Tour showcases mangroves, turns villagers into bat buffs

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Saturday, May 17, 2014


CECILIA Limocon didn’t go to college, but she knows what species of mangrove trees grow in Macaas, a coastal village in Tubigon, Bohol. She knows the species of bats that sleep on these trees, too.

The 48-year-old mother of four, who hasn’t seen her husband since the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars in 2008, said she’s glad to learn about mangroves and bats, and to share her knowledge to people visiting their place.

Limocon is one of the more than 20 local guides or interpreters who were trained as the Tubigon Municipal Government rolls out an ecotourism program for Macaas, a village home to 2,600 people.

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“We have high expectations in this project,” she told Sun.Star Cebu in Cebuano, as she helped a visitor put on a life vest last Tuesday morning. “We’re really hoping this could help us.”

She is raising her four children alone; her husband, who was on board the MV Princess of the Stars when it sank off Sibuyan Island, Romblon, was never found.

Hog-raising

Limocon used to raise and sell hogs for a living, but the 7.2 magnitude earthquake last Oct. 15 destroyed her pig pens. She has yet to get enough funds to restore her business.

The Municipal Government organized more than 30 residents of Macaas into an association to run a tourism enterprise that will highlight the island of Cabgan, an 85-hectare mangrove area.

“This is a long overdue project,” Mayor Marlon Amila said of the Cabgan Island Community-based Ecotourism Project.

Speaking to reporters and bloggers, Amila said it has taken the town several years to implement its tourism master plan, which meant a great loss of potential income.

The first-termer mayor said Tubigon has to maximize its advantage as one of Bohol’s entry points to lure tourists.

The municipal government worked with Boboi Costas, a pioneer in community-based tourism, to launch an ecotourism project which they conceptualized in 2012.

Launch

They held a soft launch of the project last Tuesday by giving journalists and bloggers a tour of Cabgan Island, which is a few minutes boat ride from Macaas proper.

“This is still a work in progress,” said Costas, founder of a travel and tourism consulting firm called Grassroots Travel.

Ground work started last March, with experts from the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation surveying the mangrove area. Cultural mapping was conducted and locals underwent training on how to guide tourists interested to learn about the mangroves and bats on the island.

Before the year ends, Costas said, the Municipal Government will have built a board walk and an interpretive center where information about mangroves and bats will be displayed.

There are 24 species of mangrove trees in Cabgan and other parts of Macaas. In Cabgan, the mangrove trees serve as roosting sites for two kinds of bats, the large flying fox and the island flying fox.

These species, Costas said, are considered as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Costas said about 3,000 of these bats can be found resting in Cabgan Island at daytime.

Birds

Cabgan is a shortened word for “Cabugan,” which means bats’ resting place.

Apart from bats, birds such as ospreys, owls, terns and rufous night herons can be found in the island, which is a marine protected area.

Costas and the local government coordinated with the Protected Area Management Board tasked to oversee Cabgan and four other islands under the Clarin Group of Islands Wilderness Area.

A tour package for five people is offered at P850 per person. It includes breakfast, lunch and snacks. The amount also includes user’s fees, which will go to the barangay and the municipal government.

Bookings

Bookings are accepted at the Tubigon Tourism Office, which can be reached through its landline numbers 038-508-8577.

Aside from helping residents earn more income, Costas said the ecotourism project aims to build their capabilities to conserve and protect their environment and natural resources.

Costas was also behind the success of the Bojo River Cruise in Aloguinsan, Cebu.

Jonathan Zabate, president of the Malambuong Turismo sa Macaas, Tubigon, the association running the tour, said the ecotourism project taught him the importance of protecting their environment, particularly the mangrove trees and bats.

Aside from being a breeding area for fish, mangroves protect shores. Bats, meanwhile, are important pollinators. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 17, 2014.

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