As COVID-19 hits tourism, popular snorkeling spot in Coron finds ways to thrive
When the Philippines started implementing lockdowns due to the pandemic last year, the tourism industry was among those hardly hit.
Siete Pecados Marine Park (SPMP), a 153-hectare community-managed eco-tourism spot in Coron, Palawan, was no exception.
Since quarantine restrictions were put in place last year, SPMP has not generated income, even during the summer months from March to May when it is most popular.
Before the pandemic, SPMP had a daily foot traffic of 300 tourists, who mostly snorkeled to marvel at its vibrant coral reefs. Boat operators used to earn P10,000 to P15,000 by bringing tourists to the park, but all this changed for the worse when COVID-19 struck. Employees at the park also lost their jobs.
Fortunately, in the middle of the pandemic, the park managed to make gains through self-sustaining methods.
Newly developed cave in Siete Pecados for tourists’ easy access in the area. Photo by Jose Mazo
The income generated before the pandemic supported various operations like cave development, heat press machine, tourism building repair, and rice retailing.
When the pandemic paralyzed the tourism industry, the people’s organization of SPMP found ways to earn through their socio-economic enterprise which included mangrove nurseries for their future business, women’s tailoring, and catering services during the study tours.
“The management wants the people to feel that the projects are taking care of them. We can produce a livelihood for them that they can survive even if we have a pandemic now. That is our aim. We’re not just standing or sitting there thinking we have good projects but the people are not benefitting,” said Jose Mazo, park manager of SPMP.
Despite no tourism income, the management still monitors the area for signs of coral bleaching and infestation of crown of thorns (COTs). They also ensured that the strict policies of the park were still implemented by strengthening the visibility of their day and night rangers. This was done to keep an eye out for possible intruders.
“We never stop guarding the park. During the pandemic, we adjusted our system of enforcement,” Mazo said.
Because of these efforts, SPMP was named the Best Managed Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Palawan last December, beating 200 others in the province.
The previously neglected islets of SPMP proved to be self-sustaining, generating P20 million in user fees from 2015 to 2020, or at least $124,000 annually.
This profit supports activities and operations in the park to ensure sustained ecological and socio-economic gains amid the pandemic.
Before SPMP was established, destructive fishing such as cyanide and dynamite was rampant in the area resulting in damage to reefs and the baseline of fish catch.
Despite the decline in coral cover in 2015 due to Typhoon Haiyan, data from Path Foundation Philippines1 shows that live coral cover inside the MPA was able to recover from 36% in 2015 to 45% (a fair condition) in 2017.
Additionally, biomass inside the MPA continuously increased from 51 MT/km2 in 2015 to 116 MT/km2 in 2017. The high density of fish caught inside the MPA correlates to the improved fish catch in the community from 3kg/fisher in 2005, 8kg/fisher in 2017 to 20kg/fisher in 2020.
The recovery of fish stocks is now benefiting the community as those engaged in tourism-related occupations prior to the pandemic are now shifting back to fishing.
Now, the national government—particularly the Department of Tourism (DOT)—is working to revive the country’s tourism industry in an attempt to boost the economy. Because of this, SPMP is gradually reopening to tourists.
With the reopening, new developments at the park are expected, such as cliff-diving, cave spelunking, and even a new spot offering an overlooking view of the ocean.
This story was written by Florence May Majillano as a final output for AYEJ.org’s Green Beat Program: An Intensive Virtual Environmental Journalism Training for young writers and journalists.
Featured photo captures the Collection of Crown of Thorns (COTs), one of the SPMP’s monitoring activities, in the park’s vicinity. Photo by Joze Mazo.
1Esguerra, F., Castro, J. R., Facunla, V., Baobao, J., Gevela, G., Mazo, J. (2020). Sustaining the Gains of Siete Pecados Marine Park. International Coral Reef Symposium 2021.