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Report: Ecotourism Project for the Province of Sorsogon – Institute for Environmental Conservation and Research

Report: Ecotourism Project for the Province of Sorsogon

Completed: October 2000
Sponsored by: Associates in Rural Development – Governance and Local Democracy (ARD-GOLD)
Funded by: USAID

Introduction

Ecotourism is considered as a kind of nature tourism (Karsten, 1997). It is conducted in natural areas that are relatively “untouched” or experienced minimal human disturbance. Pressure of population expansion and poverty nevertheless, pose dangers to these areas so that ecotourism is said to be one of the efforts that can perhaps contribute to conservation. Such conservation of natural areas and resources in ecotourism sites is believed to be possible if the adjacent local communities become involved in the project. It is expected that the outcome of this project is the improvement of local economy. If this is achieved, then people are further encouraged to protect and maintain resources of value to ecotourists. With the above considerations, McCormick (1994) adds that social responsibilities are important ingredients of Ecotourism. Thus, it is defined as “purposeful travel to natural areas to understand the culture and natural history of the environment, taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem, while producing economic opportunities that make the conservation of natural resources beneficial to the local people”.

The ecotourism project for the province of Sorsogon was conceived from the foregoing principles of ecotourism. This province is located in the southernmost eastern part of the island of Luzon. It consists of 16 municipalities (Bacon, Barcelona, Bulan, Bulusan, Casiguran, Castilla, Donsol, Gubat, Irosin, Juban, Magallanes, Matnog, Pilar, Prieto Diaz, Sta. Magdalena, and Sorsogon (capital of the province) with 541 barangays. Fifteen of these municipalities are coastal and only Irosin is inland (Provincial Socio-Economic Profile, 1990).

The potential for ecotourism in this province is high. In 1990, there were many tourist spots already identified by the local government. They comprised mostly of white sandy beaches, mountains and hills and their forests, lakes, caves, waterfalls, springs, and islets. However, these resources may be critical ecosystems wherein the whole province depends upon because they offer opportunities for livelihood, education, and recreation. Furthermore, they perform important ecological functions such as having rich biodiversity for the maintenance of ecological balance and vegetation for climate regulation. If not properly managed however, ignorance and poverty may pose dangers to these benefits and functions thus, threaten the ecological integrity in these areas.

Objectives of the project

The overall objective of the project was to make use of ecotourism as a means of conserving biodiversity and integrity of some ecosystems in the province of Sorsogon. The project involved the Local Government Units (LGU) of the municipalities in this province. Representatives from various sectors were grouped together to form the technical working group or the TWG. It is hoped that the poorer sectors of the local communities can become partners for conservation through alternative livelihood that will be generated from the project.

The role of the INECAR of the Ateneo de Naga University

ARD-GOLD has solicited the assistance of the INECAR in partnership, for the ecotourism project of Sorsogon. Working in cooperation with other consultants, the role of the INECAR team was to provide tools by which potential ecotourism sites and attractions can be assessed and maintained and/or improved in terms of ecological conditions. The expected outputs from the team are the following:

1. A revised “Point evaluation systems for prioritizing ecotourism attractions” which is entitled “Evaluation System for Ranking the Potential Ecotourism Sites”
2. Report on the Rapid Assessment of the ecotourism sites based on initial site visits and evaluation system
3. Environmental profiles of two selected sites (pilot sites)
4. Site management guidelines for the two pilot sites
5. Ecotourism Standards for the two pilot sites
6. Communications Plans to elicit support of the affected communities and sectors
7. Training events involving Sorsogon LGU staff and representatives

Salient Points generated from the project

1. Two municipalities were selected as pilot sites based on observations during initial site visitations and the Evaluation System for Ranking the Potential Ecotourism Sites. These are: Prieto Diaz Mangrove Aquamarine Resource and Bulusan Lake.
2. The Prieto Diaz Aquamarine Resources include a rehabilitated mangrove that is able to demonstrate important ecological functions such as:

a) Filtration of mud by the root systems resulting to clear water in the seagrass beds and coral reefs.

b) Enriching biodiversity by serving as a habitat for local and migratory birds that thrive in large groups and be part of the ecotourism attraction.

3. Bulusan Lake as an ecotourism attraction of the municipality of Bulusan is badly in need of protection if the lake is to be conserved for the present and future generations.
4. The bird species biodiversity is unique to Bulusan National Park. Colorful birds still surviving in the are already rare in most parts of the Bicol Region.
5. Such birds can also be observed at De Vera’s property as well as in many parts of Barangay San Roque.
6. Freshwater resources are still abundant in Bulusan.
7. Green tree frog found in Bayugin Falls is already rare.
8. There is cooperation from the LGUs of Prieto Diaz and Bulusan.

Recommendations

1. It is necessary that the communications plan as stated in Chapter 4 of this report be implemented. The plan involves the following components: a) residents within and around the project site; b) residents outside of the project site; c) government organizations, d) non-government organizations, e) tour operator, f) contractors, and g) ecotourists.
2. To toke seriously the recommended action plans of the local communities drafted during the community mobilizations in Prieto Diaz and Bulusan.
3. Provide additional assistance to the TWG in developing the ecotourism project until such time that operation has started.
4. The TWG continue to assist the person or persons-in-charge in the implementation of the ecotourism projects to ensure that the guidelines and standards are followed.
5. There is a need for continuous education on environmental conservation and protection and on ecotourism principles for the local communities.
6. A local group must be given training on how to monitor changes in the environmental condition of the ecotourism attractions to safeguard the ecological integrity of the ecosystems covering thee attractions.

References:

Kersten, Axel. 1997. Community based ecotourism and community building: the case of the Lacandones (Chiapas). http://ecotourism.about.com/travel/ecotourism/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm; http://www.greenbuilder.com/mader/planta/1196/1196agents.html.

McCormick, Kenneth. 1994. Can Ecotourism Save the Rainforest?. Rainforest Action Network. http://www/ran.org/info_center/ecotourism.html.