Calaguas Island seeks to avoid Boracay's mistakes

Arlene Burgos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 26 2018 10:20 PM

Paradise island in Camarines Norte on crossroad to balance business and environment

The 'paradise island' Calaguas, a white sand beach in Vinzons municipality of Camarines Norte, is feeling the pressure of creeping development. On one hand, residents and property owners welcome the prospect of more tourist arrivals. On the other, there is worry about how more visitors would impact the island’s ability to maintain its pristine beaches and beautiful environment. 

Calaguas is among the islands and islets in third-class municipality Vinzons. Its 1.27 kilometers of white sand earned it the name Mahabang Buhangin. The area is famous for island-hopping, trekking, and snorkeling.

In light of the Boracay's impending shutdown that has been prompted by the need for rehabilitation, Calaguas may be a test case of how an island—something the Philippines has thousands of —should balance development and caring for the environment.  

The Calaguas Paradise Resort, among the biggest privately owned accommodations on the island, saw a rise of as much as 50 percent in their guest arrivals in the past two years, said resort owner and manager Clarissa Gonzales. 

Paradise Resort was a family vacation spot turned backpackers' haven. But it now has executive suites and rooms with multiple or double beds, air conditioning, and private toilet-and-baths. Prices range from P5,000 to P15,000. 

This increase in tourism arrivals over the past two years is true for the entire island, Gonzales said. But she worries the growth may be harmful if it goes unregulated. 

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Providing a counterpoint to the resort experience is the backpacker charm of a spot in the island known as the LGU or barangay area. Here, rates for a cabana could go as low as P1,500 for a group of as many as 10 people. The rate includes use of common toilet-and-bath. People may also pitch tents near the shore. 

A common complaint here is overcrowding, and the heat because of the absence of electricity. Generator sets are usually utilized only from sundown to sunrise. 

A total of 44,816 visitors went to Calaguas via the Vinzons port in 2016, according to the local tourism office. Last year it was 34,897, fewer than previous year's, but that may be because of many gale warnings in 2017. 

More visitors are expected in 2018 because tourists have begun arriving as early as March. 

Jerry Pascual, who rents out cottages and cabanas, said more tourists mean more opportunities to earn. He said people like him try their best to keep their areas clean because tourists would otherwise get turned off. 

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The local government is stepping in to regulate business activities to accommodate tourist arrivals while ensuring community gains and protection of the environment, said Vinzons Tourism Officer Florence Mago in a phone interview. 

Pitching of tents near the beach should not be tolerated, Mago said, because this could be dangerous in case of high tide. Waste could also be a problem if tents are allowed to stay near the shores, she said. 

The municipal government is working to have the LGU area in the Calaguas island declared via a presidential proclamation as an ecotourism area. This will place it under the local government's supervision, under which a site development plan will be crafted. 

The Vinzons municipal government plans the construction of a public park, a spa, and a restaurant in place of the LGU or barangay area where there are cottages and cabanas. It will be managed by a cooperative of the barangay and citizens. 

"'Yung mga locals ay magiging parte ng cooperative that we are planning... They will have a share in the cooperative," Mago said. 

The potential may be there, but right now, the opportunities for earning is still confined to providing transportation or guiding tourists. 

Sonny Cañeza used to be a fisherman, but is now employed to drive a resort boat that ferries tourists from the Vinzons port to Calaguas. He has 3 sons, one of whom also helps him on the boat. 

He said more tourists could mean more opportunities for their family to earn because visitors give tips, or buy things from the locals. 

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Cañeza said the barangay taps people to regularly clean the island and make sure its beaches remain pristine, something even tourists have remained concerned about. 

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Fats Torrejos, who has been to many beaches in the Philippines, said Calaguas is one of best she has seen. 

Jasmin dela Peña, who has also been to many white-sand spots, said she hopes tourists are educated about the need to pick up after themselves. It would be a pity if Calaguas is spoiled, she said.