Firefly-watching in Donsol, Bohol and Palawan

Firefly WatchingTour, Bohol (1)
Photo credit to Archana Singh of http://www.travelseewrite.com

It was one of those nights. There were no visible stars – only a solitary beaming moon shining upon the still waters. Our boatman sailed through the sea down to the river by moonlight.

Further up the mouth of the river awaited another of nature’s wonders. We didn’t know what to expect, but trusted the boatman, as he had been too eager to show us what it was.

As we neared the mangrove forest in Donsol, Sorsogon, we spotted a faint twinkling around the trees. The sparkles intensified as we got closer, beckoning us to watch the tiny rotating lights dancing before our eyes. Oh, fireflies! Hundreds of fireflies twinkling once and together.

How they twinkled like a string of white Christmas lights was beyond our knowledge, until our boatman explained that each twinkles at a different frequency.

Mangroves and fireflies have a significant connection as these trees serve as host to these winged beetles. Mangroves also enrich the river and nearby waters, providing food and a healthy habitat to microorganisms like plankton.

In the Philippines, there are ecotourism destinations for firefly watching. These are usually sustained through continuous community efforts and support from the local government and private organizations.

Full story on Rappler’s PH Travel section. 🙂

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5 Fascinating Facts about Coron, Palawan

Here are some fascinating facts about Coron in Palawan, from how this island was formed to its environmental awards to its keepers’ greatest legacy.

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Fact #1. Coron limestones were formed 260 million years ago as a coral reef along the length of Southeast Asia and was part of the China Continental Crust. It was later drafted to its present location north of Palawan by tectonic movements.

They were uplifted by tectonism some 30 million years ago and then extensively eroded by waves and monsoon rains to create its present unique “karst” topography. These limestone crops rise dramatically as cathedral-like formations more 400 meters above sea level. [Source: UNOCAL company calendar]

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Kayangan Lake. Photo courtesy of Carol Caudilla

Fact #2. Lake Kayangan and Lake Barracuda are the only two lakes in Coron open to tourists. Both had been awarded the cleanest lakes in the Philippines. How pristine the sacred lakes (Panyaan) in the island, we can only imagine. 

The Calamian Tagbanuas, the indigenous caretakers of Calamianes Islands, believe that a Panyaan is sacred for the spirits dwelling in it. This is usually a big rock or coral reef formation that is separated from its main structure and in relatively deep water. They believe that a kunlalabyut or giant octopus lives in this area.

Fact #3. The World Conservation Organization recognizes Coron Island as a community conserved area because its strict conservation rules and forbidden/sacred lakes and beaches are considered equivalent to its management category: Ia, Strict Nature Reserve and Category V, Protected landscape/seascape.

A community conserved area is defined as natural and modified ecosystems, including significant biodiversity, ecological services, and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by indigenous peoples and local and mobile communities through customary laws or other effective means [Source:Borrini-Feyerabend, et.al, 2004].

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More info and pictures of Calamian Tagbanuas and their customary laws and traditions here: [The Calamian Tagbanua, Putting premium on the environment, Modern Challenges]

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Fact #4. The Calamian Tagbanua serves as an inspiration to other indigenous communities here in the Philippines and outside the country for securing the autonomous right for their ancestral domain including water areas.

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Calamianes Island

Fact #5. “The islanders were impressively clean, their houses spaciously set in courtyards, and there was no alcoholism…There was poverty, but there was no squalor.” This, according to Victor Paul Borg of Geographical Magazine.

These photos below taken by photographer Jacob Maentz during his visit to the island affirms that it remains true up to now, at least in areas of the Tagbanuas because the waters close to the mainland are already polluted.

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[The rest of the photos were provided by the travel buddies.]

Part 3: The Inspiration of the Calamian Tagbanua

Modern Challenges

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The tribe’s cultural practices are in danger of dying out. Customary rules are no longer strictly followed, particularly those related to sacred places and fishing taboos.

Changes in religious beliefs make some members believe that the spirits dwelling in sacred places could bring no harm, although the respect for the teaching of the elders is still there. Modernization is also a factor in changes in fishing motivations and behaviors of young fishers.

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The presence of other resource users like migrant fishers in the island has somehow influenced some of tribe’s fishers to forgo observing taboos.The demand for live grouper also results in younger generation using hook and line in fishing, instead of the traditional fishing gears such as tridents.

These conflicts in fishing practices can pose a threat to the preservation of their cultural heritage.

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Moreover, traditional markings are nowhere to be seen. Even those markings that commemorate the tribe’s legendary ancestors, “the three heroes who lived in caves and could fly, and protected the islanders from Moro marauders.” It’s only during major events like births, marriages and deaths that the tribe observed traditional practices.

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Power struggles and mismanagement of money collected from tourism fees – which according to our tour guide are used for financing education, health and livelihood programs for the members of the Calamian Tagbanua – also hound the tribe council’s leadership, causing conflict not only among its people but also between tribe leaders.

As an NGO member assisting the Tagbanua in gaining control of their ancestral land observed, “The harmony and unity that existed before turned into strife as soon as money from tourism started to come in.”

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Despite the challenges and changes that the tribe has to keep up with, their capability to keep their ancestral domain clean and orderly remains impressive. There is poverty, but there’s hardly a sign of filth in inhabited areas. Their houses are spaciously set in their land and there’s no sign of alcoholism – characteristics that are common to other fishing villages in the country.

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This, according to Victor Paul Borg of Geographical magazine, is perhaps the greatest achievement of self-rule.

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[Photos: Jacob Maentz. Jacob is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer based in the Philippines.]

This is the third and last part of my blog about the Calamian Tagbanua. Here are the links for parts 1 and 2.

Part 2: The Inspiration of the Calamian Tagbanua

Putting premium on the environment

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There is a deeper sense that drives Calamian Tagbanua in avoiding sacred places and implementing taboos other than showing respect for an ancient belief that has been passed on from generation to generation.

Their customary traditions have been tied to strict and sustainable regimens designed to protect the environment, the single most important aspect of their survival.

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From preventing illegal fishing methods to avoiding catching juvenile species until they reach maturity, from keeping some marine areas sacred for cultural rituals to keeping their island clean – all these have been strictly enforced by the elders to promote long-term conservation of biodiversity and sustainability.

Other key factors that help the tribe maintain control and balance include keeping the population low and maintaining an economy that functions for subsistence, not exchange.

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Members that dare to break their cultural rules are subject to disciplinary measures, such as corporal punishment and use of bamboo stocks.

These efforts, combined with a high-quality map and management plan, entitled the tribe of Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

CADT granted them autonomous right to 24,520 hectares, comprising 7,320.0516 hectares of the island and 16,958 hectares for the ancestral waters around its coast.

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This initiative has put the Philippines on the world map of conservation as the first government to recognize ancestral water claims.

And the Tagbanua has become an inspiration to indigenous communities especially those with similar claims here and outside the country, including those in Maluku, Indonesia and the Torres Straits of Australia.

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The World Conservation Organization also recognizes Coron Island as a community conserved area because its strict conservation rules and forbidden/sacred lakes and beaches are considered equivalent to its management category: Ia, Strict Nature Reserve and Category V, Protected landscape/seascape.

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For the first part of this blog post, please click here. Part 3 tackles the modern challenges the tribe is facing today.

[Photos: Jacob Maentz. Jacob is a freelance travel, culture and documentary photographer based in the Philippines.]

Meet the Lake of Kayangan

You are not a photograph.
Although at flimsy intervals I wish you were
So I could hold you in a glance.

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You are not a photograph.
You are most real,
And a lonely wall is not your fate.

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You are not a photograph,
You are not a photograph,
And you will nevermore fade…

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Not a Photogtaph by Miracle Romano

Facts About Kayangan Lake

  • Kayangan lake is one of the two lakes (the other one is Barracuda lake) in Calamian islands that is open to tourists. The rest are considered as panyaan or sacred areas by Tagbanuas, the indigenous people of Calamian islands.
  • Like the Luluyuwan lake (also called Barracuda lake), Kayangan lake has been awarded as the cleanest lake in the Philippines. It holds a Presidential Hall of Fame for consistently winning from 1997-1999.
  • Entrance fee to Kayangan lake is 200 pesos.
  • the lake water is a mixture of fresh and salt water
  • Tagbanuas make a living (aside from fishing, farming and weaving mats) by collecting swiftlet nests at the top of the small cave in Kayangan lake, or anywhere in the island’s high limestone cliffs. This edible bird’s nest is used for making the bird’s nest soup.
  • the most photographed and most visited tourist attraction in Coron

Kayangan Bay Image

  • is accessible via a 10-minute climb in a steep mountain slope
  • is the most photographed view in Coron
  • is a picture perfect point

Do’s and Don’ts in Kayangan lake

  • Diving and kayaking are prohibited
  • Avoid making unnecessary noises (the noise that tourists make can disturb the balinsasayaw or swiflet that nests in the cave)
  • Use chemical solutions (sunblock, insect repellent, etc.) to a minimum
  • Bringing food is not allowed
  • Visit the lake between 8:00-4:00 pm
  • Bring your garbage back to your boat and dispose them properly

photo credit: Carol Caudilla. Thanks te =)