Tourism was one of the subjects of President Noynoy Aquino’s State of the Nation Address early this week. The large increase in the number of tourists visiting the country was mentioned by the President. This good news means more income to the country, particularly to those people involved in providing services to foreign visitors, and the government agencies and private groups responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of tourist destinations all over the country.
How much the country earned from tourism, the President did not say, but we must assume the amount is substantial.
One of the many tourist attractions in a country is its biodiversity. This is true for countries like Kenya and Madagascar in Africa, both of which are well known for their wildlife resources that are unique to these countries, and not found in other areas of the world.
Biodiversity attracts many visitors who are willing to pay the required fees just to see and photograph them in their natural habitats. That is why Kenya protects and takes good care of its outstanding wildlife.
Madagascar has one of the most interesting endemic faunas of the world, that are composed of so many species displaying numerous special structural and physiological adaptations to their environments, resulting from their evolutionary history.
Sometimes, biologists compare some Philippine mammals with those of Madagascar, but it is quite clear that we have to give the latter more credit for their uniqueness.
However, in terms of their conservation status, the Philippines seems to be in the same league with Madagascar, that is, both are struggling to prevent the loss of their endemic biodiversity resources.
Our President was not expected to say something about conserving our tourist attractions; this is the responsibility of local governments and government agencies. Tourism has also negative effects on the integrity of our biodiversity, and we must see to it that our tourism sites and the biodiversity in these sites are safeguarded from the negative influences associated with tourism.
It is asked: Are we monitoring our tourism sites for the damage caused by tourism? Are we protecting the biodiversity exposed to tourism?
An example comes to mind. A while back, several individuals of whale sharks at Oslob, Cebu were treated like domestic animals, forgetting that whale sharks are wild animals and should be treated as such. One individual shark was even abused. To my knowledge, our tourism authorities did not intervene to prevent such acts.
Other examples for the need to monitor include coral reefs at diving sites, dolphins and whales, and marine turtles that have returned to our shores after decades of absence. Many species of stony corals are so fragile, they easily break when stepped upon by divers.
Do we know how much is this damage in diving sites in the country? We have determined that in one diving site, about three to four percent of coral cover are lost every year.
The solution was more education of divers, and a reduction of the number of divers.
For turtles, the picture is good; so many coastal residents protect turtles, and they are quick to respond to the presence of sick animals by taking them to veterinarians for treatment. But the need to set up treatment centers for sick turtles remains unmet.
If we want to earn from our biodiversity resources through tourism activities, we must take the necessary steps to ensure their survival now. We expect local government units and the Department of Tourism to lead this program.
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