The Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of Brooke’s Point is hopeful for the proclamation of Ursula Island in Bataraza as a protected area under the National Integrated and Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act.
Leozel Padrigo, conservation and development officer of the CENRO in Brooke’s Point said that the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB)-Ursula Island Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary proposed a 650-hectare protected area to cover both land and marine territories.
Of the total figure, 17.2-hectare will cover the terrestrial area.
The PAMB also plans to include a 200-meter buffer zone intended for the fishing ground.
“Kung ano yong rules natin ngayon, yon pa rin ang magiging rule pagdating ng proclamation. Siguro depende sa board kung ano yong magiging additional policies nila. For now, ini-implement na rin natin yong rules sa marine wildlife, doon kami nakatutok,” she said.
Padrigo said that one of PAMB’s current problems is the rampant illegal fishing in the area.
She said that the number of illegal activities was lessened through the involvement of the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) in strengthening law enforcement. The two companies usually provide a readily available patrol boat for use by the PAMB patrol team and by law-enforcement officers.
She said that there is a collaborative effort from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Maritime and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to address the problem.
“Nasa sixth part na tayo ng pag-process, yon na ang last part, nakapag-hearing na kami. Ang sumunod na step ay review na ng regional tapos sa national review then sa presidential proclamation and congress act, last four,” she said.
There is only one warden on the island budgeted by the DENR. Padrigo said that two companies, RTNMC and CBNC, have food provisions and augments an additional warden.
As Ursula Island is not yet proclaimed under NIPAS, she said the PAMB has no budget yet.
Padrigo said that this year, there has been a noticeable increase in tourist arrivals on the island due to social media exposure.
She said during the summer, tourists visit the island which she admitted they could not yet handle because it is a sanctuary for birds.
Padrigo said the beauty of the place is the main reason they could not stop the tourists from visiting.
“Mahirap talaga lalo na at hindi sila dumadaan sa amin, hindi sila nagpapaalam sa amin. Ang importante sana is magpaalam sila sa Coast Guard. Kung ano man ang mangyari sa kanila, talagang DENR at PAMB ang mananagot. Marami rin entry point para makarating doon, hindi rin namin kaya na i-regulate na magpunta sila roon,” she said.
Once it is proclaimed, she said the PAMB will “totally regulate the traffic and stress of tourists just going to the island because the focus is more on preserving the island than human activities.
During the summer season, PAMB recorded a number of 700 visitors from 200 in previous years.
“Mataas ang 700 kasi ang isla ay 17.2 hectares, maliit masyado. Dumating kami sa punto na yong buong isla ay puno ng tao. Hindi magandang sign kasi yong [carrying capacity], pero hindi pa ito yong ibinaba sa amin. Kami lang nag-set na 50 lang kaya tanggapin,” she said.
She said that there are no other facilities in the area, lack of manpower and absence of registered boats.
“Ang ini-aim kapag na-proclaim na ang Ursula island ay mapatibay ang protection, conservation, and preservation ng resources lalo na yong natural resources. Yong Ursula island, napaka-intact pa ng resources niya. Birds natin, camaso lang ay nasa 27,000 na siya so ang dami. May 21 species na tayo ng birds so di ko na maisa-isa,” she added.
She said that once the island is proclaimed under NIPAS, it will be an eco-tourism site with light activities to avoid disturbance of the protected birds. Activities that will be allowed are swimming and snorkeling.
However, bird watching will not be open for tourists as the overnight stay is not allowed.
Padrigo said that trash from neighboring islands gets drifted to the island sanctuary.
“Ang waste management natin sa area, may problema tayo. Actually sa Ursula walang occupant pero nakaka-collect tayo ng 15 to 20 sacks per month. Usually yong bottles may tatak ng Malaysia so possible galing ng Balabac or galing ng nearby barangays natin na nadadala ng waves,” she said.
As an effort, Padrigo said they have conducted information and education campaigns to teach residents nearby to segregate their waste.
“Nakakalungkot kasi based sa observation ko, yong level of awareness nila pagdating sa gabrages ay mababa pa. Ang isang problema nila ay walang garbage collector lalo na yong nasa malalayo pa,” she said.
Jaja Tupas of RTNMC, who handles the Ursula Island project, said that the company is one of the members of the board together with CBNC pushing initiatives to protect the area through IEC.