by Chen Reyes-Mencias
Twenty years ago I set foot on an island that was nothing but fantastic. It is at the tip of Luzon 642 kms. north of Manila. At that time it was a logistical nightmare to go there and so my last thought before I headed back home was that it may be the first and last time for me to see it. The island is called Palaui and is located in Sta.Ana, Cagayan. In 2005 I was hired by the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority to manage a community-based sustainable tourism project on the same island that I thought I would never be able to visit again due to its inaccessibility. It came as a surprise to me though that not only was the road leading to Sta.Ana excellent, there were already hotels and resorts in the area.
Palaui Island is a protected area that was declared in Aug. 16, 1994 by virtue of Proc. No. 447 under the category of protected landscape and seascape. In Feb. 14, 1995 it became part of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport. It has a total land area of about 3,000 ha. And about 2,000 ha water area. The forest resource of the island is considered unique since five forest types can be found in the area namely: beach forest, molave forest, mangrove forest, dipterocarp forest, and mossy forest.
The three trails on the island – Lagunzad,
Leonardo and Siwangag – provide lifeenhancing and educational experiences.
Beach at Cape Engaño identified by CNN
as third of ten best beaches in the Philippines.
The coastal and marine resource of the island is endowed with rich species of soft and hard corals and seagrasses which serves as spawning and nursery ground of various fish and marine species. The Island also offers vast frontiers of untapped natural resource, scenic tourist spots, as well as beautiful beaches. One side of the Island also serves as harbor and refuge for sea vessels during typhoons and other disastrous maritime events.
The topography of the island is generally sloping with relatively low hills and dominated with moderate slopes. The forest blocks can be easily traversed at the lower portion of the ridges running from southeast to northeast direction. The western direction of the Island is steep with
rugged terrain with slopes greater than 18%. The Island is elevated from 5 to 269 meters above sea level.
The project was launched in March 2006 and several partners were tapped to be able to determine what the island has to offer in terms of natural and cultural heritage. The people’s organization on the island that was organized by the DENR during the implementation of the Coastal Environment Program in 1994 was re-organized. It is called Palaui Environmental Protectors Association or PEPA.
MILESTONES OF THE PROJECT:
1. Physical socio-economic profiling by the UP Dept. Of Geography; 2. Biodiversity assessment by Conservation International and DENR; 3. Biodiversity assessment by Dr. Dan Lagunzad, Leonard Co and Dr. Perry Ong UP Institute of Biology;
4. Organized the boat operators (PASAMOBA) into a cooperative. 5. Seagrass assessment by Dr. Mike Fortes of UP Marine Science Institute – new record for the Philippines Halophila gaudichaudii; 8 of 17 species described in the Philippines are found in PIPLS; 39 species of seawweeds
6. Installation of marker on the Spanish lighthouse by the National Historical Institute; 7. Installation of marker at the lighthouse by the National Museum declaring PIPLS as a National Cultural Property;
8. Training of island guides by Blue Water Consultancy;
9. Repair of Bayanihan Hall with funding from Seacology, a California-based NGO; 10. Installation of solar panels for lighting in the Bayanihan Hall 11. Implementation of the Reeforestation project, a reef rehabilitation project in the marine protected area in Punta Verde;
12. Training of women in catering by Process Luzon;
13. Repair of the Baratubut foot bridge.