Last December 5, 2016, the City Mayor through the City Tourism Officer wrote a letter to the Barangay Chairperson of Panubigan to hold all tourism activities in the 11 Islands. The letter clearly states that as much as the city government wants to accommodate all visitors going to the 11 islands, there is an issue on the readiness of the destination to receive tourists. Sarita Sebastian-Hernandez, Supervising Tourism Operations Officerof Zamboanga City indicated in the letter that they will meet with the key personnel and stakeholders of Barangay Panubigan in order to prepare guidelines and protocols pertaining the operation of 11 islands as a tourist destination.
The 11 islands in Barangay Panubigan, Zamboanga City is undoubtedly becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in Zamboanga City. It is no longer Zamboanga’s best kept secret but a booming tourist desrtination. Each island has a beauty of its own: fine white sands, crystal clear waters, and amazing rock formations. It WAS pristine and untouched when my friends and I went there last February 14, 2016. I published the maiden article of my blog during my birthday on March 28, 2016 entitled “11 Islands: Zamboanga’s Best Kept Secret” and a local TV station also claimed to have discovered the 11 islands and presented them to the world last October 2016. As it gained popularity in a span of a few months, tourists, backpackers and locals started to flock the islands. Unfortunately, the locals are not really prepared for the tourism boom that it is experiencing today. My blog and a lot of social media posts that followed might helped in the promotion of the 11 islands. To date, it still remains as my top most viewed article in my blog. In my DIY travel article, I encouraged responsible tourism and proper coordination with the barangay LGU for the safety and security of guests. But I’m only one person and things are beyond my control. Unfortunately, not all the visitors of the islands are responsible tourists.
A few months ago, government officials brought visitors to the islands and posted it on social media giving it more leverage. However, the unprecedented influx of tourists is now taking its toll in the islands. When we went back last October, I immediately noticed one of the problems of the tour: solid waste management. The local tour guides do not know how to manage the trash properly. Tour guides collect the trash and waste materials from tourists before burying them in a hole on one of the islands. While some plastics bags are thrown and left floating near the shores.
Temporarily declaring the islands as off limits to tourists one great but delayed move from the city government. Much have been done to promote tourism in the 11 islands. Despite the ban, a lot of people have posted in social media their photos of the 11 islands during the Christmas break. The tourists went to the islands through a different route from Barangay Vitali even after being warned by local officials. Not aware of the notice, some tourists took another route in Barangay Bolong. To date, there are unauthorized travel coordinators offering tour packages to go to the islands. It might sound like a daredevil move but it is clearly irresponsible tourism. I would like to call on locals and tourists to STOP going to the 11 islands until allowed by the local government.
The economic gain for the community is a welcome change but hopefully this will not be done at the expense of mother nature. Local tourism should not only be profitable but also sustainable. The city government must act now. The capacity and obligation to educate the locals on the basics of eco-friendly tourism lies with the government. I know that there are also land disputes concerning the ownership of the islands but I believe that everything can be settled in a peaceful compromise lead by the government in coordination with all stakeholders involved. A tourism development plan must be implemented. Yes, implemented. Plans are only ink and paper if they are just for show. It must not only be posted, read and disseminated, it should be felt.
Credits: Thanks to Dave Fabian Gramatica for the copy of the letter from the Mayor’s Office. Follow his great feed on instagram:
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