02 / 1998
Apo Island, where, in the late 1970s, one of the first experiments with community-based coastal resource management was initiated, is a small volcanic island in the Visayan region.
Apo Island has one of the earliest marine sanctuaries in the Philippines, set up in 1985. The village is small and densely built, with fewer than a hundred families, all of whom are related to one another. Most of them are fisherfolk and poor.
In the sanctuary there is a beautiful underwater world of corals and fish and the water is crystal clear. The islanders are very proud of their sanctuary. All fisher families, who are organized in a Marine Management Committee, support their sanctuary and serve as voluntary wardens.
But there is also a darker side to the Apo Island success story. After the marine sanctuary was established, the fisher community lost access to a large part of the traditional fishing grounds. There was practically no alternative employment avenue for the generally poorly educated islanders, except as workers on deep-sea trawlers or as housemaids on the mainland. The rocky island also offered few opportunities for agriculture.
Apo Island has recently been discovered by the luxury tourist business. An Australian has already built a luxurious beach resort. A second resort is being built by a Britisher. The guests are often wealthy Filipino youths who come here as part of some ecotourism club. On weekends large cruise ships with foreign tourists drop anchor in front of the village, shattering the peace with the piercing sounds of water scooters. Boats from ships transport tourists, equipped with complete diving equipment, to and from the sanctuary. It became a real traffic
jam near the sanctuary. Fish are chased in all directions by the lights of underwater video and still cameras. It is not uncommon for divers to pocket a live shell or break off a piece of coral to take back as souvenirs. Both these acts are officially prohibited.
Women from the fisher community try to benefit from the tourist influx. They try to market their merchandise, mostly T-shirts printed with dolphins or sharks and slogans like `Apo Island’, `Diver’s Paradise’ and `Shark Attack’. Sales are poor since the women have no aggressive selling tactics.
Jeffrey, a US Peace Corps volunteer who works on the island, feels that locals do not benefit much from tourism. He says that dive operators and hotels from the mainland that bring the tourists bring everything with them and do not even pay an entrance fee. The resort pays tax, but to the municipality and not to the islanders and, as such, the money disappears into a big pool.
Jeffrey also said that even though most families have been living here for generations, they are actually `squatters’ as they have no title deeds to the land. The growth in tourism had led to speculation, as entrepreneurs from the mainland started buying tax certificates, which are de facto land titles and can be used to obtain legal titles. Fortunately, in 1995, Apo Island was declared a protected area by the Department of Environment and Natural resources (DENR)and this will prevent further selling and transfer of land. The DENR also recently started meeting with the dive operators to get them to abide by the environmental rules and regulations of the sanctuary. Some did promise to co-operate and also pay an entrance fee to the islanders’ Marine Management Committee.
The islanders, particularly the women, also express concern about the development of tourism on their island. They say that tourists do not respect their culture. Some islanders complain about nude sunbathing. Women disclose that they have more work now and less income. After the sanctuary was established, they were no longer permitted to collect shells, earlier their major source of income. Most of those who work as sea wardens of the sanctuary are women, but the work is voluntary and not paid.
Initiatives in coastal resources management, as in the Apo Island of Philippines, are indeed commendable. However, it is unfortunate that such initiatives usually ignore social and economic issues. While the participation of local people is actively sought, it often remains limited to seeking their participation in protection efforts, and that too on a voluntary basis. If management initiatives are to yield ecological and socio-economic benefits, local people must participate in management. They must be consulted in determining, for instance, the kind of tourism that needs to be developed, and who should benefit from it.
Experiments for the selective and sustainable extraction of marine resources from the sanctuary, for the benefit of local people, need to pursued. Shutting out locals from marine reserves and taking away their traditional means of livelihood and sustenance, without providing viable alternatives, should be avoided at all costs.
Articles and files
QUIST, Cornelie, Whose paradise? in. Samudra Report, 1998/01, 19