Puerto Galera: A biosphere reserve in distress

Both Palawan and Puerto Galera have been previously declared Man and Biosphere (MAB) reserves by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Only this year, Albay Province became the 3rd Philippine member of this club of distinction.  While Palawan and Albay are actively advocating the preservation of their natural resources, amid mining and poaching threats, Puerto Galera seems consumed by over development due to a thriving but runaway free-market tourism.  It appears that the previous local governments of Puerto Galera have not been aware of the town’s significance as a Biosphere Reserve, and for the past many years, they did not even disseminate to the community and tourists what it means to be on the Man and Biosphere (MAB) list.

There are now positive indications that this is about to change. Last November 24 and 25 Stairway participated in a meeting convened by the office of the mayor concerning Puerto Galera’s threatened position as a biosphere reserve.  The objective of the meeting was to implement necessary plans to halt the unsustainable development that has resulted in UNESCO threatening to remove Puerto Galera from the MAB list.  Such delisting would be the first in the history of this UNESCO initiative, so no wonder our new municipal administration is intended to change course.

It was uplifting and encouraging seeing the resolve of our new municipal administration to address this environmental issue.  They had brought together a group of experts and representatives from the other 2 MAB reserves in the Philippines, Palawan and Albay Provinces.  Heading the meeting was a true capacity in the field of environmental preservation, Michael Fortes, from the Marine Science Institute of University of the Philippines, who has long and consistently fought to promote sustainable development in multiple areas of the Philippines.  In 1997, he published a UNESCO document “Puerto Galera: A Lost Biosphere Reserve?”, in which he explained that the tourism boom that started in late ’70s, resulted in the rise of “spontaneous and poorly managed touristic activities, which are the major factors that threaten the integrity of Puerto Galera as a Biosphere Reserve.”

The same document stressed the threats to the three identified ecosystems in the town—coral reef, mangrove and seagrass— as well as the general natural domain of the place.  These 3 ecosystems are exactly what Stairway’s Sea Adventure School brings into focus by taking out hundreds of local students every year to educate them on the necessary ecological balances and most of all to plant a strong sense of awe and appreciation for the immense natural beauty surrounding us.  This is accomplished through snorkeling around seagrass areas and the unique coral reefs of Puerto Galera.

We started the Sea Adventure School under our EACY (Environmental Awareness for Children and Youth) program 3 years ago in recognition that any effective environmental preservation initiative must be anchored in the local population.  We are very pleased that our current municipal administration recognizes our efforts and invites us to the table when discussing matters pertaining to the environment, which down the timeline is inseparable from the issue of children’s rights.  We are looking forward to being an active and contributing member of a larger community movement to preserve the unique natural diversity and beauty of Puerto Galera for generations to come.

Please read how the local community leaders and teachers also join the Sea Adventure School in related article:” Reaching beyond EACY”.  Thank you!

The article above quotes and has excerpts from an April 11 article in the Philippine Inquirer written by Edgar Allan M. Sembrano.  To read more from the article please go to: