The Philippines Islands are comprised of more than 7,100 islands in the western Pacific Ocean. This diverse archipelago hosts a spectacular amount of marine and terrestrial biodiversity that is of great interest to the tourism industry. The popularity of the Philippines as a vacation destination has spurred efforts to develop ecotourism across the archipelago. However, promoting the twinned goals of coastal and marine biodiversity conservation and sustainable development present serious challenges for the country. Since 2008, CREE Philippines has supported Dr. Jom Acebes in the Babuyan Islands to work on ground-breaking biological studies of humpback whales, while simultaneously developing guidelines for sustainable whale eco-tourism and boating techniques to minimize human-cetacean conflict.
CREE’s first support for Jom came in the surprising form of books. When typhoons Karen and Nina arrived in 2009, they destroyed local schools. CREE’s leader decided to channel her original efforts for cost-sharing on a community whale tourism boat to providing books for the children, as this is where the community need was strongest. CREE provided books for students in each subject (math, science, english) for grades 1-6 (7-12 years old) and high school (13-16 years old). Since CREE’s goal is facilitating engagement in communities long term, we saw how this intervention can build community trust. CREE encouraged Jom to use books as a 1st step to pave the way for a warmly welcomed conservation strategy.
In 2009, with support to CREE furnished from the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong, CREE returned to support Jom in her independent cetacean research focus. She and scientists she is mentoring monitored the status and distribution of humpback whales and other cetaceans in the Babuyan Islands, estimating the abundance and site fidelity of the whale population, and providing measures for the community to mitigate threats to it. In 2011 Royal Caribbean Cruiselines helped us to guide Jom in hosting participatory workshops to raise awareness on marine wildlife in the Bohol and Babuyan Islands, demarcating marine protected areas with community and government input, and beginning steps on planning what sustainable marine tourism will mean for communities. Future focus will be on enabling Jom to tackle black sand mining and its impact on human rights and the environment, with legal and community activism support being sought for work going into the future.