Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

An ecological assessment of Ulugan Bay, Palawan, Philippines, CSI info 12


The coastal ecotone – a transitional belt linking the terrestrial and marine environments – is extremely complex and requires interdisciplinary teamwork for understanding and management. For truly integrated coastal management to take effect, co-operation across academic disciplines from the natural, social and human sciences is needed, coupled with political, public and private sector participation.

UNESCO’s platform for Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands (CSI) was initiated to help foster such synergy. UNESCO’s broad and essentially intellectual mandate as the United Nations specialized agency for education, science, culture and communication places the Organization in an ideal position to take the lead in bringing together the various agencies and institutions with potential bearing on sustainable coastal development. Launched in 1996, CSI’s approach is intersectoral and interdisciplinary and employs three main modalities: field projects, university chairs/twinning and a web-based discussion forum on wise practices (user name = csi, password = wise). The initiative attempts to build bridges between the scientific disciplines themselves, and between science and the challenges of the real world that face coastal managers and the people who make their homes in coastal cities and on small islands.

A series of field projects initiated around the globe seek to establish examples showcasing the positive impacts of wise practices in sustainable coastal management. To date, over 20 intersectoral field projects have been established in 60 countries, involving all sectors of society. From initial, integrated entry-points, these projects expand to encompass other related issues and further broaden their scope. This strategy allows project partners to learn how intersectoral co-operation is best put into practice, thereby enhancing the strength and quality of response to coastal and small island issues.

Ulugan Bay scenery

University chairs in sustainable coastal development and university twinning networks are being established at educational institutions worldwide to support the pilot projects and to foster new interdisciplinary ways of thinking and acting. They provide training and capacity building for environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, culturally appropriate and economically sound development in coastal regions and in small islands.

An Internet-based discussion forum on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development’ (WiCoP forum, user name = csi, password = wise) seeks to widen the framework of participation and expose the findings on wise coastal practices, obtained from the field projects and university chairs, to a much wider audience.

Linking the various knowledge systems to management is a major component of the CSI platform. It is planned to achieve this through the elaboration of wise practices, guidelines and principles, and ethical codes of practice for specific domains, thereby promoting the equitable sharing of coastal resources – which will provide a basis on which societies in small islands and coastal regions can further develop their own agendas for sustainable living in a world undergoing globalization.

Background to the project

This document presents and examines in detail an ecological assessment carried out in 1997–1998 at Ulugan Bay in Palawan, the Philippines. Ulugan Bay is one of three CSI field project sites in southeast Asia, the others being Jakarta Bay in Indonesia and the Surin Islands in Thailand.

Underwater scene in Ulugan Bay

Often deemed the Philippines’ ‘last frontier’, Palawan is home to a natural splendour rarely found elsewhere in the Philippines. The entire province has, since 1992, been classified as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a reflection of the Philippine Government’s recognition of the island’s unique environment. The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development was set up under the direct authority of the President of the Republic to guide the development of the province in accordance with the highest environmental standards. The capital city of Puerto Princesa has for a number of years been known as the ‘cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines’. Palawan is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Natural Sites: Tubbataha Reef Marine National Park, one of the most species-diverse coral reefs in existence; and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which lies directly northeast of Ulugan Bay, and centres on the Saint Paul Mountain Range, a spectacular limestone region, through which flows the longest underground river in the world, the Saint Paul. This river passes through eight kilometres of diverse cave formations before entering the sea.

Considering this background, it is perhaps not surprising that Palawan as a whole, and in particular the provincial capital Puerto Princesa, has chosen to focus on tourism as a cornerstone of the provincial economy. Tourism centres to an overwhelming extent on the coastal zone. Some areas in northern Palawan such as El Nido and Coron are already well-established names in the tourism industry. Exploring the development of environmentally sound and sustainable tourism has become a key issue for Palawan, in the hope that the less fortunate development experiences elsewhere in the country and the southeast Asian region may be avoided. Among the key concerns is the development of a tourism industry that benefits, and takes place on the terms of, the local population.

In recognition of this, the CSI platform at the UNESCO Jakarta Office began to elaborate, in 1996, a framework for activities targeting the management of coastal resources and the development of sustainable tourism at Ulugan Bay. A field project entitled ‘Coastal resources management and ecotourism: an intersectoral approach to localizing sustainable development, Ulugan Bay, Palawan, the Philippines’ was started in 1996 (see Appendix I for the project summary). Then in 1998, a UNESCO Chair in ‘Integrated Coastal Management for Sustainable Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands’ was initiated at the University of the Philippines and formally established in 2000. The chair provides interdisciplinary research support to the field project as well as other projects, and serves as a focus for innovative training for the students and future coastal managers (see Appendix II for a summary of the chair activities).

View of Ulugan Bay from the observation tower on 
Rita Island

Ways in which the field project and university chair activities have interlinked are discussed in the WiCoP forum, where ideas are exposed to a wider international audience. Appendix III contains extracts of three contributions to the forum, one dealing with the linkage between research and training at Ulugan Bay, another with illegal logging and tourism operations in Palawan, and a third with the problems caused by migrant fishers in Ulugan Bay.

Ulugan Bay was selected as the project site because of its unique environmental, social and locational features as well as for its potential as a major ecotourism destination in the coming years. Several events have taken place under the CSI umbrella of activities in and around Ulugan Bay since 1996. Key among these are:

Following these activities, fieldwork started in January 1999 on the UNESCO-UNDP project Coastal Resources Management and Sustainable Tourism. This project seeks to assist the City of Puerto Princesa and its sister authorities in ensuring the ecologically sound, economically sustainable development of Ulugan Bay.

The flow of consecutive activities building upon one another illustrates the key field project objective of developing tangible frameworks for collaborative action among sectors, agencies and stakeholder groups.

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