Conservation of Bolila Island

I still have to visit the small island of Bolila in Barangay Asia, Hinoba-an, but I have learned some interesting accounts about the place when it comes to the community’s initiatives in protecting the natural ecosystems.

Last week, I facilitated the online discussion, participated in by representatives from the local government units of Barangay Asia and Hinoba-an, Provincial Environment Management Office of Negros Occidental, Bolila Island Mangrove Community Association (BIMCA), and Philippine Maritime Police, as part of the processes in developing the site management and development plan of the Island and its surrounding coastal waters.

The local government of Hinoba-an, under the leadership of Mayor Ernesto Estrao, considers Bolila Island as one of its ecotourism destinations. The Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc., through its GIZ-supported ProCoast for Southern Negros Occidental Project, is providing technical assistance to the LGU in the development of the island’s management plan, while the Zoological Society of London is also assisting on social marketing.

Bolila Island has an estimated land area of 42 hectares and where 28 households, mostly members of the BIMCA, reside. About 30 hectares of the island’s surrounding coastal waters have been declared by the LGU as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) because almost 80 percent of the site is still covered with coral reefs and seagrasses. What is also interesting is the information I generated that it is no longer needed to initiate mangrove reforestation since the island’s mangrove forest is still intact and already naturally regenerating. The mangrove forest of the island is roughly 30 hectares and even the former fishponds are now regenerating with mangrove stands.

Representatives from the community claimed they are protecting the mangroves and coral reefs since they are aware that these natural resources are vital for their fishery livelihood and income. The community members are securing their timber and fuelwood requirements from the mainland of Hinoba-an to spare the use of mangrove forest, which also protects them from bad weather conditions.

A portion of the coastal waters surrounding the island is a vital docking area for fishing vessels because it is relatively safe from strong winds and big ocean waves, especially during stormy days. It also has calm waters so even fishing boats from nearby municipalities of Hinoba-an take refuge in this site, estimated at about 38 hectares.

I could only assume that marine invertebrates and other organisms are still abundant in the coastal water of the island. There is a designated gleaning area of about five hectares where community members are gathering a variety of mollusk species, which we usually and commonly call “seashells” or “shells,” and shallow water fishes. This gleaning area is important when it comes to food sufficiency of the people in the island although they also sell some of their collected sea products from this site.

The pristine environment and the presence of an organized community are the primary motivations of the local government of Hinoba-an to consider and plan for the development of Bolila Island as an ecotourism destination. However, given the fragility of the island, as it is relatively small, the municipality will focus on low impact, community based, and ecological tourism for the island and its inhabitants. Ecotourism is one component of the ongoing management planning for Bolila Island.

Aside from the existing MPA, it was agreed during the online discussion that the management planning and the subsequent implementation of conservation activities should consider the entire island and its surrounding sites, which are now collectively known as the Bolila Island Integrated Conservation Area. The Sangguniang Bayan of Hinoba-an is expected to enact an ordinance for the declaration of this much wider conservation site compared with the existing MPA.

The story of this island in the southernmost municipality of the province once again affirmed the importance of community participation in conservation. The efforts of the community in protecting the natural ecosystems present in the island are laudable and started to gain support not only from the local government but also from other government and nongovernment institutions.

The community members already realized that they are benefiting from well-protected and healthy ecosystems, particularly for their livelihood and income. They expect that the ecotourism development in the island would further provide opportunities for additional income, although they are in agreement that tourism activities should not in any way destroy their environment.

The community is still envisioning of having security of tenure to the land they are occupying. Raymund Carlos of PEMO, who is assisting in the preparation of maps for the management planning, said that the land tenure is a concern since the island is still classified as timberland based on the land classification of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The island is also constrained from being granted a residential status due to the easement requirements from the highest tide in the coastline and mangrove forests, especially so with the limited land area of Bolila.

The community is entertaining the possibility of applying for a Community Based Forest Management Agreement with the DENR, which the LGU is supporting, too.*

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