​Ecotourism Site Spotlight: Sagay, Negros Occidental

Sandbar at Panal Reef

Sagay City, located in Negros Occidental, is blessed with one of the largest marine protected areas in the country – 32-000 hectares in total. The Sagay Marine Reserve or SMR was initiated by then Mayor Alfredo Maranon in the 1970s and has become a perfect example of marine diversity. It was opened to the public only in 2009 and has already attracted a significant number of tourists. This marine reserve is composed of small islands, sand bars and shallow coral reefs.


One of the most popular sites in SMR is Carbin Reef where you can snorkel to see a variety of corals, schools of fishes, hundreds of giant clams, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to spot sea turtles. Or if you prefer to stay by the shore, you can lounge around the unique, tongue-shaped sand bar. The clear blue water is also perfect for swimming.

Macahulom and Panal reefs are also favorite among tourists, having colorful coral reefs and marine life as well as migratory birds.

Suyac Islet, also located in SMR, is a small community where the city’s oldest mangrove forest thrives. A community-based tourism project has been established by the city government and it is  providing an economic incentive for the island residents to protect the mangrove area.

The city also has the Museo Sang Bata, an interactive museum for children, the only one of its kind in the Philippines.

The tourism office of Sagay City advocates sustainable and responsible tourism. They play an active role in ensuring that SMR is protected from irresponsible practices so that both visitors in the area and local communities continue to benefit from the beauty and abundance that SMR has to offer.

Hear more about Sagay’s tourism products and best practices from Helen Cutillar, Tourism Officer of Ciy of Sagay, at the second Philippine Ecotourism 101.

Photos are by Louie Mencias and Patricia Mencias

Supercharge your next holiday

PictureSummer is just around the corner, and it is time to plan  for a fabulous holiday to some far-flung destination.  You owe it to yourself to make it a memorable one, at most,  a life-changing one.  Here are some tips on how you can enhance your vacation:

1. Do something different.
Make a list of all the things that you want to do but have not done yet.  This may include snorkeling on a marine sanctuary or braving a caving adventure.  Perhaps even signing up for a birding tour while paddling in the mangrove may prove to be interesting.  To those who are not too adventurous and wish to avoid an adrenaline rush, a trip to an agri-tourism farm to learn about organic farming may prove to be educational.  It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as  it is something that you have not done before.  By going out of your comfort zone, you provide yourself an opportunity to  discover new  things that could possibly give you  joy. The further you are from your comfort zone, the more potential for growth there will be.


2.  Be with nature.  
Research shows that nature has healing qualities.  Simply being in the midst of nature can supercharge your body with positive energy that can repair cells, relax muscles, slow down heart rate and even normalize blood pressure.  Stay away from noisy videoke bars or beach concerts.  Instead, do nature walks in the mangrove,  trek in the forest or visit a nearby stream.  Listening to the sound of lapping waves,  singing birds,  rustling trees or   flowing water.  Smell the earthiness of the dead leaves on the ground or the sweet bloom of the coffee trees in the forest.  Feast your eyes on the beauty of  the landscape and the seascape.  Be awed by the magnificence of nature and be thankful for a chance to see, feel, smell  and hear  all its manifestations.

Picture3.  Discover new culture.
Immersing yourself in the culture of the place that you visit enhances your appreciation of the diversity in beliefs and traditions.  It makes you understand that contrast is awesome, and  you realize that opening your mind to other possibilities releases you from the bondage of limiting beliefs.  Discovering a totally different culture may prove to be shocking to those who are not used to being exposed to cultures other than what they have been born with.  But, with the right attitude,  the experience  could be life changing. Avoid being judgmental.  Be an observer first,  then a learner, a sifter and a person who respects diversity.


4. Contribute to the community that you visit.  
Being stingy is not always the best way to go about your vacation. Remember that communities who are engaged in tourism related services are in  it because it is their livelihood.  They also have families to support. This is particularly true for communities that had been capacitated and supported by government and funding agencies.  Community-based tourism is designed to provide an economic incentive for people to conserve natural resources.  By buying community tour packages and products,  you are giving them a chance to be part of development.  Inclusive growth can only happen if the marginalized sector of the community is on board. You play an important role because you are part of the value chain.Remember that travel is not just about you getting the cheapest deal.  It is also about you growing by leaps and bound, and contributing to community development.
For more information on the concept of community-based tourism, sign up for the upcoming Philippine Ecotourism 101 seminar

This article was originally published in Chen Reyes-Mencias’ blog, QuantumLight.
Photos are by Chen Reyes-Mencias and Patricia Mencias

Ecotourism and biodiversity conservation

PictureOur country’s biodiversity is a unique natural capital for tourism. Many of our ecotourism sites have rare or uncommon plants and animals which form part of the attractions that draw visitors to our islands. Some of these are globally threatened while other species are so rare and can be found only within the Philippine archipelago.

While are country’s coastline is known for our warm,  clear water and sandy beaches, our coral reefs and the diverse marine life within had attracted scuba divers from other parts of the world. With more than 480 species of hard corals found in our waters, it is not surprising that our coral reefs have provided much fascination for both domestic and foreign recreational divers.


When the effects of destructive fishing methods such as blast fishing, muro-ami and the use of cyanide to capture tropical fish for the aquarium trade, are witnessed by scuba divers who visited these sites, they were usually the first to call the attention of the authorities.  Upland, bird watchers have also raised concern with the destruction of forest habitats due to logging and kaingin or slash and burn farming.

The coral reefs of Mabini, Tingloy and Bauan, Batangas are their main attractions and not their rocky beaches. While marine protected areas (MPAs) were primarily established to sustain fisheries, these sites enjoyed luxuriant coral growth, abundance of fish and diverse marine life that also attracted divers and snorkelers. The same is true for Apo Is. in Negros Oriental, Apo Reef in Sablayan, Mindoro Occ. and our Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park.

Many of our island destinations are also known for the endemic wildlife. Take the Philippine tarsier as an example which is undeniably a tourism icon for Bohol.  No tour of the island will be complete without seeing a live tarsier albeit in captivity. It is therefore very understandable that Boholanons would not want any harm to fall on the world’s smallest primate.

The world’s largest fish, the gentle whale shark had brought prominence to Donsol, Sorsogon, Oslob in Cebu and Sogod Bay, in Southern Leyte. Were it not for the butanding, these and other places would probably not have enjoyed the influx of visitors and the local communities may not have derived socio-economic benefits from tourism.


In the island of San Salvador, Masinloc, Zambales is one of the earliest marine sanctuaries in Luzon.  The reef has luxuriant coral growth and is home to the threatened giant clams, Tridacna gigas. The shallow sea grass bed of Yaha Islet is home to several species of seahorses. In the past, local fishermen used to catch the seahorse, dried them and sold them to a Chinese trader (supposedly for its medicinal value) for a mere P10.00 per seahorse. When some of the fishermen and family members were trained to be Reef Ranger snorkeling guides and started earning from tourism, they realized that the seahorse is far more valuable alive and tourists are able to see them  in the natural environment.  They did not have to get the seahorse, all they had to do was look for them and point it out to tourists.  As long as they had seahorses, tourists will come to snorkel and observe them in the wild. Eventually, these snorkeling guides stopped the catching of the seahorse because they understood that the seahorse was one of their unique wildlife attractions and thus they cannot allow the depletion of their seahorse population.  In time the fishermen also recognized the need to protect the seagrass ecosystem because it is the habitat of the seahorse which will eventually disappear if the seagrass is lost.

Further to the north, in the town of Sta. Cruz, Zambales is Hermana Menor island. The marine sanctuary is extensive, has excellent live coral cover, abundance of fish and endangered giant clams that make snorkeling an exceptionally fun and fascinating experience. Thus the local snorkeling guides actively take part in monitoring and protecting their MPA because they understand its importance extends beyond fisheries to tourism.



Helmet shell (Casis cornuta)

In Mati City, Davao Oriental is a sandy beach that serves as nesting site for marine turtles. Occasionally, sea cow or dugong and whale sharks are seen in the clear blue waters of Dahican beach. The local surfers and snorkeling guides known as Amihan sa Dahican, take an active part in protecting their environment. Led by George “Jun” Plaza, they have established a turtle hatchery. Aside from keeping the beach free from non-biodegradable debris, they also take the time and effort to orient visitors on the turtle life cycle and the need to care for the marine environment.  They also see to it that the dugong and whale sharks that visit the shallow waters of Dahican beach are not caught nor harmed.

The endangered helmet shell (Casis cornuta) is the unique wildlife attraction in Buntod Reef, Masbate City. The reef is also an MPA, has a low sandbar and several stands of mangrove.  This is where one can still observe helmet shells (also commonly called elephant’s ear) crawling in the shallow portions of the fish sanctuary. The Samahang Mangingisda ng Puro-Sinalikway (SAMAPUSI) take care of their MPA and many of their members are also snorkeling guides. They also enjoy strong support in protecting their fish sanctuary from the City of Masbate.

Many of the island residents of Palaui Is. Protected Landscape and Seascape, in Sta. Ana, Cagayan enjoy the benefits of community-based tourism. Most are hiking, snorkeling or birding guides, while others are involved in catering, operating the nature village campsite, weaving souvenir items. Some are massage therapists in the island spa.  They are also aware that their natural attractions, the primary and secondary forests, the mangroves, rocky cliffs and beaches are habitats for birds. During the Amihan months the water is usually cold for snorkeling but the island being in the migratory flyway, turns into a birding destination, with its abundance of resident and migratory birds as well as few globally threatened species.



Samar Island Natural Park with its extensive primary forest thriving on the third largest island of the Philippines, is endowed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. In a bird inventory conducted in 2002 to 2003 in Paranas, one of the towns within the park, out of 147 recorded species, 36 species were endemic, 26 species were threatened and 11 were new records for Samar island.  The avian inventory was conducted in only a very small portion of the SINP and the results are very encouraging.  It implies that Samar is a an exciting place for birding because of the presence of birds that can be found only in our archipelago as well as species that may be island endemic or even birds that had not yet been observed in Samar and Leyte. One such attraction is the endemic Samar tarictic hornbill. Some 24 farmers from the towns of Calbiga, Paranas, San Jose de Bauan and Taft were trained through the joint efforts of DOT and DENR region 8. The Buhay Ibon birding guides of SINP realize the livelihood opportunities from wildlife tourism and the need to protect the birds and their forest.



Throughout the Philippine archipelago are many other natural areas that are rich in biodiversity. Most of these will have communities that depend on their natural resources for livelihood, usually by farming, fishing or harvesting forest products.  In areas where nature and wildlife are the primary attractions, ecotourism creates a non-extractive and non-destructive form of livelihood for the host community.  They learn that the ecosystems and wildlife they have are their natural capital that should be cared for if they are to continually have tourism. When local residents derive socio-economic benefits from tourism, habitats are preserved, wildlife is protected and biodiversity continues to flourish.

Learn more about the importance of biodiversity conservation to tourism at the Philippine Ecotourism 101 training seminar in Baguio City on March 3 & 4, 2016. Find out more here.