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Sagay, Pulupandan nature tourism awardees

In spite of the severe environmental degradation in Negros Occidental, it has still a few remaining areas, which can be tapped for nature-based tourism.

In fact, the recent 12 awards received by the province during the 16 th Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines–Department of Tourism Pearl Awards, held in Davao City, included community-based nature tourism categories. It is, therefore, very necessary that the province, including its comprising cities and municipalities, shall secure the remaining natural sites in Negros Occidental from further degradation, otherwise, it would also loss opportunities that may derive from sustainable tourism development.

One of the awardees was the entry of Sagay City on responsible nature tourism in Suyac Island, under the Best Practices in Community-Based Responsible Tourism category. It is interesting to note that the award was in all levels of competition. I never been to Suyac in recent times, but I saw numerous photos and heard testimonies on how it emerged as a must-see destination, and where communities were capacitated to manage tourism-related activities. Two decades ago, communities in Suyac were solely dependent on fishing and extracting other marine resources, such as shells and sea grasses, for livelihood.

The city government of Sagay, in partnership with various organizations and volunteers, capitalized on the isolation, pristine environment and presence of natural mangrove stands to develop Suyac Island into a community-based tourism destination, and it is now reaping recognition with the recent award it received. Although Suyac was also heavily affected by typhoon Yolanda, it seems the island and its people are now getting back to business as usual in tourism.

Suyac Island is part of the more than 30,000 hectares Sagay Marine Reserve, which has been declared a protected area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the Philippines. It is also one of the 13 Congress-declared protected areas in the country, out of more than 200 candidate sites, and the local government unit was given the task of leading its management.

The initiative started quite a long time, with Governor Alfredo Maranoñ Jr., who was congressman at that time, and his brother, the late former Sagay mayor and Negros Occidental governor Joseph Maranoñ, taking the lead in ensuring the conservation of the marine reserve.

Although it is still on its infancy development, it is very encouraging that Pulupandan's bird and dolphin watching was adjudged as the second runner-up in Best Tourism Event. It is in the coastal waters of Pulupandan where the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins are usually spotted, especially during summer. Pulupandan's tourism potentials are further boosted with the presence of thousands of migratory birds flocking on its wetlands.

Eventually, I am sure that this tourism package of Pulupandan will further attract birders from all over the world. The study of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. indicated that the wetlands from Bago City, Pulupandan, and all the way to Ilog are potentials to be inscribed as Wetlands of International Importance, under the Ramsar Convention of the United Nations.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau, has already recognized these sites as wetlands of international importance.

There are still other areas in Negros Occidental that are worth looking into, in terms of nature-based tourism. However, it is very important that utmost consideration is given to the natural environment of the specific place, since nature tourism is basically dependent on natural capitals of our ecosystem to be sustained in the long term.

What is of paramount importance, too, is the participation of communities and the benefits they will derive on this kind of tourism venture. In addition, nature-based tourism should promote the protection of the environment and the conservation of natural resources. *

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