Bohol is a top biodiversity area. It is home to the tarsier, the world’s smallest primate, and to Chocolate Hills, an enigmatic geological formation. Wetlands, caves and forests dot its terrain. Mangroves and palms grow abundantly in the coasts and swamps. Its corals are home to the enchanting varieties of marine life.
In the municipality of Banacon, there is a mangrove reforestation project, the biggest in Asia. In the waters of Pamilacan Island, a migratory route for cetaceans, whales and dolphins frolic.
There is great opportunity for economic development, but the provincial government is not taking any chances to risk Bohol’s environment in the name of progress.
Thus, Bohol has chosen ecotourism as a major development thrust. To integrate tourism and environmental management, the province developed the Bohol Ecotourism Development Program. Its vision is to make Bohol “a prime eco-cultural tourist destination and a strong agro-industrial province.”
Groundwork started in 1997 with the holding of the Bohol environment summit, where participants from local government units, government agencies, and civil society groups formulated plans for the program.
In 1998, the province adopted the Bohol Environment Code, which provided for the creation of the Bohol Environmental Management Office (BEMO) and the Bohol Tourism Office (BTO).
The ecotourism program has clear aims: (i) put in place mechanisms that are environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially equitable; (ii) accelerate development for the benefit of local communities; and (iii) spread tourism benefits to rural areas in terms of employment generation and poverty alleviation.
Through efforts of the BTO, local communities were encouraged to take an active role. The program put up community-managed tour groups, such as the Coral See and Seascape Tour, operated by the Basdio Farmers and Fishermen’s Association (BFFA); the Banacon Mangrove and Seascape Tour, operated by Banacon Fishermen and Mangrove Planters Association (BAFMAPA); the Candijay Mangrove Adventure Tour, operated by Panadtaran Mangrove Association (PAMAS); the Cambuhat River and Village Tour, Operated by Cambuhat Enterprises Development and Fisheries Association (CEDFA); and Marine Life Tour, operated by Pamilacan Island Dolphin and Whale Watching Organization (PIDWWO).
These ecotourism enterprises provide alternative or additional livelihood for poor families, especially those belonging to people’s organizations. The program invested capital. In Pamilacan Island, for instance, the tour operator was provided life vests, snorkeling equipment, a tent, and information materials. A rain catchment was built for water supply. In Banacon Island, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also built a rain catchment and a staff house which the tour operator uses as reception area for guests. In Basdio, the barangay local government built a kitchen, a guardhouse, and washrooms for visitors’ use.
Cooperating in the program are the DENR, the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the New Zealand Aid for International Development (NZAID), which maintains the National Ecotourism Project Office (NEPO) to enhance the province’s dolphin and whale watching activity.
As a result, people are now more deeply aware of the importance of preserving endangered species. They have increased their produce from the sea, and they have cleaned up the rivers and waterways of solid wastes, resulting in healthier and more abundant marine harvests. Tourism bodies, such as municipal and barangay tourism councils, have increased, widening the opportunities to inculcate ecotourism values among the people. With better and mutually beneficial linkages among NGOs, LGUs, government agencies, and people’s organizations, communities that were once sleepy have become productive.
This program is recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Programs in the 2004 Galing Pook Awards.