It is interesting to know that what was once a pilot site for the Coastal Environment Program (CEP) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Negros Occidental is now a locally declared conservation area.
The Hulao-hulao Reef in Barangay Caliling, Cauayan, and the Carbin Reef in Sagay City were identified as priority areas when then Secretary Angel Alcala introduced this coastal program to the DENR, which he headed during the incumbency of former President Fidel Ramos.
Alcala is familiar with the Hulao-hulao Reef since he is a marine biologist and more so he originally came from Caliling, while he also worked with the local government of Sagay for the establishment and management of Carbin Reef Marine Sanctuary, which was declared by the LGU. These two sites were considered for declaration as protected areas under the National Integrated Protected Areas System of the country.
I was part of the team that conducted initial preparation for the proposal, as I was the CEP provincial coordinator of the DENR at that time. I was working with Lucia Salazar for Hulao-hulao and Rex Molavin for Carbin Reef. Together with other members of the CEP from DENR Region 6, we conducted community consultation and rapid site assessment.
We found out that these two sites possessed necessary features to become protected areas. Lucia and Rex continued the task for the establishment of these conservation sites when I was already designated as the Protected Area Superintendent of the Mount Kanla-on Natural Park in 1995.
Instead of pursuing the proclamation of Hulao-hulao as a protected area, the local government of Cauayan preferred the local declaration of the site and so it became what is now known as the Hulao-hulao, Caliling, Cauayan Coastal Conservation Area, or H4CA. I’m happy to note that the municipality of Cauayan came out with an ordinance for such a purpose. The H4CA is a much wider site now compared with what we were proposing then. This Local Conservation Area covers more than 13,000 hectares comprising numerous ecosystems.
The Hulao-hulao Reef and its adjoining coastal waters are considered as the core zone of the conservation area, with an estimated area of about 72 hectares. Another reef, known as Takot Daku, and its surrounding waters, covering some 70 hectares, were similarly included in the declaration of the LCA. These two sites contain coral covers that serve as spawning ground and habitat to numerous marine organisms. According to some residents, the coral cover in the H4CA is still in good condition.
A large part of the conservation area, estimated at 232 hectares, is covered with seagrasses, while mangrove stands account for about 20 hectares. The H4CA is one of the remaining areas in the province that account for a relatively larger area of seagrass beds. There were several instances when dugongs were sighted in the area. The other sites of the conservation area almost cover the entire coastal waters within Barangay Caliling.
The local government of Cauayan had organized the management board of the H4CA with the mayor as the chairperson. Representatives from various offices of the local government as well as national agencies and nongovernment and people’s organizations are also members of the management board. The Provincial Environment Management Office of Negros Occidental is providing assistance in the management of the H4CA, too. It is envisioned that this conservation site will eventually be nationally recognized as best-managed reef and ecotourism destination in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the Carbin Reef is now part of the larger Sagay Marine Reserve that was proclaimed as a protected area in June 1995. This protected area has its own congressional legislation contained in Republic Act 9106 enacted in April 2001. Aside from Carbin Reef, Suyac Island, Panal Reef, and the islands of Molocabok Gamay and Molocabok Daku were included as part of the SMR, which is categorized as a protected landscape and seascape.
The Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. is providing technical assistance for the updating of the management plan of the H4CA, while the Zoological Society of London is supporting the social marketing of the conservation site.*