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Conservation in Paradise: El Nido

Posted on December 29, 2012 by SAM CRAVEN

sam cravenAlmost my entire professional life has been working in South East Asia. With it’s vibrant and colourful cultures, it’s extraordinary food and breathtaking scenery, not to mention warm and hospitable people, I can say I am well and truly addicted. Last year I moved to Philippines, the motherland (i.e. land of my mother), and I haven’t looked back. I’ve jumped around the country for various projects, but by far my most rewarding experience so far was working in El Nido, Palawan.

Palawan, I had been told, is not real Philippines. Or rather, not typical. It sits alone in the middle of the South China Sea and shares it’s geographic history with Borneo, rather than the islands of the Philippines. The people, I heard, were different. Living in bona fide paradise, they are environmentally aware. Shock and horror. They are? They care? Really?

Really. One of the many gems of the Philippine islands, Palawan is breathtaking almost everywhere you look. And many long-established projects have been working, educating and building local capacity for environmental protection. With some of the only remaining rainforest in the country, and an enormously rich marine biodiversity, I was extremely happy to hear this. That happiness did not compare to that which I felt after my work there.

I was ‘posted’ in El Nido, with three volunteers, to oversee the initiation of the Green Fins project in conjunction with the prestigious, and rightly so, NGO – The El Nido Foundation. We were introducing a system of assessing the environmental standards of the diving and snorkeling industries and simultaneously running the education side of the project to improve said standards. Of course, we had to experience the diving and snorkeling for ourselves – an exciting prospect until we got on the boat and the heavens opened up. It did, however, get better!

One of the most rewarding aspects of my time there was the stakeholder consultations. Wandering around time talking to dive center managers, guides, snorkel tour operators and shopkeepers about their perceptions of threats to the marine environment. Despite tourism being one of the biggest industries in El Nido, almost every stakeholder named tourists as a threat. Tourists who throw trash, who trample on the reef. The catch 22 of ‘ecotourism’ – without proper education, tourists come and destroy the very natural resources they have come to enjoy. And these stakeholders recognized this. I heard the golden statement so many times I was giddy:

“We need to protect the environment for our business and our future”

But after this revelation comes the hard part. To actually effect protection. To stop tourists, who are going to tip you for being friendly and hospitable, from being destructive. Would you tip a snorkel guide for correcting you standing on a piece of coral? You really should. Because they think you won’t.

It was liberating, working somewhere with a strong baseline knowledge. Where you didn’t have to start by getting people to recognize that protection is needed. Almost all the people we talked to had worked, at some point in their lives, for a suite of resorts that were set up with a strong environmental ethos. These resorts provided regular environmental training, and the result? A community with a deep and comprehensive understanding of the importance of the marine environment. Education is an exceptional tool.

It means that there is less crap on the beach. It means that you hardly see any rubbish stuck on the reef. It means that fishermen respect marine sanctuaries because they understand how they will benefit from them in the future. It means that people actively use mooring buoys. It means an keeping an exceptionally beautiful place beautiful.

There is a certain magic about El Nido. It draws masses of tourists. Let’s not be a part of the process that destroys a communities livelihood and ruins a truly outstanding aesthetic beauty. Encourage actions that protect the environment. Tip a guide who corrects you, or sets a good example, or points you towards the bin or ashtray. Compliment a boat captain on using a mooring buoy. Choose an operator that has a clear environmental policy, and tell your friends and family to do the same. It’s not hard, and the response you will get is heartwarming. Be part of better tourism, play your role in changing an industry for the better. Like those of us who work in Conservation, you might not be around to see the results, but rest assured they are there.

source:      thanks  samantha


The vanishing Batak Tribe of Palawan

Batak Tribe of Palawan

Like many endangered species on this planet, these indigenous people are vanishing too.

But if their voices are heard, they might have a chance of survival.

After 1 hour long trek, 5 river crossings without the bridge, we found them in the midst of the mountains. I do wonder how they survive living in the middle of nowhere, like what will happen in case of emergency.. it will take a reaaally long time for them to get to the hospital.

Significant observations though:

1. They still chew nganga or betel leaf, which is similar to what I observed with burmese people.

2. Women are topless, I felt uneasy considering that my trek companions are guys. But it is in their culture.. which reminds us how are ancestors lived once upon a time.

3. Houses have no doors. I’ve heard of houses in remote areas in the Philippines where houses have no doors and this is one of them. Indication of how open and trusting they are of nature maybe.

4. One of their sources of livelihood is to sell almasigas, it’s a crystal like hard stuff that burns very slowly. Ideal for bonfire camping I guess. You should buy some when you get to visit them to help in their livelihood.
5. Education levels are low, the highest learning a tribe member have earned is Grade 5 and they cant pursue it further due to many factors especially that you have to trek 1 hour and cross 5 rivers to the nearest school. And of course, there is not enough funds for a member to go to high school or college.

It is very interesting to note that one of my trek buddies is from head hunting tribe in the north of the Philippines and he is now a nurse. I hope the Batak tribe can produce the same among their members.

I’ve read quite a few articles on why they have ended up to be in the mountains and it will take a long process to get indigenous people to level up to how our current society is living.

But even if I wonder of how they are able to survive in the mountains, maybe they are also thinking of how are we able to survive the pollution, traffic, and all the bad elements in the city.

How to get there and visit the vanishing Batak Tribe in Palawan:

From san jose terminal in Puerto Princesa, ride a bus going to Batak Center. Travel time is around 1 hour and fare is around 70-80 pesos. There is no entrance fee but you have to pay 300 pesos for a guide if you dont want to get lost in the mountains.

**BIG thanks to Josiah Sicad of and friends for being great travel buddies, I did plan to do this alone but I guess dudes are helpful companions just in case I tumbled down in one of the rivers







this video is not in english, but still very interesting to watch

Charmed by Palawan


MANILA, Philippines – Palawan, considered the country’s last frontier, was definitely on a roll this year.

After being hailed by online travel magazine Smart Travel Asia as one of the top 10 holiday destinations in the world, more tourists are expected to troop to the island in 2013.

Popular travel guide Lonely Planet also included Palawan in its highly-anticipated best in travel 2013 list. The island was recognized as one of the 10 best regions to see in 2013, dubbed “the ultimate archipelago for adventurers.”

Palawan is truly deserving of these accolades. It does not only boast of beautiful beaches and towering limestone karsts; it is also home to some of the country’s happiest and most hospitable people — that unique factor that makes traveling “more fun in the Philippines” for foreign and local tourists alike.

I understand why people keep coming back to Palawan sooner than they hope to. I am one of those travelers who have been charmed by the province’s carefree lifestyle and sweeping land and seascape.

It is — to put it subtly — hard to resist Palawan’s call.

Here are 5 reasons why I think Palawan should be on your must-experience list in the coming holidays or in summer next year:

1) Coron

Coron Island is found north of mainland Palawan.

It should not be mistaken for the larger Busuanga Island, where Coron town is located.

If you have been to El Nido (also in Palawan), you might think that Coron pales in comparison. However, if you keep an open mind as you go from one lagoon to another, you will see that Coron has its own exquisite allure.

Coron’s lagoons are postcard-perfect spots that remain unspoiled to this day, with stunning limestone karsts in the background. If you’re part of a group that’s on a tour, try to find time and ask some locals to take you on their paddle boats, too.

This way, you can visit areas that are not covered by the usual tours. (You will see that the Tagbanuasprobably have the country’s best homes with stunning views.)

2) Cuyo

Cuyo holds sweet surprises for those who brave the rough ride to the island.

Nestled between the islands of mainland Palawan and Panay, Cuyo is not your usual destination.

The trip to the island tests a traveler’s patience and enthusiasm, but you’ll see that there is a “reward” waiting at the end of it.

By “reward,” I mean the island’s greatest asset: its people. In Cuyo, everyone seems to understand and hold deep respect for the simple life.

3) El Nido


El Nido, Palawan All photos by Amer Amor

This little town’s beauty is sublime and grand at the same time.

With its dramatic limestone karsts, amazing white sand beaches, impressive lagoons and intriguing caves, anyone who has visited El Nido will attest to its jaw-dropping beauty (and maybe even fall in love with the place at first sight).

Cadlao Island, for example, is a sight to behold. The rest of the 45 islands and islets that comprise the Bacuit Archipelago need to be seen and experienced as well.

The location manager of The Bourne Legacy that filmed in the Philippines this year called El Nido “a paradise on earth” (Check out the movie’s fantastic last scene! #PinoyPride!)

4) Port Barton

Port Barton, Palawan All photos by Amer Amor



Although not totally undiscovered, Port Barton is still relatively unknown to local tourists.

It’s a shame, really, especially when the quaint coastal community easily provides the solitude one hopes for after two hours of bumpy ride from the national highway that cuts through a well-preserved forest. (The forest is actually a destination in itself!)

Port Barton’s powder-white sand will remind you of Boracay; the town’s simplicity and its people’s hospitality will move you, too.

5) Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa, Palawan All photos by Amer Amor


This is Palawan’s capital that serves as your gateway around the province — a very fitting starting point for a Palawan adventure.

The city’s character is charming. You can enjoy leisurely walks. Restaurants have a carefree ambiance (visit Ka Lui). They should not be missed.

The “star” of Puerto Princesa is the Underground River. If you want to visit this place that has been named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, plan your tour ahead. The crowd it attracts gets crazier by the minute.

Good thing the city tries to limit the Underground River visitors at 900 per day. -


BY AMER R. AMOR  Follow the author’s travels as Juanderkid at He is a college instructor, freelance writer, travel blogger and a whale shark conservation advocate.