Ecotourism is making waves across the globe and has ushered wonderful gems like Oriental Mindoro into the spotlight.
In the age of responsible travel and the ethical tourist, focus on eco-tourism is slowly gaining ground. More than a movement, the call to creating ethical spaces, activities, food and services to be more just, equitable, and sensitive to people, communities and the environment, is gradually creating a higher consciousness among global and local travelers resulting to a growing demand for sustainable destinations.
In Oriental Mindoro, through a partnership of various People’s Organizations (POs), the Provincial Agriculturist Office (PAgO) and the DENR-UNDP Project “Strengthening Marine Protected Areas to Conserve Marine Key Biodiversity Areas in the Philippines” or SMART Seas – PH, six(6) Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are being established as anchors in the development of biodiversity-friendly destinations. These destinations are aimed at creating economically viable enterprises that will not only provide additional sources of income to the communities and fisher folks, but also, alternative destinations that give tourists a chance to make their own contribution towards the continued protection of marine resources while enjoying the different activities and pristine environments that these destinations have to offer.
To enjoy these destinations, one has to take a road trip from Puerto Galerato the southernmost municipality of the province, Bulalacao. The road trip can be divided into two circuits – north and south. The northern circuit includes Puerto Galera, Calapan City, and San Teodoro, while the southern circuit covers Pinamalayan, Gloria, and Bulalacao.
The north circuit starts off in Puerto Galera, site of the Puerto Galera Mangrove and Conservation Area which houses a mangrove parkthat one can enjoy traversing through a 350 meter walkway. It is part of a marine protected area governed by two barangays and managed jointly by two people’s organizations (POs). The members of the POs are responsible for the upkeep of the park, planting and replanting of mangroves, and the protection of the marine sanctuary. In close proximity to Puerto Galera is San Teodoro which also prides itself with a well-kept marine sanctuary and the Punta Ilag beach.
This site showcases a guardhouse on top of a hill that can be reached in 107 steps and a breathtaking 360-degree-view of the sea and mountains of San Teodoro. Below, cottages, kayaks and snorkeling gears are available for rent. The Punta Ilag destination is managed, maintained and guarded jointly by the mostly women-Bantay Dagat andthe Kabisig ng Mamamayan ng Ilag (KAMI), a local PO. About an hour away from San Tedoro is the Harka Piloto MPAlocatedin Lazareto, Calapan City.
Imbued with a rich flora and fauna and a small white beach, the area is situated in an island that takes about 5 to 10 minutes to reach by boat. Pristine waters have shaped the island’s rock face through the years, carving out crevices and caves that explorers and treasure hunters are said to have tried to penetrate. The name Harka Piloto is said to have been derived from the old Spanish galleon ships called “Harka”, one of which was sunk by the island during Spanish times. It is said that when the ship sank, only the crow’s nest on the highest mast of the ship called “Piloto” was visible above the water. Thus, the island gained its name. And like the other sites, the development of Harka Piloto is made through the efforts of the POKabuhayan at Kalikasan para sa Mamamayan ng Barangay Lazareto or KAKAMBAL whose members also acts as guardians of their marine protected area.
In the southern circuit, one’s biodiversity-friendly road trip begins in the municipality of Pinamalayan, about 2 hours away from the port of Calapan City. Located some 30 minutes away from the town center is the Ranzo marine sanctuary which holds the distinction of being the best marine protected area of Oriental Mindoro in 2018. The community PO Samahan ng mga Mangingisda sa Ranzo (SMR) is currently preparing their area to be a premier dive site. Not only do they take pride in their healthy marine environment but also of the warmth and abounding hospitality and cheerfulness extended by the whole community to its guests.
Agsalin in the Municipality of Gloria was the first of the six sites that won the provincial award for Best MPA, having preceded Ranzo in 2017.With lush corals, an abundance of fish and giant clams, the PO Samahan ng Mangingisda ng Agsalin (SAMA) has been very active in protecting their ocean even before it was declared a marine sanctuary and protected site. There is a strong sense of oneness in this community, a strong belief in protecting and leaving the legacy of an ocean that is alive with its natural wonders to the next generations.
Clear waters do not run too deep in the beach of Agsalin from where one can snorkel and enjoy life teeming under the sea. It is indeed abundant and alive, a place where much can be explored and for which biodiversity is highly valued.
The last leg in the southern circuit is the island of Maasin in Bulalacao. Known for its many islands and islets, Bulalacao is a destination for island hopping. The island is home to the Barangay Maasin MPA Association (BMMA) an active PO that continually strives to improve their community and protect its marine sanctuary. On the other side of the island, are wonderful rock formations and a natural rock beach that evokes the feeling that one has been transported to a different island. For travelers wanting to experience new adventures while simultaneously making a contribution to the protection of the ocean, these under-the-radar sites come highly recommended. These are places teeming with abundant natural resources nurtured and guarded by communities and POs who have bonded together to ensure the sustainability and continued protection of these marine resources. To some of us, what they do and how we wish we could help them is our advocacy. To them, it is their life and how they live them. And now, they wish to share their treasures to others.