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DENR to regulate tourist activities in El Nido

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Sunday said that it will start to regulate tourism activities in El Nido, Palawan to protect the rich biodiversity of the island.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu has ordered officials of the DENR-MIMAROPA to identify El Nido as a "priority area" following reports that island "is beset with problems of diminishing water quality, biodiversity loss, flooding, and proliferation of informal settlers, business establishments, and structures without permit, and a host of other problems."

"I want people to experience the beauty of El Nido and other natural wonders of our country for as long as possible," Cimatu said.

"That is why I have instructed all personnel of the Department to address such priorities as clean water, clean air, and solid management – issues that are even more pressing for island tourist destinations like El Nido and Boracay," he added.

Tourist arrival in El Nido has increased by more than 30 percent annually in the last three years, according to the 2016 report of the El Nido Municipal Tourism Office.

The local tourism office added that least 200,000 tourists were recorded to have visited the island.

"This does not only mean increased revenue for the town but also increased demand for fresh water, timber, and other construction materials, use of fuel and consumer goods, and activities in the islands, all of which exert tremendous pressure on the rich biodiversity of El Nido," the DENR said.

DENR-MIMAROPA regional director Natividad Bernardino said they do not want El Nido "to face the same problem as Boracay" as the island famous for its white sand beaches has been facing garbage problem and water contamination supposedly due to "unregulated activities."

"[W]e value El Nido's contribution to the economy of Palawan and of the country, we cannot help, however, but worry that the magnitude of tourist activities in el Nido is already way beyond its carrying capacity," Bernardino said.

Bernadino said that the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of El Nido-Taytay Protected Area has passed a resolution that limits tourist entry and activity in the Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, and Secret Beach — the top three most visited places in El Nido.

Under the resolution, only 60 guests at any one time or a maximum of 720 guests per day will be allowed in the Big Lagoon while a maximum of 30 guests at any one time or a total of 360 persons per day will be allowed in the Small Lagoon.

The resolution also mandates that only 12 persons at any one time or 144 visitors per day will be allowed in the Secret Beach.

"Limits on the number of conveyances have also been set – maximum of five boats in the anchorage area and 30 kayaks inside the Big Lagoon, only 15 kayaks inside the Small Lagoon, and two boats in the anchorage area of Secret Beach," the DENR said.

The DENR has also prohibited activities such as "fishing, cliff jumping, grilling of food, and playing of loud music" in the said three spots.

The PAMB, in a separate resolution, has identified Helicopter Island, Balinaud Beach, Turtle Island, and Pacanayan Island as "Strict Protection Zone" which are areas with "high biodiversity value" that "shall be closed to human activity except for scientific research and/or ceremonial use by indigenous communities."

The DENR also said that it will inspect establishments in El Nido in the coming months and "ensure compliance on the disposal of solid and liquid wastes, monitor air and water quality, validate tenurial instruments of business and residents."

"We hope the public understand it is for the long term benefit of everyone if we preserve the natural beauty of El Nido, which is what attracts tourists there in the first place," Bernardino said adding that the DENR is working closely with the local government to protect El Nido. —ALG, GMA News