PAMB enforces carrying capacity rules in El Nido

Aerial shot of Miniloc Island where the Big Lagoon (left) and the Small Lagoon (right) are located in Bacuit Bay, El Nido. (Photo courtesy of El Nido Boutique Artcafe)

The Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) and the municipal government of El Nido have started the strict implementation of the new set of guidelines on the carrying capacity in the Big and Small Lagoons in Bacuit Bay to address the issue of overcrowding.

Carolyn Esmenda, assistant protected area superintendent (PASu), said Monday they started the implementation of the latest guidelines on December 1 as part of an approved PAMB resolution and municipal ordinance.

The implementation comes after a series of dry runs, meetings, and stakeholder consultations held in the town in November.

Kayaks seen inside the Small Lagoon in El Nido. Per proposal by the PAMB and the municipal government, the number of visitors that will be allowed to enter the lagoon is 30 individuals and 15 kayaks.

Esmenda said the Big and Small Lagoons are now “premium tours” and can no longer be visited on the same day.

Earlier, the PAMB and municipal government had proposed to limit the carrying capacity of the Big Lagoon to 60 individuals and 30 kayaks and in the Small Lagoon to 30 visitors and 15 kayaks.

Kayaks and tourists can only stay for a maximum of 90 minutes in the Big Lagoon and one hour in the Small Lagoon.

“Yes po. Pero medyo naging lenient kami sa figures. Nag-adjust kami base sa results ng mga dry runs while waiting for the result of the new carrying capacity study,” she said.

She said this will be done together by the PAMB, the DENR, the municipal government, Department of Tourism (DOT), the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and other local and national line agencies.

Assistant protected area superintendent (PASu) Carolyn Esmenda (in violet polo shirt/extreme right) personally checks and assists the staff in accepting reservations for slots to enter the Big and Small lagoons in El Nido.

Based on Municipal Ordinance No. 101, Series of 2018 amending Section 5 of Municipal Ordinance 010, Series of 2013, the Big Lagoon will remain under Tour A while the Small Lagoon has been placed as part of Tour D.

The new guidelines have also been implementing a P200 environment user’s fee (EUF) for each of the two lagoons which will go to the Integrated Protected Area Fund (IPAF) to be used for the conservation and management activities of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ENTMRPA) in Bacuit Bay.

“The environmental user fee is non-refundable except on force majeure situations like the cancellation of tours by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) due to the inclement weather,” Esmenda pointed out.

Exempted from paying the EUF are residents of El Nido, minors whose age are five and below, PAMB accredited tour guides, boat crew, Protected Area Office (PAO) personnel and staff, El Nido local government unit (LGU) and visitors with official travel and purpose in the lagoons.

The fee is different from the P200 from what the municipal government collects as environmental tourism development fee (ETDF).

Esmenda added that guests to the two lagoons are advised to book in advance through legitimate travel and tour operators as the reservation for time slots is on a “first come, first serve” basis.

Kayak rentals went down to P200- P250 from the previous P300 for a maximum use of 60-90 minutes.

The PAMB and the municipal government will also be strictly implementing guidelines on wearing life jackets, no loud sounds, no cliff jumping, no grilling, no throwing of food scraps and leftovers in the water, no stepping on corrals, no smoking, no alcohol drinks, no vendors, and no bulging out within the vicinity of the lagoons among others.

“Tour operators, tourist boats and tour guides will be proven to have deliberately violated the policies within the protected area will be denied dispatch by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) until their issues have been resolved/cleared with the protected area office (PAO),” Esmenda told Palawan News.

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