Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ECOTOURISM: The Philippine's Under-Explored Pearl of Great Price

Ecotourism is a significant tool of development that sustains both the natural and cultural resources of the country. In fact, the tourism industry, in general, thrives and prospers in so far as these resources are properly conserved and responsibly developed.  The Bohol Congress in 1999, following the Global Agenda 21 and its local counterpart the Philippine Agenda 21, adopted the concept of ecotourism as a form of sustainable tourism within a natural and cultural heritage area where community participation, protection and management of natural resources, culture, and indigenous knowledge and practices, environmental education and ethics, as well as economic benefits are fostered and pursued for the enrichment of host communities and the satisfaction of visitors. The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as a responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people. It is therefore more of an attitude, a way of life, than an industry striking a balance between the preservation of cultural heritage and environmental integrity and the pursuit of economic growth beneficial for both the host communities and the visitors.

A new species of Nembrotha nudibranch (also known as sea slug) that was discovered during the California Academy of Sciences' 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition. These brightly colored mollusks don't need shells for protection--instead they produce powerful toxins to keep potential predators at bay. Photo Credit: Terry Gosliner / California Academy of Sciences
The original inhabitants of Baguio are the Igorots, Kankana-eys and 
Ibalois.  These are Igorots in a street dancing competition during 
Panabenga Festival.

With 7,107 islands, the Philippines is the world’s second largest archipelago making it unsurprisingly rich in both natural and cultural resources. The Philippines, together with Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo and Papua New Guinea, forms the Coral Triangle, the most diverse marine habitat of the tropics with more coral reef fish diversity than anywhere else in the world—37%  (2,228) of the world’s coral reef fish species (6,000), and 56% of the coral reef fishes in the Indo-Pacific region (4,050). It has 15 regionally endemic coral species, which is found nowhere else in the world, and shares 41 regional endemic species with Asia . The reefs of Sulu and Sulawesi seas are home to about 580 of the world’s 793 species of reef-building corals, compared to just 50 in the Caribbean and 300 in the Great Barrier Reef. There are over 19 identified species of marine mammals and 1,200 varieties of reef fish, including the plankton-feeding whale shark, the world’s largest fish.  The natural resource base for ecotourism encompasses seascapes, rivers, lakes, wetlands, volcanoes, caves, and cliffs harboring a rich variety of plants and animals. In the forest, fields and mountains about 500 species of birds have been recorded, of which 172 species are found only in these islands. The Philippines is considered both a mega-diversity country and one of the world’s highest priority hot spots for the conservation of nature.  The country is culturally as diverse as its natural resources  being home to over 180 indigenous ethnic groups, over half of which represent unique linguistic groups,  and countless non-indigenous groups who are of Hispanic, Chinese, American, Arab, Indian, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and other groups of foreign origin (Wikipedia, 2009).  These diversity brought about distinct, unique and enumerable blends of creative expressions—from fashion to culinary, from visual to performing arts, from architecture to artifacts, from rituals to festivals—within and beyond the boundaries of ethnic communities.  While it is true that the country is a melting pot of the West and the East, it has traditional villages all over the archipelago with all their unique cultures fully intact—these fusions and conservation form into a beautiful cultural mosaic that is distinctively Filipino.

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