THE cities of Bago and Sagay in Negros Occidental were recognized as among the 2022 Green Destinations Top 100 Stories list in recognition of their efforts towards sustainable destination development.

The global non-profit organization created in The Netherlands cited Bago City’s "Reviving the Majestic Diversity of the Bago Watershed" project and Sagay City’s “Mangrove Forest Protection through Community-based Eco Tourism” project.

For Bago City, Councilor Ma. Josefa Matti, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Tourism, along with City Tourism Officer and Sustainability Coordinator for the Top 100 Stories Mae Ann Furtos received the award at the Kypseli Municipal Market Fokionos Negri 42 in Athens, Greece on Tuesday, September 27.

It was given by Green Destinations President Albert Salman and Certification Manager and Green Destinations Board Member Hugo de Jong.

The 2022 Top 100 Stories unveiling ceremony was part of the Green Destinations 2022 and the Future of Tourism Summit attended by participants from at least 43 countries across the globe.

The Bago City Tourism Office, in a statement, said all 100 destinations selected to the 2022 Green Destinations Top 100 Stories list were unveiled through videos, split into different world regions such as Southern Europe, Northern Europe, Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Green Destinations supports sustainable destinations, their businesses and their communities.

Its core programs, the Awards and Certification Program for destinations, the Good Travel Program for businesses and the Top 100 Sustainability Stories, are the main pillars of a country-wide stewardship approach that they have developed and piloted in Slovenia, Estonia, Australia, Brazil and Guyana.

On its website, Green Destinations said the Bago Watershed faces a lot of issues that gravely threaten its equilibrium like water pollution or degrading forest cover. The solution was a diverse combination of assisted natural regeneration in Mount Kanlaon Natural Park or waste management and pollution control.

Altogether they mobilized their resources and strengthened community involvement leading to an Integrated Ecosystem Management Approach (Ridge to Reef Environmental Management), it said.

The organization added that the benefits are also very diverse -- an increase in rice production, locals benefited as some 179 hectares of upland farms were converted into sustainable agro-forestry areas, and increasing the city’s forest cover.

”The local communities of Bago City have been dependent on traditional forms of livelihood which are mostly extractive and not sustainable. Increasing water usage and pollution, forest degradation and inappropriate land use have further threatened the equilibrium of the Bago City watershed. Through effective governance, capacity-building programs and involvement of local stakeholders, the city has been able to revive the rich biodiversity of the Bago Watershed,” it said.

Green Destinations also underscored the inclusion of Bago City in the Negros Occidental Coastal Wetlands Conservation Area and was recently declared the 7th Ramsar Site (Wetland of International Importance) in the Philippines.

Bago City Mayor Nicholas Yulo said the city government is “very happy with the award given to us by the Green Destinations.”

This international distinction, Yulo said, will surely motivate them to do more to sustain what they were already successfully doing and that is the preservation and conservation of the Bago Watershed for the many generations to follow.

“This is a true testament of a collaborative effort among various stakeholders- the government, NGOs (non-government organizations) and the community,” he said, adding that “this is truly inspiring.”

For Sagay, home to the 32,000-hectare protected seascape, the announcement, which came in time with the World Tourism Day celebration, was a first for the city, the local government said.

Mayor Narciso Javelosa Jr. said in a statement that “we are honored for this international recognition and it is actually a tribute to our past and present leaders and men and women who worked hard for its decade of protection.”

Vice Mayor Leo Rafael Cueva, who championed sustainable tourism development in the city in 2012, said "we should continue our best efforts as we make Sagay City’s destination for the next generations."

Information and Tourism Officer Helen Cutillar said the international recognition is part of the legacy of the Father Sagay Marine Reserve, the late Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. who laid down marine conservation in the 1970s.

This distinction will also not be possible without the commitment of the men and women in our team, in the communities, partners and in our local tourism industry, Cutillar said.

“More work ahead, but this is truly inspiring,” she added.

The city’s conservation and responsible tourism story focused on the protected seascape including Suyac Island, other island communities and the contiguous mangrove greenbelt which protected Sagay from strong typhoons.

Green Destinations, on its website, said the local community did not treasure its beautiful mangrove forest and its wildlife, which is why the destination decided to introduce ecotourism.

Through social media marketing campaigns the community first realized how important the environment is, that they should be proud of their island and how important it is to protect these assets, the organization said.

“This made the awareness of biodiversity increase drastically. The local community then also got directly included in the scientific counting of the species in the mangrove forest and was able to report on a high increase in flying foxes in the area this year,” it added.

Green Destinations added, “the beauty of the destination further got displayed in an international movie being filmed there and the accomplishments of the good practice acknowledged through several recognitions.”

It can be recalled that Sagay Marine Reserve was also featured at the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 COP26 Event: The Vital Role of Mangroves in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation in 2021.