companies paid local taxes where their main headquarters are located, (usually in Makati) and not where the extractables are taken. Who will benefit from these explorations? The people of the affected places Negros, Cebu and Bohol? Who will be holding on to the empty bag when all the oil has been drained? The multi-national corporation would have left to destroy another part of the planet while the people in Negros and Cebu and Bohol will live in an area forever scarred by exploration and extraction.

4. We call on government to exert more effort in more sustainable alternative to oil that will not only reduce our dependency on oil but can spur development in agriculture as well such as the bio-fuel and ethanol production, solar and wind power and other renewable energy sources.

5. We call on government to carry out the intent of the Philippine Constitution: “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthy ecology in accord with rhythm and harmony of nature” (Article II Section 16).

“Which are more important for the people in the long run, biologically replenishing (and sustainable) marine and coastal resources or limited, exhaustible, non-replenishing oil resources, if any? As the Metro Post editorial put it: “Let us not rush to destroy our environment in our quest for black gold. For all we know, the cost for such a mistake could be much, much greater.”


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Social gatherings can be minefields of awkwardness for a Filipino birder because such occasions give rise to queries like “So what do you do on your spare time?” The trapped Filipino birder throws caution to the wind when he opts to respond: “That’s nice of you to ask. I look for forest birds.” To this, the inevitable response from a non-birding crowd is: “Oh.” Puzzled silence ensues.

Compare that to the reception an open-water diver gets when she says that she looks for sharks, sea turtles and the like: an awe-struck, “Oh, how exciting!” Sharks? Gasps from the audience. Sea turtles? The crowd goes wild.

I’ve since come to grips with the facts: scuba is just way more glamorous than birdwatching. It must be those body-hugging wetsuits. There’s no comparison. A generation of kids grew up dreaming to be Jacques-Yves Cousteau and get to explore the mysterious depths of the oceans. No one grew up wanting to be a famous birdwatcher like…like… My point exactly.

Sometimes, I get a reply to the effect of: “My neighbor has a talking myna. It’s hysterical. It knows all the swear words! You should see it.” If the person I am talking to is amiable enough, I try to steer the topic of conversation towards something that doesn’t involve bird cages and life-long captivity.

Once or twice, though, I get something along the likes of: “You’re a birdwatcher, do you see a lot of colorful birds?”


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As an ordinary bloke with no formal training in biology, I’ve always wanted—perhaps unreasonably—a clear answer to this question.

But it seems that no one knows—or at least, no one is reckless enough to hazard an answer. Why is this? I figured the history of the struggle to conserve the Philippine Eagle has its fair share of acrimonious debates. There is just too much at stake in this matter which has led people to be very circumspect.

On the few occasions that I’ve managed to buttonhole a conservationist to ask him about the number of eagles in the wild, the reception I invariably got was a look of patient concern, like that of a long-suffering parent to a rash, impertinent child.

Am I being unreasonable?

On more than one occasion, I was lectured on how the exact number doesn’t matter. The important think is that everyone agrees on the Eagle falling under the category of Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List. This List is a criteria used to determine extinction risk and set numerical thresholds for qualification for the three globally threatened categories. These are based on factors including rate of decline, population size, area of geographic distribution, and degree of population and distribution fragmentation. But at this point my eyes had glazed over.

Turning to books, I encounter the usual hesitation to pin a number. In “Threatened Birds of the Philippines” (1999, Bookmark) by Nigel G. Collar etal, the section on Population begins with these grave words:

“Attempts at articulating a fully reasoned estimate of population size in the Philippine Eagle have persistently been compromised by the absence of solid data on its density and the extent of its habitat, and by an understandable but perhaps over-cautious reluctance to accept or even attempt extrapolations using data that appear to overturn the traditional view of its great rarity based on field encounter rates.”

After this caveat, the authors (God bless them!) proceed—in herculean proportions—to detail the history of population studies and assessments done on the Philippine Eagle. From early estimates of Mindanao populations which varied between 600-1,900 pairs in 1910, to 225-450 pairs in 1992, these make for fascinating reading, especially for the Philippine Eagle enthusiast.

No doubt about it, this book is a very important document in Philippine bidoversity! But I must admit that the onslaught of numbers and figures leave me bewildered and feeling hopeless.

Among the 65 species in the book, the discussion on the Philippine Eagle is the most exhaustive, and I remember, while he was with Haribon Foundation, Neil Aldrin D. Mallari, one of the co-authors, say that for editorial purposes, they had to trim the Eagle discussion. This attests to the fact that so much documentation is available about Philippine Eagle studies, and yet, so much vital information remains to be uncovered.

Looking for more answers, I turned to the website of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines to get a look at their country bird records—since its inception the club has collated first-hand reports of local and visiting birdwatchers. The online records of the WBCP go back only to 2003 and accepted Philippine Eagle observations total only ten (2006 and 2007 records have not yet been uploaded).

Of the ten reports, nine are from Mindanao and four are from the same locality, Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park. The only one recorded outside of Mindanao was of a rescued Eagle in General Nakar, Quezon, that suffered from a gunshot wound.

Ten records in three years! Encountering such low numbers made me yearn for the rigorously derived estimates listed in Collar etal. I’m starting to understand this Critically Endangered tag.

Finally, after trawling cyberspace for information and considering the various answers, I hit upon BirdLife International’s (2007) Species factsheet: Pithecophaga jefferyi which indicates population estimate as 226, with population trend as decreasing.

I have to write that again to keep it in mind: 226. Decreasing.

As an antidote perhaps to all the mention of extrapolations and variances, I visit the website of birder Don Roberson where he listed the Philippine Eagle as the Best Bird of The World (outpointing such outlandish beauties as the Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise and the Horned Guan). In his site, Roberson recounts his journey to Dalwangan, Bukidnon, in 1990 along with guide Tim Fisher. It’s a fascinating account that brings to focus all the facts and figures that scientists and conservationists have so painstakingly collected so that we can get a better understanding of the Eagle’s condition in the wild.

Only to have impertinent laymen like me childishly demand a number.

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A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from wildlife illustrator Oscar Figuracion Jr. saying that he had just finished an oil painting of a Philippine Eagle and was looking for buyers. I came to know Oscar a few years ago when his illustrations had graced a series of NGO-produced species-identification guides meant for DENR personnel. Someone somewhere, it seems, had noticed that aside from a few exceptions, DENR personnel could not confidently identify rare animal species in the field (and were too proud to say so). The idea of illustrated field-guides was a great project whose time had come.

However, as with most NGO projects with foreign funding, the field guide series petered out and when the interminable NGO-style project assessments came to an end, Oscar was told that his talents were great but no longer needed. Alas, such is the life of an environmental NGO hired hand.

When the projects dried out, Oscar left Quezon City and settled back to his native Mindanao, where, as a young student, he was hired by the leading wildlife biologist of the time, Dr. Dioscoro Rabor, to be an expedition artist. Oscar’s job, during Dr. Rabor’s fieldworks, was to accurately draw the fresh specimens collected by the hunters before they lost forever their colors. No one does that anymore. The advent of megapixel digital cameras has rendered the expedition-artist extinct.

Somehow I’ve always linked the Philippine Eagle with sad stories. Of mis-chances. Ruin and extinction. I am sure there are upbeat voices out there from people who are in touch with the latest schemes and programs to keep the Eagle alive. Once or twice I’ve come across the works of people like Dennis Salvador and Jayson Ibañez who seem to be doing tremendous work for the Eagle and its habitats. I just wished my experiences were as rosy or filled with hope.

The memory that Oscar’s painting stirred from the muddy depths of my brain was the sight of the birds languishing in the Raptor Center in Mt. Makiling. The center was set up in the ‘80s to attempt a well-intentioned captive-breeding program. It has failed. The Raptor Center in Makiling is rundown, moldy, and the large enclosures slowly succumbing to the vegetation, although cheery droves of school-children still regularly troop there to see the forlorn eagles and other captive birds too sick or too habituated with humans to ever be released in the wild. The kids don’t care because being kids they’ll have fun anyway and the teachers are content to give the little kids their exercise away from the confines of the classrooms. The Center earns from these excursions, but barely enough to cover maintenance, I imagine.

The last time I went to the Raptor Center, the unused cages were dilapidated and a caretaker grumbled how their meager allowances were slow in coming, and how they had to feed the Eagles by farming rabbits in the vicinity. Lack of funds, inadequate support and other, familiar, gloomy travails were aired out. I never visited again.

More on the subject of sad stories: Let’s go back to the man who discovered the Eagle in 1896 for science—the naturalist John Whitehead. “Disease and ‘slow starvation’” hounded Whitehead throughout his stay in the Philippines, in the words of ornithologist and author Nigel J. Collar, “[Whitehead] often fell victim to gross misfortune; yet his most celebrated moment resulted from one the cruellest pieces of luck he endured. In 1895 an entire consignment of skins, the result of several months’ concentrated collecting on Samar and containing many anticipated new species, was lost when its carrier, the German ship, Weiland, caught fire and had to be scuttled off Singapore. Whitehead was therefore forced to go back to the island in May 1896 and try again.”

What a blow that news must have been for the young man! But return he did and it was on his return trip that he collected the first specimens of the Philippine Eagle, a species that will forever be linked to his name. But within three years of that great discovery, Whitehead would succumb to fever at age 38.

The scarcity of the Eagle and its constantly shrinking habitat is not a new observation or problem, for Whitehead himself wrote: “The forests that are left in Samar are still very vast, especially on the Pacific Coast, but for miles inland those of the western coast have been destroyed, leaving ranges of low undulating clay hills chiefly covered with lalang grass. When this country has been passed, the traveler finds himself at an elevation of nearly 1,000 feet and meets with the true virgin forest of Samar. This forest is becoming annually smaller owing to the cultivation of hemp. . . .”

Fast-forward to 1977, when Robert S. Kennedy, the man who has done the most to save the Philippine Eagle, published in the March 1977 issue of The Wilson Bulletin the results of his studying a pair of Eagles at Tudaya Falls in Mt. Apo National Park on Mindanao.

Part of the article goes over now-familiar terrain, “As land has been cleared for agriculture and for lumber, the lower edges of the forests inhabited by the eagles have been retreating up the sides of mountains. The birds have partially adapted to this change by hunting over cleared land and living in second growth forest.” It seems that the Philippine Eagle has been teetering on the brink of extinction since its discovery!

Kennedy’s findings was enlivened by a quaint illustration by John P. O’Neill of a perched Eagle serene and safe while the silvery cataract of Tudaya Falls gracefully pours in the background. It is green everywhere.

When I last went to Tudaya Falls in the early 90s, the hills were bare and planted over with crops. I have no knowledge of any Eagle sighting in Tudaya Falls for the last two decades. Perhaps they are there for all I know. I have never been back since, afraid of what I might find out for sure.

At about the same time that I received Oscar’s e-mail, I got an e-mail from a new UP graduate. She had responded to a mass e-mail I had sent out to a writers’ group looking for contributing writers for a small magazine that I was editing. The new grad said she was in Bukidnon and so would I have a topic in mind for her to write while she was there. I responded excitedly, writing that Dalwangan, in Bukidnon, was perhaps the only place left in the entire world to have a reliable sighting of the Philippine Eagle in the wild. Can she write about the situation in Dalwangan? She never wrote back.

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