Hamilo Coast protects "Amazon of the Seas"

Hamilo Coast protects "Amazon of the Seas"
By Walter Ang
June 30, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Last year, photographers J├╝rgen and Stella Freund embarked on an 18-month photojournalistic expedition throughout the Coral Triangle, six million square kilometers of ocean reputed to be the world's center of marine life, located from the Philippines through Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The Coral Triangle is home to 600 out of 800 known corals and 2,700 types of fish, among other flora and fauna. The abundance of life is so high that the region has been called "the Amazon of the Seas."

Unfortunately, together with Indonesia, the Philippines hosts the world's most threatened coral reefs, with less than thirty percent in good condition. Overfishing, coral mining, sewage, chemical pollution, global warming and dynamite fishing continue to plague these marine ecosystems.

The Freunds took images with a variety of cameras from 35 mm to digital to "investigate the connectivity between the wildlife and peoples of the region, and the threats they face" and to document the conservation efforts of the organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), formerly known as World Wildlife Fund.

One of the areas they were able to visit was Nasugbu, Batangas, where Hamilo Coast is located. The Freunds arrived in Manila recently and their work was discussed at a presentation made by Hamilo Coast. The presentation focused on the steps this real estate development by SM Land has been taking to actively work with (instead of against) nature.

"Hamilo Coast encompasses more than ten natural coves and is envisioned as a network of communities with various types of living experiences, from exclusive residences to world-class resorts," said Tristan Dela Rosa, SM Land marketing and sales senior vice president. "It can be considered the first coastal residential community in the Philippines deliberately planned for ecological sustainability."

Resource regeneration
To wit, out of Hamilo Coast's total land area, only one-third or 1,800 hectares will be developed, leaving the rest of the property untouched and preserved.

SM Land worked with the local government to have three coves within Hamilo Coast declared as marine protected areas?legally managed and restricted for conservation purposes to reverse damage caused by illegal fishing methods and pollution.

"Pico de Loro Cove and Santelmo Cove are nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles or pawikans such as the Olive Ridley Turtles, one of the smallest of its kind in the world. Etayo Cove is a prime diving site," said Dela Rosa.

Over a hundred True Giant Clams have been planted along the coast to help re-propagate marine life. "Evidence suggests that biodiversity levels are on the rise, as reflected in the increased catch-rates of local fishermen," he said.

It has also partnered with WWF to monitor the property's ecological footprint?the amount of resources used in daily operations offset by the land's capacity for regeneration. "Hamilo Coast will be able to manage its impact on the ecological balance of the property so that guests can enjoy the area's natural splendour without damaging it," he said.

It has also engaged the surrounding communities by supporting several cooperatives in the area with up to 400 local residents as members.

The Kaagapay ng Mamamayan para sa Kalikasan cooperative handles landscaping and beach maintenance. "They've helped restore the damaged mangroves by planting mangrove seedlings, about 20,000 to date," said Dela Rosa.

Another cooperative, Samahan ng mga Mamalakaya ng Papaya, patrols the vast waters of Hamilo Coast to catch illegal fishing activities. "Since they started in 2001, illegal fishing in the area has declined. They've convinced many of the small fishermen who engaged in dynamite fishing to join their group instead," he said. The group also does coastal clean-up operations.

The efforts at ecosustainability and regeneration will not only benefit Hamilo Coast's future residents, but also protect a vital portion of the Coral Triangle. Batangas is actually situated in the Verde Passage of the Coral Triangle, the area with the most number of fish species in the world.

"The Verde Passage has once been described as the 'center of the center of marine biodiversity' given the density and concentration of its coral and underwater life compared to the rest of the Coral Triangle," said Dela Rosa. "This is part of the development's appeal: an opportunity to live in an expansive natural setting across coves that have mountain ranges, unending views of the South China Sea, and teeming marine and terrestrial life."

Given this kind of environment, he notes that it's but natural for Hamilo Coast to promote the protection of and interaction with nature. "We want the residents to engage in leisure programs based on land and sea activities, such as snorkeling, scuba diving, mountain trekking. We want to be a sanctuary for both nature and the humans so dependent on its riches."

For details on the Freund expedition, visit blogs.panda.org/coral_triangle. For details on Hamilo Coast, call 858-0333 or 819-1673 or visit www.hamilocoast.com

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