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DENR keeps other Palawan attraction closed to tourists

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje.

Snake Island in Honda Bay, Palawan, is being eyed as the next big tourist attraction in the province, after the soaring number of visitors to the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) has become too big to handle.

The underground river, which was named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in an online poll conducted by the Swiss foundation New7Wonders last year, has been a boon to Palawan capital.

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Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn has asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to open to tourism the 7.5-hectare Snake Island, which is minutes away over land from Puerto Princesa City.

The pristine white-sand island, so named because it is shaped like a snake, features a sandbar that stretches out to the sea and is an ideal place to sunbathe, swim and snorkel.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, however, expressed reservations about opening Snake Island to tourism, noting that it was too small to accommodate visitors. The island hosts a DENR marine laboratory.

“It was opened to tourists before and they trashed it,” Paje said, adding that the DENR laboratory in Honda Bay was open “only for scientific and research purposes.”

In December, Paje signed DENR Administrative Order No. 2011-12 designating Snake Island the site of the National Coastal and Marine Center for Research (NCMR).

Under the directive, the NCMCR on Snake Island would serve as a field station for applied research for marine and coastal ecosystems, ecotourism and biodiversity. It would also house a laboratory for researchers to study interventions for coral reefs, seagrass and mangroves.

Paje noted that Snake Island was an ideal site for the country’s coastal and marine research program because it showcases the country’s biodiversity.

“Being located in Palawan, which as we all know is the country’s last ecological frontier, Snake Island is definitely a good choice to put up our research center,” Paje said.

The underground river, located some 50 kilometers north of Puerto Princesa City, has welcomed 500,146 tourists who spent P9 billion, according to records from the city tourism office. The guests number 1,200 to 1,500 a day compared to years ago, when it welcomed only about 10 visitors a month.

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The increase in visitors has compelled the city to put a daily cap on the number of those who can enter the subterranean complex, as officials expressed fears the ecosystem may not be able to handle the pressure from the crowds.

This has led the local government to search for alternative attractions to entertain tourists waiting for their turn to enter the underground river and encourage them to stay longer in the city.

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TAGS: Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Palawan, Philippines, Tourism
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