The Island Garden City of Samal, a popular holiday spot, aims to be an ecological haven.

By Dr. Rafael D. Guererro III

Being an archipelagic country, the Philippines is blessed with a myriad of marine fishes, invertebrates, and plants that abound in its coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs and seagrass meadows. Sadly, however, many of the traditional fishing grounds of the country have become depleted due to the use of destructive fishing gear by unscrupulous fishers, and over-exploitation. Thus, there is a need for the implementation of fisheries conservation and management programs by local government units, which are tasked by law to preserve our marine patrimony for future generations.

One of the strategies that has effectively protected marine fishery stocks from the onslaught of human depredation are marine protected areas or reserves. In sites such as portions of coral reefs, fishing is prohibited in “no fishing zones” to allow the natural inhabitants to replenish themselves and reseed other areas. Outside the “no fishing zone,” a buffer zone can be created for public education and recreation to promote ecotourism, which is defined by the International Ecotourism Society as “travel to natural areas that conserve the environment and improve the well-being of people.”

One such marine protected area cum ecotourism destination is found in the Island Garden City of Samal (IGaCOS) in Davao del Norte. In 1999, a 14-hectare marine reserve park at Barangay Adecor, Kaputian District of the IGaCOS was established with the technical assistance of marine scientists of the Davao del Norte State College (DNSC). The marine park became a demonstration site for the Giant Clam Stock Enhancement Program of the University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute (UPMSI) in 2001.

In 2013, a community-based Ecotourism Project featuring the more than 3,000 giant clams or “taklobo” in the marine park was launched. The project was conceptualized by the DNSC and supported by local government units, the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ), and the Commission on Higher Education, with the Adecor Fisherfolk Organization as its beneficiary.

Local and international visitors can now take the “Taklobo Tour” in the marine park of IGaCOS, where it stands among its many natural attractions. During the tour, trained guides brief the tourists on the biology and conservation of the world’s largest bivalve mollusk. The tour includes a 5 to 7-minute boat trip to the park and 1 to 2 hours of viewing the giant clams in their natural habitat; visitors can stay at a floating lodge or snorkel to get up close to the animals. While picturetaking and swimming are allowed in the sanctuary, scuba-diving, eating, fishing, and touching of the clams are prohibited.

After 16 months of operation, the project was visited by 5,222 tourists and earned an income of Php416,715 from entrance fees, rentals, and the sale of souvenirs.

Of the Php75 entrance fee, 60% is for development of the marine park, 20% is for the tour guides, 13% goes to the fisherfolk’s organization, and 6% is for the Environmental Users’ Fee.

Giant clams are naturally found in many coastal areas of the country. Their numbers, however, have declined over the years due to overharvesting. There is a worldwide market for the clams’ adductor muscles (a Chinese delicacy) and shells, and for living specimens for the marine aquarium industry. While farming of the clams is now being done in south Pacific countries such as Palau and the Solomon Islands, the UP-MSI and Marine aboratory of Silliman University in Dumaguete City have successfully propagated seven of the indigenous giant clam species in the country for conservation.

The largest giant clam, Tridacna gigas, weighs up to 200 kilos each with a width of 1.2 meters. It has a lifespan of more than 100 years in the wild. Giant clams are found in marine lagoons and fringing reefs up to depths of 20 meters. They grow rapidly because of their symbiotic relationship with singlecelled algae that provide them with nutrition.

This appeared as “The “Taklobo Tour” of the Island Garden City of Samal” in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2014 issue.