The Coron Island Protected Area
“Towards preserving the cultural heritage vis-à-vis the valuable ecological resource”
Owing to the unique ecological features of Coron island, piling legal instruments have been issued purposely to protect this valuable resource. The island including its surrounding islets was first declared a National Reserve by virtue of Proclamation # 219 on July 2, 1967. In 1978, another proclamation # 1801 declared the island a Tourist Zone and Marine Reserve. This facilitated the transfer of the management to the Philippine Tourism Authority. This proclamation was followed by Proclamation 2152, declaring the entire province a Mangrove Swamp Forest Reserve.Likewise, in 1990, a Community Forest Stewardship Agreement (CFSA) was issued by DENR to the Tagbanua Foundation of Coron Island which covered about 7,748 has. Finally, with the passage of NIPAS Act in 1992, it was listed part of the priority protected areas.
Consequently, on June 5, 1998 Coron Island was recognized as an ancestral domain with the issuance of CADC No. 134 to the Tagbanuas. The claim which includes the Tagbanua ancestral fishing grounds, covered 22,248 has., operated via a framework management plan prepared by the aforementioned IP’s.
Coron Island is wedge-shaped limestone island, dominated by Permian Limestone of Jurassic origin, with few of its coastal areas being covered by mangrove forests. It is situated in the Calamianes group of Islands and belongs to the Municipality of Coron. Aside from being an endemic bird habitat, it is holding distinct assemblages of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. In fact, Coron Island is included in the Palawan Faunal Region. Studies indicated its high rate of floral and faunal endemism.
Due to this bio-diverse feature, Coron Island has very high potential for eco-tourism. In fact, it is one of the priority areas under the sustainable tourism development of Palawan, Majority of the tourists visiting Coron are foreigners, almost half of whom are low-budget backpackers.
The main attraction of Coron is the enchantingly situated seven lakes, famous of which is the nationally acclaimed cleanest lake in the Philippines, the Kayangan Lake. It also has number of islands with white beaches, potential for resort developments.
However, the once upon a time rich coastal areas of Coron island is constantly facing threats from illegal fishing activities. Today, its coastal resources had dramatically dwindled. Coastal Resource Assessment conducted by experts in late 1990’s indicated that coral cover is poor covering only about 10 to 20 percent.
Notably , the major stakeholders of the area are the indigenous people named “Tagbanua’s” who represent majority of the settlers. Tagbanua was derived from”taga” meaning people from” and “banwa” or “people from the inland area”.
While Tagbanua’s dominate in number, unfortunately outside influence in terms of culture and beliefs permeates strongly. Thus, they have lost some of their major cultural practices. Although, they still believe that spirits exists in sacred places, they seldom practice traditional rites. Naïve and isolated as they seem, these people and its areas are prone to exploitation and disturbance by foreign and local tourists If left unattended, the cultural heritage of the place will gradually melt out. Presently the Tagbanua’s having awarded with CADC, manages their claimed site following the provisions in their management plan.
On the other hand institutionalization of the PA’s management board is still blurred Various bodies have been organized to focus on special areas within the island, but most of which are short-lived. Although Protected Area Office headed by Protected Area Superintendent (PASU) was set up in 1997, the PAMB hasnot been organized considering the unresolved conflict between the DENR and the Tagbanuas. Present protection activities undertaken in the island include Patrolling and Law Enforcement, Research and Monitoring, Information Campaigns, Coordination and Networking.