By Regelyn Banacia, Haribon Foundation’s Member
Back in 2014, the Haribon Foundation re-launched a program called Haribon Travel with the goal of providing tourists and conservationists alike an alternative to existing tourist destinations. One of the community-led activities in Real, Quezon is river rafting or tubing for 2 kilometers. Haribon Travel offers travelers a first-hand look at biodiversity and community-driven conservation initiatives. The program is composed of “Green Travel” exposing participants to terrestrial ecosystems and wildlife, and “Blue Travel” bringing visitors to aquatic destinations from lush mangrove areas to picturesque coral reefs. Through Haribon Travel, travelers visit destinations that are “off the beaten path” and learn valuable lessons in nature conservation while supporting sites run by host communities.
The first installments of Haribon’s Green and Blue Travel took participants to Mangatarem, Pangasinan and Masinloc, Zambales respectively. Visitors were exposed to restoration sites and experienced first-hand the work local communities were doing to help the environment. From planting mangroves to identifying corals and fish, tourists were exposed not only to beautiful destinations, but the people and conservation work behind them.
I joined Green Travel in Baranggay Tanauan, Real, Quezon last July 18. During the orientation, Baranggay Chairman Ramil Resplanador shared with us his town’s experience that led to their advocacy today. In the past, illegal logging was rampant in the area causing devastating flash floods in 2004. It was an eye-opener for local community members, engaging them to do something about their degraded forests.
We proceeded to a tree planting site implemented by the Haribon Foundation alongside Haribon members and corporate partners. We did a tree walk with local guides and Forester Thaddeus Martinez. I can recall the tree species Malapapaya because it was one of the species planted there years ago; now standing tall providing us with shade. There were at least 10 different types of tree species in the area, and for good reason. A diverse array of trees is one of the essentials to a healthy forest ecosystem. It was pointed out to us that native trees were planted in the area because they are important in our ecosystem and promote a more resilient environment.
Since the seedlings were planted years ago, some had already grown into larger, developed trees. Members of the local community maintain these planted areas by hacking out weeds that may compete with trees for nutrients and inhibit their growth. They must also cut vines growing around the seedlings as well, to avoid them from getting choked.
According to Baranggay Chairman Resplanador, the reforestation projects in their area have been really helpful to their community. Because of the trees, rain water can slowly seep down through the soil, maintaining the water level in their river. This understanding allowed the communities to come up with ways to conserve these areas, instead of turning to illegal logging.
The community is also promoting eco-tourism with river rafting or tubing: a fun-filled ride run by local communities that lasts 2 kilometers. It is a fun group activity we will never forget. We held on to our rubber boats as our trusted guides overcame rushing water currents steering the boat to safety and avoiding exposed rocks. The guides then invited us to come again between October and February when the water level is higher and the current is stronger!
Everyone showed cohesion in promoting eco-tourism and in conserving the ecosystem. I hope they will continue maintaining the site and that they will produce more eco-tourism opportunities so that people don’t go back to illegal logging. It is my wish that the government will pay more attention and support to conservation efforts like this for future generations and our country’s biodiversity.