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Ecotourism in the Philippines: hiking the path to sustainability

January 26, 2022

With help from Seacology, a community in the Philippines is taking advantage of its beautiful surroundings to help protect them against multiple threats.

The Municipality of Alabat, on a small island of the same name, sits just off the coast of the country’s largest island of Luzon. Surrounded by the calm, shallow waters of Lamon Bay, the island is ringed by dense vegetation including five species of mangroves. Its coral reefs support a wide variety of fish species, sea turtles, and other marine life. Dolphins and humpback whales are frequently spotted passing through the area.

Unfortunately, human activity has jeopardized this fragile ecosystem. Illegal fishing methods, including dynamite and nets that scour the seafloor, have damaged the reef. Many of the mangroves were cut for firewood or lumber, or cleared for shrimp ponds.

As we’ve seen elsewhere in the Philippines and beyond, one effective strategy to stop this kind of destruction is to develop ecotourism. Bringing in visitors who are paying to experience nature helps local communities tap into the value of a healthy environment—and creates incentives to keep it healthy. It also reduces people’s reliance on extractive industries like fishing and helps them make ends meet in more sustainable ways.

Working with the Tambuyog Development Center, Seacology funded a community center and a boardwalk through the mangroves. The elevated path, a quarter-kilometer long, serves multiple purposes. Visitors use it to observe the birds, marine life, and gorgeous landscape. It also helps enforce new government restrictions on activities in the area, because for the community members who have been trained as wardens, it’s a great vantage point to spot poachers and other threats. The center, built near the boardwalk, will welcome local students and other visitors, helping further environmental education.

The project faced some complications due to the pandemic. Shortly after its approval in 2020, the Philippines implemented strict travel restrictions, and to avoid quarantine requirements our partners had to meet with government officials on a pier to sign the paperwork. (If they had set foot on the island, they would have had to quarantine for two weeks!) Meetings to train the rangers were delayed due to lockdowns. Despite these setbacks, the project moved ahead quickly once the rules were relaxed, and it was completed late last year. 

Like many Seacology projects, this one came about through networking and word-of-mouth between island communities. In the nearby community of Agdangan on Luzon, we worked with the same local partner to build a similar boardwalk and environmental center. Seeing the results of that project, the people of Alabat were enthusiastic to reap the benefits of protecting their own environment. 

The environmental center in Alabat will welcome local students and other visitors to the area.

Our local partners broke ground for the center in 2021.