MASINLOC, Zambales—Masinloc residents take pride in taking care of their backyard.
“The growing ecotourism industry provides a more sustainable alternative and the needed funds to promote conservation and biodiversity in the area,” says Olive Gregorio, municipal coastal resources management officer.
From Monday to Friday, Gregorio wears a wetsuit and flippers as her “office” uniform. “I prefer field work than staying in our air-conditioned office. I find fulfillment in seeing how this enterprise grows with the community’s spirit of oneness,” she says.
The Masinloc Bay Ecotour is an advocacy in itself, says Gregorio, one of the project’s pioneers. It owes its success to the commitment and capability of residents to band together in protecting their marine resources, she says.
To date, 84 volunteers patrol the bay as part of the Bantay Dagat. The group is composed of local government workers, fishermen, farmers, housewives, and their children, mostly members of the people’s organizations (POs) Samahang Pangkabuhayan sa San Salvador (SPSS) and Samahan ng Mangingisda at Magsasaka ng Panglit (Sammpa).
They are trained in rescue operations and are called “reef rangers,” and also participate in the town’s ecotour program. Each has a particular task—from operating the boat to preparing food to delivering tour spiels.
Gregorio says the POs started as self-reliant groups. “Now they are reaping the fruits of their labor as the marine protected areas (MPAs) under their stewardship have received numerous awards and grants from different aid organizations,” she says.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, under its Integrated Coastal Resources Management Program (ICRMP), provides these POs operational resources to run and protect their MPAs that have been turned into ecotourism sites.
Gregorio says the tour educates tourists on marine conservation and appreciation of community-based tourism.
“We are aware that development has consequences and we are deeply concerned about possible extinction of the rich marine resources that may be found in the MPAs,” she says.
For this reason, tourists are not allowed to wander and go to the attractions by themselves. Tours are coordinated through the municipal tourism office that refers the schedule to the town’s coastal resources management office that gives safety briefing and orientation sessions on marine conservation.
Gregorio says 90 percent of the fees goes to operational expenses like boat rental, rangers’ salaries and food. Profits, if there are any, go to the POs’ coffers. The remaining 10 percent goes to the town’s coastal resource management fund.—Jen Velarmino-van der Heijde