The management board of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ETMRPA) will start imposing a limit on the volume of tourists visiting environmentally sensitive areas that are the main attractions in the town.
The decision was prompted by the reported degradation of favorite island hopping tour destinations such as the big and small lagoons and the so-called “secret beach” on Bacuit Bay.
Park officials said the continuous influx of tourists in these areas have caused disturbance on its environment. To avoid further deterioration, the management board said they will implement a “carrying capacity” policy that will limit the number of visitors to the park in a given day.
“We noticed unpleasant activities happening on these sites, particularly in Big and Small Lagoons wherein boats entering and kayaks operating there are not well-regulated,” said Protected Area Superintendent Alex Mancio.
As part of the carry capacity cap, visitors to the Big Lagoon will be limited to a maximum of 720 persons per day, with not more than 60 people to be allowed inside the site at one time.
For the Small Lagoon, the cap will be at 360 visitors in a day, with only 30 visitors allowed at a time. For the Secret Beach, there will be a limit of 144 visitors a day, with only 12 allowed at a time.
Because of its increasing popularity, El Nido saw an average increase of 30.70% in the last three years, according to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO). Just last year, this town considered as one of the world’s best island destinations welcomed 126,000 visitors.
Another concern, Mancio added, was the presence of vendors peddling items like fishes, canned soft drinks and food in plastic packaging, which all contribute to the presence of trash floating in these sites.
Boats on island tour were also spewing out smoke when cooking lunch for tourists.
Mancio said all of these activities have caused a disturbance in both marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the said sites.
“Before, corals there were in good condition that you can see fishes, and the water was really clear. But lately, we observed that because of anchoring of boats and stepping of tourists on corals, the corals are slowly dying,” he said.
“When we entered there before, we could see birds like balinsasayaw and Palawan hornbill. But now they’re disturbed and rarely seen due to noise and smoke caused by human activities,” he added.
Mancio added that a 2014 study showed tourists indicating a diminished level of satisfaction from having visited those areas.
The resolution is awaiting the approval of the regional director of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) MIMAROPA, and is expected to take effect at the onset of tourism peak season in November.
With the policy in force, only a certain number of non-motorized conveyances like kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and the likes are allowed inside the lagoons. Motorized boats are limited only at the entrance of both lagoons. (See infographic for details)
Other policies and guidelines common for the three sites are the prohibition of fishing and grilling within the vicinity, as well as loud sounds or music. No cliff jumping and other activities are allowed except those mentioned. Visitors are only allowed from 6 am to 6 pm (6 am first in, 5 pm last in).
“We want the tourists to see the old El Nido. If you’ve been here years ago, when you enter these lagoons, it’s very eerie and enchanting, and you get goosebumps as your voice echoes,” Municipal Administrator RJ de la Calzada said.
The municipal government is also finalizing a draft ordinance that would impose carrying capacity policy for all sites included in the tour packages.
“We’re proposing the same policy on other sites to continue preserving them, while at the same time boosting customers’ satisfaction,” said Municipal Tourism Officer Arvin Acosta. In the meantime, he said they are promoting cultural and agricultural tourism to lessen the pressure in island hopping sites.
Meanwhile, violators of the PAMB resolution may face the penalty of P5,000 to P500,000 and imprisonment of one to six years, as stipulated in Section 21 of RA 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.
The Protected Area Office is awaiting the P50,000-budget from the DENR to begin constructing the floating monitoring station at the Small Lagoon. The station will house the park rangers for the reinforcement of the new policy.