* Iwahig firefly watching tour

Gestart door Kano, donderdag 22 april 2010, 05:18:30

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Fireflies glow for tourists

Inquirer Southern Luzon 04/21/2010

BETTER THAN SEX!" BLURTS ANTONIO NUmar, a city slicker from Baguio, as he limbered out of a rickety fishing boat that took him on a moonless night's firefly watching tour through the Iwahig River, not too far south from Palawan's main hub of Puerto Princesa City.

Numar's experience with the glowing insects must have been so exhilarating that many people rate it very high in their personal list of "cool" things.

And taking note of the rather staid nightlife along the downtown avenue of the booming tourist haven, the mangrove-strewn banks of the Iwahig might as well just be its veritable red light district, if ever there's a need to have one.

Still the comparison may not exactly be far off, since scientists explain that fireflies display their bioluminescence for one sole purpose–to attract a mate for the night.

The riverbanks must be the busiest pickup joint in town, just that the customers are all aglow.

The Iwahig firefly watching tour, run not by any private tourism entrepreneur but by a cooperative of residents, has become such a hit not merely due to the unique experience it offers to people like Numar but, more importantly, in how the whole package has been set up.

Youths act as capable tour guides and members of the entire community pool their resources to make it work and earn profit for everyone while helping protect a vital river ecosystem.

This latest addition to the many things that Palawan offers to tourists has immediately caught attention in less than a year of continuous operation. Recently, the Department of Tourism announced its nomination of the Iwahig Firely Tour to the Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Gold Awards 2010 to represent the country in competition with other unique natural attractions around Asia.

Firefly city

The fireflies of the Iwahig are so abundant that they literally light up mangroves and other trees along the banks.

In a 45-minute paddle-boat excursion at night through the river's inner sanctum, one is at first awed by the sheer abundance of bioluminescent planktons as the boat, loaded at max by just three guests, slices through the surface of brackish water like wading through silver.

"Everything in this river is as it was since our parents started living nearby. It is not disturbed and this is why the fireflies have not left and the river is as rich as it has always been," Marlon Dioquino, a boatman and tour guide, said.

From the embarkation area, it doesn't take long before the boat and its passengers come upon rows and rows of trees adorned with tiny lighted specks.

The guides make it a point to explain the relationship between these nocturnal insects and the river, particularly to stress the point that the presence of the fireflies indicates a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

Interesting notes are to be made on the interpretations done by the guides, trained by biologists and experts. The fireflies, they explain, dwell in fact at the lowest bottom of the food chain, as fodder to spiders and other bigger insects, and as favorite meals of frogs and bats.

But there are so many of them and they just kept on multiplying to perform their selfless role to serve themselves banquet-style to any other insect, fish or mammals.

"Once the fireflies are gone, the river will start to wither, as will the animals move somewhere else," Dr. Gerry Ortega, project manager of Bayan ni Juan, said.

The ABS-CBN group has donated most of the startup capital needed by the project and facilitated the software needs of the community, from tour guide training to bookkeeping.


Most of the Iwahig River, which opens up to Honda Bay in the Sulu Sea side of the island province, is part of the barbed-wire-less open penal complex, the Iwahig Prison and Penal Facility, which hosts about 2,000 low-security offenders.

Manuel Socrates, an employee at the facility and at the same time president of the Iwahig Community Tourism Association, explains that the area that now hosts a steady flow of tourists, especially on weekend nights, used to be "no man's land."

Some prisoners who have escaped had used this river in order to reach the open sea.

"There were also disturbing trends of wanton nipa-gathering that they were starting to disturb the wildlife living in the surroundings," Socrates said.

It took Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn and ABS-CBN honcho Gina Lopez, through the Bayan ni Juan program, to convince the Bureau of Corrections to allow the community to manage a portion of the river and set up an ecotourism project.

Socrates said it was Hagedorn who pulled strings with the Department of Justice.

Lopez met with the owners of one of the city's biggest hotels which had at one point already got permission from the prison administration to run a firefly watching tour package.

Ecotourism model

The DOT's nomination into the Pata 2010 search, according to Ortega, was triggered by the success their project has had in organizing the tour as an "ecotourism model."

"This is where the real concept of ecotourism comes alive. Here, you have a community that directly benefits from their surroundings and they are encouraged to protect it not just as a means of livelihood but also as a source of local pride," Ortega said.

The Pata Gold Awards 2010 is an annual search organized by industry players to recognize exceptional achievement in six broad categories affecting travel and tourism industry–marketing, campaign, environment, heritage and culture, education and training, marketing media and travel journalism.

The Iwahig Firefly Tour also makes a good case of sound business management by a community with little knowledge on business planning, conducting feasibility studies or scaling up. In one operation, it has gone from pink to blue, making money for its members and sending their children to school.

All of the guides, who are at the same time either high school or college students, do not anymore rely on their parents for financial support, according to Socrates.

Since ABS-CBN provided a P200,000 grant to the group so it could build a waiting shed and employ six boats to run the tours, the cooperative has already begun to fend for its own, buying new equipment and planning new and bigger ideas, such as a floating restaurant for tourists.

"The growth of this project is so fast it is amazing it is all community-driven," Ortega said.
Daar waar de regenboog eindigt daar zal ik nooit komen totdat ik daar ooit zal zijn