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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, September 25, 2017
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Coron: An island of nature, culture

Early this month, I had the chance to revisit the Coron Island in Coron town, Palawan after I facilitated a planning workshop for the conservation sites of the Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. in the adjacent municipality of Busuanga.

Coron and Busuanga towns occupy the Busuanga Island, and along with the island municipality of Cullion and other smaller islands and islets, comprise the Calamianes Group of Islands, also known as Calamianes, which has distinct and unique ecosystems and habitats that harbor some single-island endemic species.

It was as if it was still my first time in Coron Island because I was still fascinated and awed by its marvelous features that make me wonder how they withstand through time immemorial. The entire island is almost made up of karst formations of Peruvian limestone of Jurassic origin. The various rocky and jag hills look like stonewalls that are adorned with stunted and, most likely, century-old green vegetation. Some of the vertical cliffs towering approximately 600 meters are sights to behold as they complement so well with the blue and white colored skies while creating green shadow effects at the coastal waters.

Coron Island is gifted with numerous natural features and attractions. Aside from its karst forests, estimated at more than 6,000 hectares, it has several breathtaking coves, beautiful lakes, and white sand beaches, among others. There also several snorkel and diving sites surrounding the island. The most popular lake is the Kayangan, where it would only take about 30 minutes boat ride from mainland to reach its entrance, which is somewhat a hidden cove surrounded with different formations of rocky cliffs. The view of this cove from the top is one of the most dominant scenes being used for tourism promotions of Palawan.

The Kayangan Lake is situated in a little higher elevation and it can be reached through more than 300 ascending and descending footsteps. While the lake is entirely separated from the coast, it has saltwater and several marine organisms are found in it. It is similarly surrounded with karst forests that provide additional serenity to the place. The boardwalks, roughly 100 meters long in total and constructed at the side most of the lake, are the only available spaces for visitors to stay, otherwise, one may opt to enjoy swimming in the crystal clear water. Except for drinking water, no other drinks and food are allowed in the lake.

The Coron Island and its surrounding coastal and marine ecosystems, measured at about 24,501 hectares, are part of the ancestral domain of the Tagbanwas, who occupy the two barangays within the island. The formal recognition of this ancestral domain was awarded to the Tagbanwa Tribe of Coron Island Association in 1998. This tribe is solely responsible for the management of the entire ancestral domain.

It is interesting to note that no private resorts are available in the island. The visitors' facilities are mainly shade houses that are only temporary structures usually made of wood, bamboos and nipa leaves. The island is only a day tour destination since visitors are required to get out of the place by five in the afternoon. There are a number of small white beaches in the island, and a particular family from the Tagbanwa Tribe is managing each. Every destination has corresponding access fee, ranging from P100 to P300, which is being paid directly to the managing family. However, the entrance fee to the Kayangan Lake goes directly to the association. Reportedly, the association of the Tagbanwas is earning more than P50,000,000 a year out of income from tourism.

While I heard several issues on how some Tagbanwas are spending the income from tourism in Coron, I am quite impressed how the Tagbanwas are maintaining the island when it comes to its natural environment.

Certain sites in the island are still not open to visitors, as they are considered sacred places of the Tagbanwas. The different lakes in the island are estimated at more than 500 hectares, and yet only about 45 hectares are open to visitors. A large part of the forest in Coron Island is also identified as sacred forest of the Tagbanwas, and, therefore, also closed to outsiders.

Since I only had limited time in my last trip to Coron, I did not have the opportunity to visit the communities of the Tagbanwas. It is of interest to know how tourism has impacted the lives of this group of indigenous people, and, hopefully, I could find time in the future for a glimpse of Coron as an island of nature and culture.*

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