Ecotourism is looking to be the next big thing for communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the Coral Triangle. This sustainable livelihood focuses on promoting enjoyable nature-based activities while minimizing damage to the environment. It also allows them to improve their resilience by showcasing their natural resources instead of exploiting it.
Increasing pressure from the effects of climate change as well as harmful practices have depleted vital agricultural and marine resources that coastal communities depend on. Hence, they need to find other sources of income that would help them cope with climate change. With ecotourism, residents not only benefit from jobs that encourage responsible travel. It also engages local people in decision-making and fosters appreciation of culture and biodiversity.
According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism still has a relatively small interest when compared to traditional mass tourism. However, despite its small market share, ecotourism is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors. Travel operators saying that profits from ecotourism are at a record high.
Ecotourism and Climate Resilience
The Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle – Southeast Asia (CTI-SEA) project is focusing on two potential ecotourism sites in Malaysia and the Philippines.
In the municipality of Taytay, Palawan, CTI-SEA is piloting ecotourism by operating it as an enterprise under the context of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES). PES schemes provide an opportunity to generate income from various types of ecosystem services (e.g., ecotourism). At the same time, it promotes a sustainable form of resource management. PES could provide the platform for a well-managed ecotourism site.
Ecotourism can also be a way to help communities become climate resilient because it can be a financially sustainable method. Collected PES fees can be equitably distributed to local conservation programs, provide financial aid to local stakeholders, and support other ecosystem providers that help to sustain the environment. But a significant part of the PES should be set aside for conservation efforts. (More technical details about PES can be found in CTI-SEA’s Experience Notes.)
Working with the local stakeholders ensures that the CTI-SEA project can also learn about the area through their local expertise. It also provides a learning experience for local residents who will be ecotourism workers.
Different communities have different strengths depending on what their environment is. Some may have spectacular rock formations and some may have nice beaches. However, within the Coral Triangle, the main attractions are the rich biodiversity and pristine environments and CTI-SEA is working with stakeholders in the Philippines and Malaysia on how to communicate that with the rest of the world.
Ecotourism through Reef Management in Taytay
In Taytay’s case, the municipality’s strengths are its coral reefs and excellent diving locations. Since these are under threat from climate change and destructive fishing, the public and private sector are working alongside CTI-SEA in pilot testing a new activity that helps the reefs through the Coral and Giant Clam Gardening. Tourists can join learning adventure which is scheduled to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2016.
The coral and giant clam gardening gives ecotourists to the chance to dive in the clear waters of Taytay Bay and help the environment at the same time. New coral reefs can grow from a single coral fragment if given enough time.
The PES system that will be used in this project aims to benefit the municipality by allowing funds collected from the payment scheme to be distributed back into the community and the environment. This gives Taytay a way to protect their rich reefs and fisheries while providing them with a source of sustainable income which prevents resource exploitation.
Giant clams are collected from the wild, cleaned, tagged, and then placed in groups within protected areas in Taytay. Placing giant clams in groups helps them reproduce better and faster.
Resilience through low-impact ecotourism in Bawang Jamal
Bawang Jamal is a small community of 150 people located in Kudat District of Sabah, Malaysia. CTI-SEA is currently working with them in shifting towards low-impact tourism. This can give residents another source of income and minimizes the need to exploit natural resources.
They are located in a region that is starting to see an increase in tourism and they want to be a part of that market. Located just 30 minutes away from Kudat town by car, Bawang Jamal is accessible through a paved road and has a lot of natural beauty to offer.
Since the project is still in its infancy, the details of the PES system in Bawang Jamal is still being discussed with the local residents and stakeholders. Initial observations by CTI-SEA showed that there is rich biodiversity, strong turtle conservation programs, and tourists can experience the local culture.
The Future of Ecotourism in the Coral Triangle
Ecotourism was the main topic during the fourth Regional Business Forum held by the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF) last August 2015. Industry leaders and stakeholders from different countries met in Bali to share their experiences on ecotourism activities and discuss strategies on how to make the Coral Triangle a global marine tourism destination.
“Profiling the work of these businesses in this way will help underscore the importance for the Coral Triangle Initiative to act as a vehicle to promote equitable resource management and forging robust and resilient local communities centered around sustainable marine tourism.”
– Rili Djohani, Executive Director of the Coral Triangle Center
CTI-SEA had the opportunity to share its coral and giant clam gardening project with other regional partners. If the pilot program in the Philippines succeeds, CTI-SEA plans to set up related programs in Malaysia and Indonesia as well.
The future of ecotourism is looking bright. It is an exciting way for tourists to see and learn about our environment and support local communities that depend on tourism as a source of income.
Written by Panji Brotoisworo with inputs from Dr. Lope Canalog, Sustainable Finance Specialist, and Dr. Hjh. Norasma Dacho, Project Management Coordinator, of the Coral Triangle Initiative – Southeast Asia (RETA 7813)