Gigantes Island, Visayas: TAKING GREAT STRIDES FOR BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Posted on December 9, 2019
FPE Overall Goal: Improve key conservation sites through community approaches and actions
Fisherfolks working on their daily catch in the waters of Cabugao Gamay Island, Gigantes Sur. These waters are part of the Unified Marine Protected Area where FPE is assisting in the crafting of a management plan. (Photo credit: Lisa Digdigan)
Local legend has it that Gigantes, a unique group of 12 islets located within the Visayan Sea, one of the most productive fishing grounds in the country was once inhabited by giants. One can only imagine how these behemoths might have walked along the white beaches, waded along the pristine waters, and watched the sunset behind the different rock formations, which can still be seen in this present day and time.
This local myth, together with the distinct allure offered by the islands, has intrigued both local and foreign tourists. Based on data from the Carles (Iloilo) Municipal Tourism Office (as cited in Ferrer et al., 2018), the number of visitors in 2017 increased 8 times (124, 701) compared to the first wave of tourists in 2013 (15, 498).
This boom on tourism has revitalized the local economy devastated by Typhoon Yolanda. Local residents saw their earnings increase through various tourism-related livelihood ranging from pump boat rental and operation, accommodation, local transport, island tour guides, scallop gathering, fish catching among others.
Bantigue Island is among the must-go islands in Gigantes because of its clear waters and long, narrow sandbar. FPE, through ISDA, is assisting the Barangay LGUs in crafting their tourism plans for proper visitor management in the area. (Photo credit: Lisa Digdigan)
Gigantes has at least 12 locations and sites to explore. This stirs up the imagination and adds to the excitement that magnetizes many visitors. One of the most popular places to go is the “Tangke Lagoon.” It is described as such since, like a water tank, the level of seawater recedes and rises depending on the tide.
The mystical side of Gigantes is featured in the so-called Cockpit of the Fairies. In a heart-shaped island known as Bulubadiang, sounds resembling the cheers and yells of cockpits can be heard by everyone passing through the island. No one knows exactly where the sounds come from, and this has further captivated the imagination of locals and visitors alike.
Tourists get a peek of history with the Gigantes Island Lighthouse. With a focal plane of 78 feet, the lighthouse was built in 1895 and is included in the 1904 and 1920 light lists as Sibuluak Babai (https://www.ibiblio.org/lighthouse/phl-esp.htm)
White sands and crystal clear water- these are the two things common in all the other island sites such as Bantigue island, Balbagon island, Cabugao Daku, Cabugao Gamay, Pulupandan, and Uaydahon.
For those into spelunking, Gigantes Island has two popular caves – the Pawikan cave in Gigantes Sur and Bakwitan cave in Gigantes Norte. More importantly, these caves are the habitat of geckos and frog endemic to the islands
Gigantes Islands became so popular that the Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 6 recommended the islands’ temporary closure to prevent it from meeting the same fate as Boracay islands, prior to its restoration and rehabilitation.
What is at stake?
Gigantes is one of the many islands in the country whose rich biodiversity is threatened by overfishing beyond sustainable levels, important coastal habitats are being degraded and destroyed, shifting agriculture, human encroachment of the forest over the limestone karst and caves, guano mining, and the quarrying of limestone (Diesmos, et al. in IUCN 2012). The flood of tourists in 2013, before a management plan can be put into place, has exacerbated these impacts to the different ecosystems of the once virgin island.
At stake in an imbalance between environmental protection and unregulated influx of tourists are the flora and fauna in Gigantes. Unlike the legend of the giants, these are not mythical. Alcala et al. (2011) notes that Gigantes islands host species of birds that you can never find anywhere else in the world, such as the Philippine Coucal (Centropus viridis), Philippine Hawk Owl (Ninox philippinensis), Philippine Nightjar (Caprimulgus manillensis), Pygmy Swiftlet (Collocalia troglodytes), Philippine Pygmy Woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculatus), Philippines Bulbul (Ixos philippinus) and Pygmy Flowerpecker (Dicaeum pygmaeum). Other endemic species are found in its caves and karst ecosystems namely the Gekkonid lizard (Gekko gigante) and the Island forest frog (Platymantis insulatus). Its seagrass, coral reefs, and mangrove stands are part of the Philippine “blue economy” with a total monetary value of US$ 600 billion as of 2007 (Azanza, 2017 as cited in UNDP 2017). In fact, the other name for the island – Salauag – comes from a tree species that only be found in the island (Mayuga, 2017 as cited by Ferrer et al., 2018)
A gigantic feat
A rapid increase in tourist arrivals combined with heavy pressure on fishing has created management problems in Gigantes islands. Recognizing the importance of the island in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), together with the University of the Philippines Visayas Foundation Inc. (UPVFI), has launched the project called the “Building Resilient and Sustainable Small Island Communities” (BRSSIC)1 to address environmental protection and conservation, disaster risk reduction, capacity and constituency building, and community-based tourism development.
BRSSIC engaged, organized and provided technical support to different community-based groups including Island Sustainable Development Alliance (ISDA), Gigantes Eco-Guides Association (GEGA), Gigantes Resort Owners (GROW) Association, and Granada Motorcycle Driver ’s Association (GRAMODA). It has mobilized the youth through elementary and secondary schools as well as the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK). The FPE-UPVFI led project also pursued institutional support by lobbying the inclusion of ISDA in the Municipal Development Council, strengthened the partnership with the local and provincial government of Iloilo, and widened its network of key players by including OCEANA Philippines and Ten Knots Development Corporation in its dialogue among Convergence Partners.
BRSSIC has trained 548 individuals coming from 4 different barangays on various topics including natural resource protection and conservation, tourism development and management, participatory risk assessment (PRA), and improved disaster preparedness mechanisms. In its 15 months of implementation in Gigantes, the project also impacted the lives of 3000 additional individuals through island wide research and cultural activities. This project has put into spotlight issues on conservation and protection of its rich natural resources, and more importantly, how tourism can be properly managed and developed.
Participants conducting small group discussions during the Gigantes Islands Convergence Assessment and Conservation Management Planning Workshop, in October 2018. (Photo credit: UPVI)
Training for Community Eco-Guides in Gigantes Islands, last Nov. 2018. (Photo credit: UPVFI)
The project has also played a key role in uniting the community in its efforts to protect the fragile marine resources of Gigantes islands through community organization and education. Multi-stakeholder support for resource protection and conservation was assured through inter-sectoral activities under the One Gigantes banner.
Specifically, the establishment of a Gigantes Islands Unified Marine Protected Area (UMPA) was adopted, giving its management to the sectoral community-led ISDA. With this in place, other activities soon followed. Community guides under the DoT Region 6 were trained, school-based native tree nurseries were established, and a separate Spiels Development Training was also conducted by the Provincial Tourism Office in partnership with the Iloilo Tour Guides Guild, Inc. (I-GUIDEs) and the Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS) of UP Visayas.
The role of tourism was also addressed by BRSSIC and this resulted into the drafting of the Gigantes Islands Sustainable Tourism Plan. As front liners, Barangay Tourism Councils were organized together with capacity building activities for the three tourism support groups in Gigantes Norte namely GEGA, GROW and GRAMODA.
Although there is still much work to be done, the efforts of the different stakeholders and the unwavering support of FPE and UPVFI, the Local Government Unit of Carles, and the members of Gigantes Islands Convergence has planted the seeds of hope in the majestic island of Gigantes.
1BRSSIC Year 2 was from December 8, 2017 to March 31, 2019 (with 3- month no-cost extension)
For more stories, click here to access the FPE 2019 Annual Report