PALAWAN, Philippines – Less than a week after the national government announced El Nido’s rehabilitation, local environment authorities have started implementing a carrying capacity policy to address overcrowding in two of its prime island destinations.
On December 1, El Nido’s Protected Area Office (PAO) started enforcing a carrying capacity policy for the Small and Big Lagoons, after a series of dry runs and consultative meetings with local tourism stakeholders.
Under the policy, only 30 tourists and 15 kayaks every 60 minutes (240 tourists and 120 kayaks per 8 hours) are allowed inside the Small Lagoon, while only 60 tourists and 30 kayaks every 90 minutes (480 tourists and 240 kayas per 8 hours) are allowed inside the Big Lagoon.
Both lagoons are accepting guests from 7 am to 4 pm.
Legitimate tour operators are required to book in advance a maximum of 15 guests per day. They can avail of more slots based on availability after 3 pm, on the eve of their tour.
The Small and Big Lagoons have also been removed from the regular Tour A package, as they are now “premium tours and can no longer be visited on the same day.”
Under the same policy, motorized boats are barred from anchoring at the entrance of the Small Lagoon and from entering the Big Lagoon, except those issued with special permits for carrying persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and pregnant women.
Other prohibitions inside the lagoons include non-wearing of life jackets, loud sound or music, cliff jumping, grilling, washing of utensils, throwing of food scraps and leftovers, stepping on corals, smoking, and taking alcoholic drinks.
“Tour operators, tourist boats, and tour guides who are proven to have deliberately violated the above guidelines will be denied dispatch by the Philippine Coast Guard until these are resolved or cleared with the Protected Area Office,” Carolyn Esmenda, assistant park superintendent, said in an advisory.
The PAO also regulated the centralized kayak rental, with fixed rates of P250 for a maximum of 90 minutes in the Big Lagoon, and P200 for up to 60 minutes in the Small Lagoon.
A separate environmental users fee of P200 for the two lagoons is also being collected. The collection goes to the Integrated Protected Area Fund intended for activities aimed at maintaining the park’s ecological integrity.
Persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and students are entitled to regular discounts.
This fee is in addition to the P200 ecotourism development fee being collected by the El Nido municipal government. Exemption to these fees are given to town residents, government officials and staff, children aged 5 and below, and accredited tour guides and boat crew.
Esmenda said the environmental user fee is “non-refundable unless in force majeure situations” such as bad weather conditions that bar tourist boats from venturing out into the sea.
Esmenda said the first week of the policy’s implementation went well, although some tourists were not able to enter the lagoons after failing to avail of the limited slots.
“It’s all good. The tour operators are adjusting well. Of course, this is a significant change how they do business here. Some tourists [did] not feel good not being able to see the lagoons,” she told Rappler on Friday, December 7.
Tourists who were not able to visit the lagoons opted for other island and inland tour packages in town. – Rappler.com