Fear of becoming Boracay descends on Calaguas
CALAGUAS, Camarines Norte— As tourist arrivals skyrocketed from an estimated 10,000 per year to more than 15,000 since it topped an online poll for tourism gems in the Philippines, the Calaguas group of islands in Camarines Norte is now in danger of turning into another Boracay—pretty but packed.
Due to a common fear among residents and officials of their island suffering the same fate as Boracay did, private-sector groups and the local Coast Guard of Camarines Norte are taking the initiative of keeping the islands’ pristine white sands as “virgin” as possible.
That they exert extra effort is an understatement. They go beyond their groups’ budget and dip into their own pockets.
Noli Pajarin, tourism officer and accountant of the municipal government of Vinzons that has jurisdiction over Calaguas, said waste management, boat traffic and docking are some of the major problems that officials face.
He said the sudden surge in the number of visitors made these problems more glaring on the group of islands, which has no concrete structure or modern facility simply because officials and residents don’t want these.
A private resort operates there—Waling-Waling.
Threat to swimming
Boats that bring tourists to Calaguas became a threat to swimmers during the Holy Week when the entire shore of Mahabang Buhangin, Calaguas’ primary tourism site, was occupied by the vessels, Pajarin said.
The Calaguas group of islands is found off the northern shores of the Camarines Norte towns of Paracale and Vinzons.
It has two major islands—Tinaga and Guintinua—and 11 minor islands—Maculabo, Cagbalisay, Bendita, Comalasag, Siapa, Huag, Cagbalisay, Balagbag, Pinacuapan, Samur and Pinagcastillohan.
Mahabang Buhangin beach is on Tinaga Island, which is also known as Calaguas Island for easy reference and for tourism purposes.
Tinaga is about 2 hours by boat from the port of Vinzons.
The islands are under the jurisdiction of the town of Vinzons, except for Maculabo, which is under the municipality of Paracale.
With the help of local groups, like Vinzons’ Jaycees, Pajarin was able to gather manpower and resources for coastal cleanup and information drives for residents on Tinaga and Guintinua islands.
He said the information drives were good tools in convincing residents of Tinaga’s villages to become conscious about the effects of more tourists on the environment.
As information drives awareness, the residents became vigilant partners in keeping the coastal area of Mahabang Buhangin clean, especially during the off season (October to January) when waves from the Pacific Ocean are too dangerous for small boats.
Lt. Senior Grade Glenn Mago, the Coast Guard chief of Camarines Norte, said the Coast Guard has been trying to keep boats off the beach of Mahabang Buhangin by asking boatmen to dock their vessels a few meters from the shore.
Mago said there is also a need to build toilets far from the shore to prevent contamination in the waters, as what happened in Boracay at the height of an E. coli contamination there.
The Coast Guard, he said, is also coordinating with the local government of Vinzons for a clearer waste management plan that would prevent tourists from leaving trash behind.
As of now, officials can’t do anything much except remind tour operators of their responsibility to keep their guests from turning the beach into a garbage bin, said tourism officer Pajarin.
He said boatmen are under instruction not to dispose of waste water into the sea as this may contain gasoline.
The provincial government is set to draft a comprehensive tourism ordinance on which all local government units in the province will base their tourism plans, according to Camarines Norte Gov. Edgardo Tallado.
He said the ordinance would list down the do’s and don’ts for tourism stakeholders in the province.
He added that a causeway is also set to be constructed in Barangay (village) Mangcawayan on the opposite side of Tinaga Island where boats could dock after dropping off their guests on Mahabang Buhangin to avoid congestion on the shore.
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