El Nido to impose daily visitor limits in 3 iconic tourist sites

Photo courtesy Provincial Information Office, Palawan via rappler.com

By Keith Anthony Fabro/rappler.com – El Nido will start imposing a carrying capacity policy on its 3 iconic sites, which are observed to be disturbed due to the continuous influx of tourists.

The management board of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ETMRPA) recently adopted a resolution that will solve the overcrowding and habitat disturbance issues in the Big and Small Lagoons and Secret Beach.

As part of strategically managing these tourist sites, the board has set a limit on the daily number of entering visitors, and non-motorized conveyances like kayaks and stand-up paddle boards. Motorized boats, meanwhile, are now barred from entering the lagoons, limited only to the anchorage area in its entrance.

Specifically, the following rules and regulations will be observed:

Big Lagoon

720 guests per day, 60 guests allowed at a time
30 kayaks/paddle boats allowed at a time
5 boats (with 12 guests each) at the anchorage area at a time, 1 hour max stay
1 guide for every 6 guests
45 minutes max stay in lagoon

Small Lagoon

360 guests per day, 30 guests allowed at a time
15 kayaks/paddle boats allowed at a time
5 boats (with 12 guests each) at the anchorage area at a time, 1-hour max stay
1 guide for every 6 guests
45 minutes max stay in lagoon

Secret Beach

144 guests per day, 12 guests allowed at a time
2 boats (with 12 guests each) at the anchorage area at a time, 45 minutes max stay
1 guide for every 6 guests
30 minutes max stay at the beach
The resolution is awaiting the approval of the regional director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) MIMAROPA, and is expected to take effect at the onset of the tourism peak season in November.

Other policies and guidelines common to the 3 sites are the prohibition of fishing and grilling within the vicinity, as well as loud sounds or music. No cliff jumping and other activities are allowed except those mentioned. Visitors are allowed only from 6 am to 6 pm (6 am first in, 5 pm last in).

Violators of the new policy may face the penalty of P5,000 to P500,000 and/or imprisonment of one to 6 years, as stated in Section 21 of RA 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.

The Protected Area Office is awaiting the P50,000-budget from the DENR to begin constructing the floating monitoring station at the Small Lagoon. The station will house the park rangers for the reinforcement of the new policy.

‘Unpleasant activities’

Because of its increasing popularity, El Nido saw an average tourist arrival increase of 30.7% in the last 3 years, according to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO). Just last year, the town, considered as one of the world’s best island destinations, welcomed 126,000 visitors.

“We noticed unpleasant activities happening on these sites, particularly in Big and Small Lagoons wherein boats entering and kayaks operating there are not well-regulated,” said Protected Area Superintendent Alex Mancio.

Another concern, Mancio added, was the presence of vendors peddling items like fishes, canned soft drinks, and food in plastic packaging, which all contribute to the presence of trash floating in these sites. Boats on island tour were also spewing out smoke when cooking lunch for tourists.

Disturbed environment

Mancio said all of these activities have caused a disturbance in both marine and terrestrial ecosystems in the said sites.

“Before, corals there were in good condition that you can see fishes, and the water was really clear. But lately, we observed that because of anchoring of boats and stepping of tourists on corals, the corals are slowly dying,” he said.

“When we entered there before, we could see birds like balinsasayaw (swiftlet) and Palawan hornbill. But now they’re disturbed and rarely seen due to noise and smoke caused by human activities.”

Experience ‘the old El Nido’

A 2014 study showed tourists indicating a diminished level of satisfaction from having visited those areas. With the new policy, the municipal government hopes it will be improved.

“We want the tourists to see the old El Nido. If you’ve been here years ago, when you enter these lagoons, it’s very eerie and enchanting, and you get goosebumps as your voice echoes,” Municipal Administrator RJ de la Calzada said.

The municipal government is also finalizing a draft ordinance that would impose carrying capacity policy for all sites included in the tour packages.

“We’re proposing the same policy on other sites to continue preserving them, while at the same time boosting customers’ satisfaction,” said Municipal Tourism Officer Arvin Acosta. In the meantime, he said, they are promoting cultural and agricultural tourism to lessen the pressure in island-hopping sites.

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