PALAWAN municipality of Bataraza

THE MUNICIPALITY of Bataraza in Palawan, an island southwest of the Philippines, is studying the feasibility of offering mangrove forest tours to the public. The municipality has 16 of the 50 known mangrove species worldwide.

Mas maganda ang aming mangrove ecosystem sa Bataraza compared sa Puerto Princesa Underground River… ang gaganda, ang tutuwid [Our mangrove ecosystem in Bataraza is nicer than that of Puerto Princesa’s Underground River… they’re beautiful and tall],” said Reynaldo C. Rivera, Bataraza’s municipal environment and natural resources officer.

Napakagandang i-offer din ito sa aming tourism [This would be a great addition to our tourism offerings],” he added in an interview during a media tour to the municipality by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on July 26 and 27.

Countries such as Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates offer mangrove kayaking as part of their tourism efforts. In the Philippines, mangrove paddling is offered in provinces like Bohol.

Ginagawa na po iyung tourism plan for Bataraza [A tourism plan for Bataraza is already being drawn up]. They’re just waiting for inputs from the communities [to be able to come up with] sustainable tourism products such as mangrove ecotourism,” Joan M. Pecson, WWF-Philippines project manager of the Bataraza Mangrove Ecosystem Restoration Project, said.

It’s not just the livelihoods in communities that should be considered, but also the protection of the mangroves, Ms. Pecson said in another interview.

WWF is working with partners like electronics company Epson on its ecosystem restoration project in Bataraza. Local capacity building activities embedded in the project include mangrove planting, assessment and monitoring, and coastal resource management.

The municipalities of Balabac and Bataraza in Palawan are among the remaining areas in the province with high marine biodiversity and a significant amount of primary and secondary mangrove forests, according to a report by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

Mangroves protect against extreme weather events such as storms and tidal surges. They improve water quality by filtering sediment, and they also sequester carbon — important in keeping climate change at bay — for up to a millennia.

“Despite laws and regulations, our mangrove forests are being continuously destroyed, the most damaging activities of which are [bark tanning], charcoal making, and conversion into fishponds,” said Gomer Lucion Miano, a Sangguniang Bayan member of Bataraza, at a dinner the local government hosted for the WWF.

The result of the destruction of mangrove forests has been the decrease of marine resources, Mr. Miano said.

Maging ang tirahan ng mga buwaya ay nasisira kung kaya’t sila ay naghahanap ng bagong masisilungan hanggang sa mga silong ng bahay sa tabing dagat, at namiminsala ng mga alagang hayop — at maging mga tao — dahil halos wala na silang makain sa loob ng bakawan [Even the crocodiles’ habitat is compromised, which is why they end up seeking shelter in coastal communities — endangering the livestock and even humans — because they’ve already lost mangroves as their source of food],” he said.

“We hope this project… will be expanded to other parts of our municipality,” he added.

A way to promote mangroves as an ecotourism feature is to highlight the diversity of the fauna that can be found within these coastal forests, Ms. Pecson said.

Over 1,500 species depend on mangroves for their survival — 15% of which are threatened with extinction, per the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

“You play with your strengths,” Ms. Pecson told BusinessWorld.

“From the lens of ornithologists and scientists, Palawan’s mangrove ecosystem offers a huge potential as a living lab,” she said in the vernacular.

“You have birds, you have saltwater crocodiles, you have other flora and fauna that you won’t see in other mangrove ecotourism places here in the Philippines,” she added. — Patricia Mirasol