The Enchanted River (ER), a popular tourist destination in Surigao del Sur which receives as many as 800 to 1000 visitors a day, has been closed temporarily to the public to give way to major rehabilitation works starting January until March 28, 2017.
In 2014, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with support from GIZ through the Protected Area Management Enhancement (PAME) Project, and in partnership with the Filipino Cave Divers (FCD) and University of San Carlos (USC) Department of Biology in Bacolod conducted a rapid resource assessment (RRA) of three underwater caves in the Philippines, including the ER. The RRA provided a preliminary biophysical profile of each site. The research team collected water and sediment samples for analysis, made a listing of organisms found inside and outside the caves, and conducted vegetation surveys. It also provided science-based inputs to decision makers of the concerned local government units (LGUs) on how to better manage these unique ecological resources in the long term.
Critical findings from the RRA of the ER triggered a dauntless decision of the municipal government of Hinatuan to temporarily close the river to allow it to heal from significant degradation of the environment in its surrounding spring.
Currently, the ER management is doing its best to strike a balance between economic benefits and ecological harmony to ensure that the natural beauty, clarity and purity of the river’s pristine waters will be restored. It is also revising the recreational guidelines and considers putting restrictions in some activities, including the prohibition of swimmers from swimming to the walls and from jumping off the cliff near the cave entrance to stress to visitors the importance of preserving the area and keeping the surrounding natural resources intact. Major relocations of infrastructures including cottages, cemented walkways and stairs are also ongoing to ensure that further erosion of limestone cliffs and rocks falling onto the cave mouth will no longer take place.
PAME is working closely with the LGU of Hinatuan through the DENR in formulating and crafting the most appropriate management plan for conservation of the Enchanted River. This initiative is considered a milestone for PAME in its hope to enhance the management of existing protected areas and to support the establishment and effective management of new terrestrial or marine protected areas including cave systems in selected Key Biodiversity Areas.
The case of Enchanted River is a real eye opener for everyone, including its neighboring LGUs. The recommendations from the RRA prompted major and drastic changes to the ER’s management plan. Let’s hope for the best for Hinatuan’s Enchanted River! (PAME/ Opalyn Agulay)