Eager to discover rare marine life, endangered species and undeveloped natural territories, upscale travelers mostly from the West are discovering El Nido Resorts (ENR) in northern Palawan. “High-end adventure travel” is the catch phrase for the nature-focused trips favored by these well-heeled tourists eager to snorkel with rich goby and damselfish fauna.
False Clown Anemone Fish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
El Nido Resorts is a cluster of four eco resorts that are named after the islands where they are located. Miniloc, Lagen and Pangulasian offer views of Bacuit Bay, a marine sanctuary, while Apulit is located on Taytay Bay, touted as one of the world’s best snorkeling destinations.
In the past, developments that gave rise to the Philippines’ lackluster performance hardly served as an encouragement for these tourists to visit the country, according to marine biologist Lee Goldman who conducts Palawan ecotours. However, as the country made economic and political strides, word got around about the treasure trove of marine life around El Nido Resorts, particularly the high coral fish diversity index and as many as 850 species, numbers matched by very few other locations in the world.
Assemblage of Christmas Tree Worms (Spirobranchus spp.)
El Nido Resorts was recently ranked as among the world’s most favored destinations by Travel + Leisure, one of the world’s most influential travel magazines. The Wall Street Journal Magazine, CNN and The New York Times also cited ENR’s unmatched natural beauty earlier this year.
Goldman, who is based in Manila, designs snorkeling tours and kayaking explorations worldwide. The Philippine package tours are sold out in a few days.
The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, the global center of marine bio-diversity. Although its more popular neighbors and playgrounds of the rich– Raja Ampat, Komodo, Solomon Islands and Palau-Micronesia –boast of staggering numbers of species, their habitats tend to be spread out.
Assemblage of corals (mostly Acropora and Montipora spp.)
“In other areas in the Coral Triangle, you have to travel so far by sea just to experience another kind of habitat and see other kinds of marine life. In Solomon Islands, you have to take an eight-hour boat ride just to go from one habitat to the next,” says Goldman.
In addition to El Nido’s over 800 marine species, it also offers 400 kinds of corals and 500 marine vertebraes within an area of 200 square kilometers. Moreover, a panorama of marine life is accessible within a few meters of water, a condition perfect for snorkeling.
Likewise El Nido’s wide variety of habitats — including reef flats, lagoons, marine lakes, channels, coral thickets, sea grass beds, sand flat channels – mean a different set of sea creatures per location. Each of these habitats, after all, will tend to be favored by certain marine varieties.
Nabat Island along Taytay Bay is the one of the world’s best snorkeling sites. “Nabat has the most table corrals. They look like 100 colored papers thrown all over,” says Goldman. The healthiest coral communities are found in Bacuit Bay. Likewise, the Hookfin Cardinal fish can only be found in El Nido Palawan.
The bold-striped juvenile sailfin tang is found in protected habitats, especially in lagoons abundant in corals. In Bacuit Bay, the reefs surrounding Lagen Island and El Nido are thriving places for zooplanktons. Nudibranchs flourish in places where there are sponges and tunicates such as the reefs around Lagen. Green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles lay their eggs on sand beaches along Apulit.
ENR has taken measures to preserve the pristine ecosystem. El Nido Resort Dive Crew and Environment Department maintains mooring buoys in 21 sites around Bacuit Bay. The buoys secure boats and ships away from areas where coral reefs abound. To protect the endangered giant clams around Bacuit Bay from poachers, they were replanted to the front reefs of Miniloc and Lagen. The resort also takes pride in being the second in the world to install artificial reefs in Tres Marias, a dive site which was damaged by coral bleaching, illegal fishing and the weather.
Thanks to the discriminating guests and the foreign researchers, ENR is motivated to continue its ecological work.