Bohol’s beauty makes it first Unesco global geopark in PH
TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol, Philippines — Bohol has been recently hailed by the United Nations as the country’s first global geopark — a feat that recognizes the natural landforms and marine resources in the province as among the world’s best.
But officials of this island province in Central Visayas say they won’t rest on their laurels.
Instead, they want to strengthen programs to preserve Bohol’s geological sites which withstood a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that killed at least 222 people, damaged homes and public infrastructure, and heritage churches and displaced more than 80,000 people in the province on Oct. 15, 2013.
“We’re doing this not because of the geopark title but for the reason that we want to take care and protect our island,” said Jovencia Ganub of the Bohol Provincial Environment Management Office which heads the Bohol island geopark committee.
First on the list, she said, is to lessen and eventually get rid of the trash in geological sites and other areas in the province.
Ganub said waste management protocols, such as providing trash bins in strategic areas to encourage proper waste disposal, should be intensified.
While its geopark invites more tourists, money, and jobs to Bohol, this status also increases the volume of waste generated in the province, she said.
According to Ganub, littering has been a serious concern in Bohol’s tourist sites.
In 1998, the province enacted the Bohol Environmental Code which provides for the creation of the Bohol Environmental Management Office and the Bohol Tourism Office. Since then, it became the province’s “bible” in the environment and conservation management.
In 2020, the provincial government banned single-use plastics due to an increase in the volume of nonbiodegradable trash in the province.
It also looked into environmental issues, such as easement violations, water quality, sewerage, and septage on Panglao Island, considered Bohol’s crown jewel in tourism.
Ganub said educating and promoting environmental awareness must be reinforced for residents and tourists to respect nature and heritage sites.
The provincial government appealed to residents and tourists to reduce their waste disposal in places they visit, especially as the province intensifies its campaign to promote sustainable practices now that it has been named a global geopark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).
“We are now known globally and that Unesco title will boost our tourism industry. The end goal here is sustainable development for all stakeholders,” Ganub said.
Data from the Bohol Tourism Office showed that 1,581,904 tourists visited the province in 2019. When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the country in March 2020, this went down to 177,341.
Last year, Bohol recorded 507,324 arrivals as pandemic restrictions were eased. Chinese and South Koreans continue to dominate Bohol’s foreign arrivals.
For Gov. Erico Aristotle Aumentado, the island’s recognition as the Philippines’ first global geopark is “more than just about tourism.”
“This is a reminder that we should protect the environment as well as our natural and cultural resources. We all have the responsibility to protect our island,” he told the Inquirer.
Aumentado lauded the efforts of the provincial government, the current and past administrations, and the ordinary Boholanos, for making the dream of becoming a Unesco global geopark a reality.
“Our province is full of beauty bestowed by the Divine Provider. We must show everyone that we are ready to fight for the betterment of our environment. This is a legacy we can give to the next generations,” he said.
Aumentado added: “Bohol’s tourism industry is vital to the country’s economy, and the Unesco-recognized Bohol Island geopark is the country’s undisputed gem. We want to increase community unity so local businesses are well-positioned to promote the geopark and contribute to the impact of visitors’ experiences. This is an opportunity for us to strengthen our geoconservation efforts.”
Bohol’s journey to be among the world’s geoparks started in 2013 when a group of researchers from the University of the Philippines’ School of Urban and Regional Planning searched for a place in the country that possesses a significant range of geological heritage that can be a part of the global geopark network of Unesco.
After years of undertaking several comparative investigations and consultations with communities, Bohol was deemed to have the best qualifications for a global geopark which Unesco defines as “single, unified geographical areas.”
On May 24, Unesco announced the new global geoparks during its 216th executive board session in Paris, France.
Aside from Bohol, the cultural agency of the United Nations also declared 17 other new global geoparks, including those in Brazil, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway. With the new inclusions, there are now 195 geoparks in 48 countries.
“Geoparks serve local communities by combining the conservation of their significant geological heritage with public outreach and a sustainable approach to development,” read Unesco’s statement posted on its website.
According to Unesco, Boholanos have kept alive more than 400 years of rich history and cultural traditions in harmony with its unique geological treasures.
“Tourism is growing in the area, which is a prime eco-cultural destination, thanks to its white sand beaches, diving spots, magnificent geological formations, rich biodiversity, and cultural heritage. Its traditions and culture are proof of how its people adapted to their natural environment,” it said.
Unesco said global geoparks are given this designation for a period of four years after which the quality of each geopark is thoroughly reexamined during a revalidation process. As part of the process, the geopark under review prepares a progress report, and a field mission is undertaken by two evaluators to assess its quality.
If, on the basis of the field evaluation report, the Unesco global geopark continues to fulfill the criteria, the area will remain on the list for a further four-year period or the so-called “green card.”
On the other hand, if the area no longer fulfills the criteria, the management body will be informed to take appropriate steps within a two-year period — or the so-called “yellow card.”
Should the global geopark fail to fulfill the criteria within two years after receiving a “yellow card,” the area will lose its status as a global geopark and be given the so-called “red card.”
Unique natural attractions
Unesco said global geoparks must also be managed with a holistic concept of protection, education or for people to find relevant information on the sites, and sustainable development.
Bohol’s geopark covers 8,808 square kilometers of land surrounded by lush marine protected areas, according to Unesco. It abounds in karstic geosites, such as caves, sinkholes, and cone karst.
Among the province’s geological sites were the world’s iconic cone-shaped Chocolate Hills, Loon Coastal Geomorphic Conservation Park and Coral Garden, Alicia Panoramic Park, Alicia Schist, Baclayon Ancient Marine Terraces, Hinagdanan Cave, Lamanoc Island and Can-umantad Falls.
Unesco also cited Bohol’s Danajon Double Barrier Reef, consisting of two sets of large offshore coral reefs that were formed by tidal currents and coral growth, as “one of its kind in Southeast Asia” and one of the six documented double barrier reefs on earth.
The province also boasts of its Lamanoc Point in Anda town where archaeological artifacts and burial sites of ancient settlers were reserved; the Rajah Sikatuna Protected Landscape with its base in Bilar town, considered the largest remaining forest in Bohol; and the Philippine tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella town where the world’s smallest primates are nurtured.
Bohol’s breathtaking landscape is a testament to its geologic history as evidenced by its varied landforms and structural features.
The province, Unesco said, has a “geological identity that has been pieced together over 150 million years, as periods of tectonic turbulence have raised the island from the ocean depths.”
“Bohol’s geopark is not only a testament to the earth’s very dynamic history preserved in the diverse rocks and geomorphological features in and around the island, but it is also a demonstration of the Boholanos’ strength and steadfast faith while embracing the uncertainty of geological hazards coming their way,” it said.