Caves protection in Davao Norte town pushed

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 March) – About a hundred caves are found in New Corella town in Davao del Norte but mostly have not been assessed yet by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in order to be protected and preserved, a tourism officer said Monday.

Joel Quinahan, the town’s tourism officer, said in a media forum at SM City Davao the caves have been sources of water for households in New Corella as it is known as the “water basin” of the province.

He cited that of the total number of caves, 70 have been explored and only six were assessed and open for tourists, namely, Bondoc, Tibyun, Paradise, San Miguel, Tinagong Busay, and Borja.

Noel Daquioag, Davao del Norte provincial tourism officer, said at the media forum that his office has been pushing for the assessment of caves and classify them to determine how to protect and conserve them.

He explained that Class 1 caves should not be entered by humans, Class 2 caves can be entered in regulation, and Class 3 are those that can be opened for tourism purposes.

Daquioag said aside from the lack of cave assessment, the province does not have exact total number of caves, citing that 70 to 90 caves are found in Samal Island, while the same number of caves are found in Kapalong and Talaingod towns. San Isidro town was cited as having the most number of caves with over a hundred.

Dorina Ararao, president of the Philippine Speleological Society (PSS) in the city, said the water sources in New Corella that are found in caves should be considered before converting forest areas to agro-industrial.

She pointed out that if trees were to be replaced with crops, which cannot hold much water, the caves below the area will be devastated.

She cited that caves are not only nests of bats and sources of water, but may also be the homes of other flora and fauna that are very fragile and need protection. Some of which may only be found in a certain cave that if left unprotected would led to their extinction, she added.

The PSS will hold its 13th national congress on April 8 to 12 in New Corella, and this will be the first time for the town to host such event, Ararao told reporters.

She said a part of the program will be a workshop to create a template for developing quality cave management plans, adding that the cave management group will use the bat nesting Borja Cave for its draft of the conservation management plan.

“We came from conservation, but we understand that tourism is important for the local government to generate income. That’s why the congress aims to balance tourism and conservation,” she said.

For the part of tourism, Quinahan said spelunking or caving has been included in the eco-adventours packages of the town since three years ago.

He said eco-tourism was introduced to the communities when many of them had sourced their income from harvesting nests of Sayaw birds for an ingredient of El Nido soup; guano, a mineral from bats’ waste; and lime stones that are found inside the caves.

“Instead of destroying the caves, we taught them to promote eco-tourism,” Quinahan said.

He cited that the local government trained local tourist guides, while the Young Adventure Mountain-caving Outdoor Group (YAMOG) facilitates tourist influx to the town’s tourism destinations.

He said the YAMOG facilitates the eco-adventour packages and collects the income to be remitted to the local stakeholders such as the tour guides, who earn at least P250 per tourist a day, those who prepare lunch and snacks, and motorcycle drivers.

The packages include nature trek and boulder adventour, which is trekking up to two kilometers to Panas waterfalls upstream, cave adventour, tenting and waterfalls trek adventour, technical caving, and group camping.

Adventour package costs range from P250 to P750 per person, minimum of five persons in all packages except for technical caving, which costs P1,000 per guest and minimum of three persons for five to eight hours of tour. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)