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Waiting for tuna in Albay

Today, about 52% of the country’s fish exports come from tuna, which buoys the lives and livelihoods of millions of Filipinos. WWF’s Global Oceans Campaign, Sustain Our Seas, builds on decades of work to rekindle the health and productivity of the Earth’s oceans.

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By Gregg Yan

A little boy admires his family boat's sigil - a jumping Bankulis or Yellowfin Tuna. The boy's future might very well depend on whether these oceanic giants keep on jumping.  PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

A little boy admires his family boat’s sigil – a jumping Bankulis or Yellowfin Tuna. The boy’s future might very well depend on whether these oceanic giants keep on jumping.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

Late afternoon and we’re holed up in a hut along the coast of Tiwi in Albay, trading fish tales and waiting for fishermen to return. Sitting around us are their wives, mending nets and eyeing the swelling crowd of kids cajoling in the surf. It is June, the season for yellowfin tuna.

The first of the bancas arrive, unloading a decent haul of pundahan or skipjack – small, striped tuna which have proven surprisingly resilient to commercial fishing. Bancas two and three return empty-handed while a fourth disgorges a tub of galunggong or scad. Just one bankulis or yellowfin tuna has been landed, hours earlier. She tipped the scales at 39 kilograms, golden sickle-fins resplendent even in death. We wait until the sun dips into the sea, but no more tuna come.

“The Lagonoy Gulf is the Bicol region’s richest tuna site – but it is heavily overfished,” explains BFAR National Stock Assessment project head Virginia Olaño. “Two decades ago, fishers regularly caught large yellowfin. In 1998, a fisherman landed a 196 kilogram giant, long as a car and fat as a drum. Now yields are waning and yellowfin average just 18 to 35 kilograms – meaning juveniles have replaced adults.”

Though yellowfin tuna are highly-prized, they are far more than mere seafood. Top predators in the marine food chain, they maintain the balance between oceanic predators and prey. “Today the Lagonoy Gulf’s most common fish are anchovies,” warns Olaño. “There aren’t enough predators to eat them – because we’ve eaten most of their predators.”

To stop overfishing and help manage existing tuna stocks in Bicol, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), plus the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) convened the first meeting of the Gulf of Lagonoy Tuna Fishers Federation (GLTFF), comprised of the coastal municipalities ringing the Lagonoy Gulf – 3070-square kilometers of sea separating the Bicol mainland from the storm-swept island of Catanduanes. Over 500 people attended Bicol’s first large-scale gathering of fishers, held at the Lagman Auditorium of Bicol University’s Tabaco Campus.

“We’ve waited three years to formalize this federation, which covers 2000 tuna fishers in the Lagonoy Gulf,” says BFAR Assistant Regional Director Marjurie Grutas. “GLTFF aims to synergize fisheries management while optimizing cooperation, knowledge-sharing and enforcement. We aim to eliminate illegal fishing, minimize the capture of juvenile tuna and drive commercial fishers away from municipal waters – the three leading causes of overfishing.”

Since 2011, WWF has been working to enhance yellowfin tuna management practices for 5000 fishers in 112 tuna fishing villages around the Lagonoy Gulf and the coast of Occidental Mindoro.

WWF’s Public Private Partnership Programme Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST) has since organized tuna fishing associations in all 15 municipalities in the Lagonoy Gulf, plus six LGUs in the Mindoro Strait. It spearheaded the registration and licensing of tuna fishers, vessels and gear to minimize bycatch and illegal fishing, deployed 1000 plastic tuna tags to make the fishery traceable, and completed a series of training sessions on proper tuna handling to ensure that exported tuna continually meet international quality standards.

PPTST harnesses market power and consumer demand to promote sustainably-caught tuna and support low-impact fishing methods like artisanal fishing with hand-line reels – better alternatives to commercial tuna long-lines, which stretch up to 80 kilometers and are rigged with up to 3000 baited hooks.

Funded by Coop, Bell Seafood, Seafresh and the German Investment and Development Corporation, PPTST involves European seafood companies plus their local suppliers, BFAR, local government units in the Bicol Region and Mindoro, the WWF Coral Triangle Program, WWF-Germany plus WWF-Philippines.

Today, about 52% of the country’s fish exports come from tuna, which buoys the lives and livelihoods of millions of Filipinos. WWF’s Global Oceans Campaign, Sustain Our Seas, builds on decades of work to rekindle the health and productivity of the Earth’s oceans.

“Federations like GLTFF are the resource management systems of the future,” concludes WWF-Philippines president and CEO Joel Palma while sampling maguro sashimi (thinly-cut tuna slices) sourced from the sole 39 kilogram yellowfin landed in Tiwi.

Savoring sashimi, I hope that by working to conserve their shared resource, Lagonoy Gulf’s fishers might someday herald the return of the giant bankulis. Now that fish tale should be worth the wait.

A fisherman shows off a colorful squid lure, used to entice large pelagic predators to bite. A plethora of makeshift items - from dyed feathers and rubber squid to shredded plastic bags - are used to attract and catch tuna, billfish and mackerel. Each fisher has his own formula: "I use a combination of rubber squid and shredded plastic lures, but my real secret is squid ink, which I tie-off in tiny plastic bags. As the lure moves, the squid ink squirts out. Fish find this irresistible," shares Miguel Borres, a grizzled veteran. Though gear has evolved, many fishers still rely on age-old techniques to collect their quarry.  PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

A fisherman shows off a colorful squid lure, used to entice large pelagic predators to bite.
A plethora of makeshift items – from dyed feathers and rubber squid to shredded plastic bags – are used to attract and catch tuna, billfish and mackerel.
Each fisher has his own formula: “I use a combination of rubber squid and shredded plastic lures, but my real secret is squid ink, which I tie-off in tiny plastic bags. As the lure moves, the squid ink squirts out. Fish find this irresistible,” shares Miguel Borres, a grizzled veteran.
Though gear has evolved, many fishers still rely on age-old techniques to collect their quarry.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

 Yellowfin Tuna are so-named because of their canary yellow fins and finlets. The torpedo-shaped fish have clocked in speeds of 75 kilometers per hour - almost TWICE the speed of the world’s fastest person, Usain Bolt! PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

Yellowfin Tuna are so-named because of their canary yellow fins and finlets.
The torpedo-shaped fish have clocked in speeds of 75 kilometers per hour – almost TWICE the speed of the world’s fastest person, Usain Bolt!
PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

The most sought-after fish in Bicol's Lagonoy Gulf is the Yellowfin Tuna. A fisher shows off a handsome 39-kilogramme fish. Two decades ago, fishers caught a 196-kilogramme Yellowfin - the largest caught in the Gulf. Classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as near threatened, Yellowfin Tuna sport metallic blue backs, golden flanks and a silver belly. Sickle-shaped dorsal and anal fins, hued bright yellow, grant them their name.  They form schools with other tuna species and sometimes with dolphins. While most fish have white flesh, tuna tissue hosts loads of myoglobin, which efficiently oxygenates their systems to give tuna meat a distinctive red hue and mouth-watering texture. This is why they’re so highly sought after. WWF works to conserve tuna stocks in the Philippines through its Partnership Programme Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST) project.  PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

The most sought-after fish in Bicol’s Lagonoy Gulf is the Yellowfin Tuna. A fisher shows off a handsome 39-kilogramme fish.
Two decades ago, fishers caught a 196-kilogramme Yellowfin – the largest caught in the Gulf.
Classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as near threatened, Yellowfin Tuna sport metallic blue backs, golden flanks and a silver belly. Sickle-shaped dorsal and anal fins, hued bright yellow, grant them their name.
They form schools with other tuna species and sometimes with dolphins. While most fish have white flesh, tuna tissue hosts loads of myoglobin, which efficiently oxygenates their systems to give tuna meat a distinctive red hue and mouth-watering texture. This is why they’re so highly sought after.
WWF works to conserve tuna stocks in the Philippines through its Partnership Programme Towards Sustainable Tuna (PPTST) project.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

 Smaller fish such as scad and mackerel comprise the majority of fishers' subsistence hauls. PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

Smaller fish such as scad and mackerel comprise the majority of fishers’ subsistence hauls.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

A fisherman rests after unloading his craft's catch.  Thousands fish under the shadow of Mayon Volcano, whose rich volcanic nutrients fuel blooms of plankton - the essential base of the marine food pyramid. PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

A fisherman rests after unloading his craft’s catch.
Thousands fish under the shadow of Mayon Volcano, whose rich volcanic nutrients fuel blooms of plankton – the essential base of the marine food pyramid.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WWF-PHILIPPINES

 

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Travel

Airbnb data shows how tourism has dispersed post-pandemic

In the Philippines, almost half of local Airbnb hosts surveyed said their earnings have helped them navigate rising costs of living including housing, daily necessities, and home improvement needs.

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As the travel rebound continues to unfold, the benefits of tourism are spreading across the Asia Pacific. In Southeast Asia, new analysis by Airbnb reveals that the resurgence in domestic and inbound tourism is empowering locals to earn a living and make ends meet.

With people continuing to embrace flexible new approaches to travel and living, communities that have traditionally missed out in the past are increasingly well-positioned to secure a bigger slice of the tourism pie, according to new Airbnb report Further Afield: Spreading the Benefits of the Travel Revolution’. Across the region, this has presented fresh opportunities for locals looking to supplement their income as they grapple with rising costs of living.

Across the Asia Pacific, Airbnb nights booked in non-urban areas have increased in South Korea (up more than 180 percent ), India (up about 140 percent), and Australia (up about 60 percent) in Q2 2022 as compared to Q2 2019. In Southeast Asia, searches for stays in Siquijor in the Philippines surged by more than 280 percent while searches for Marang in Malaysia almost doubled.

The typical earnings for non-urban Hosts increased correspondingly in the same period for a number of destinations. In Australia and South Korea, typical host earnings have more than doubled as travel returned in full force. In the Philippines, almost half of local Airbnb hosts surveyed said their earnings have helped them navigate rising costs of living including housing, daily necessities, and home improvement needs.

Not only are travelers eyeing destinations off the beaten path, they’re also looking to stay longer. Notably,nights booked for long-term stays (stays longer than 28 days) in non-urban areas approximately doubled in popular travel and remote working hotspot Thailand in Q2 2022, up from Q2 2019 pre-pandemic.

In Southeast Asia, a number of destinations outside major metropolitan hubs were popular  among travelers on Airbnb for long-term stays in Q2 2022. Examples included:

  • Dapa, Panglao, Dumaguete and Silang in the Philippines
  • Ipoh, Kuah, Semenyih, and Port Dickson in Malaysia
  • Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Lanta and Krabi in Thailand

Mich Goh, Airbnb’s Head of Public Policy for Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said: “More than two years since the start of the pandemic, we continue to see fundamental shifts in travel that are creating new opportunities for off-the-beaten-track communities. It’s incredibly exciting to see travelers so enthusiastic about exploring new destinations, as well as the positive economic impact cascading to locals.

“The increasing popularity of Dapa, Panglao, Dumaguete and Silang reinforce the importance of the Department of Tourism’s plans to drive tourism development in the countryside and promote lesser-known destinations.  We are committed to continuing to work together with governments and stakeholders to keep inspiring travelers to step off the beaten path, and help ensure more communities can share in the benefits of tourism.”

In addition to encouraging travelers to explore further afield through innovative search tools such as Categories and I’m Flexible, Airbnb remains committed to partnering with governments and communities in Southeast Asia, including in the Philippines. The company has partnered with Thailand and Indonesia’s tourism authorities on a range of ‘Live and Work Anywhere’ initiatives to attract global digital nomads and remote workers, as part of broader efforts to drive inbound tourism as travel returns.

Forward-Looking Statements

This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the “safe harbor” provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 about us and our industry that involve substantial risks and uncertainties. All statements other than statements of historical facts contained in this press release, including, but not limited to, statements regarding travel trends, the travel industry and the future of travel, the behavior of Hosts and guests and about our future performance, prospects, plans and objectives are forward-looking statements.

In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements because they contain words such as “may,” “will,” “plan,” “expect,” “could,” “potential,” “objective,” or “continues” or the negative of these words or other similar terms or expressions that concern our expectations. Although we believe that we have a reasonable basis for each forward-looking statement contained in this press release, we cannot guarantee that the future results, levels of activity, or events and circumstances reflected in the forward-looking statements will be achieved or occur at all.

Forward-looking statements are subject to a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties, assumptions, and other factors that may cause actual results to differ materially from the objectives expressed or implied in this press release. Therefore, you should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. Important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated in the forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, the effects and duration of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic on us, the travel industry, travel trends, and the global economy generally; any further and continued decline or disruption in the travel and hospitality industries or economic downturn; changes in political, business, and economic conditions, including current geopolitical tensions and regional instability; and the other risks listed or described from time to time in Airbnb’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), including Airbnb’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2021, Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended March 31, 2022 and subsequent Form 10-Qs and Form 8-Ks, which are, or will be, on file with the SEC and available on the investor relations page of Airbnb’s website.

All forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this press release and are based on information and estimates available to us as of the date of this press release. We expressly disclaim any obligation to update or revise any information contained in this press release, except as required by law.

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Destinations

Exploring the largest cave system in the Philippines

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

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By Gregg Yan

The Philippines has over 3100 known caves. Featuring 12 chambers over its seven kilometer span, the Langun-Gobingob Cave in Samar is the king of them all. Discovered by Italian Guido Rossi in 1987, it was opened to the public in 1990.

We recently explored it to celebrate the Year of the Protected Areas or YOPA, which aims not just to convince people to conserve the country’s 246 protected areas, but to encourage them to visit the sites themselves.

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

Unique But Threatened Biodiversity

Samar Island, overshadowed by more popular places like Palawan and Boracay, isn’t usually considered a top tourist destination, owing to its long history as a hotbed for insurgencies and a punching bag for typhoons. Though the Philippines’ thirdlargest island exudes rugged beauty, its real value as an ecotourism destination lies beneath the earth.

“Samar is unique because it is a karst landscape made primarily of limestone. Millions of years of weathering has created numerous caves and sinkholes on the island,” explains Anson Tagtag, head of the Caves, Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division of the DENR. “Caves are special ecosystems which harbor highly-evolved fauna, most of which have adapted to darkness.”

Birds, bats, spiders, snakes, crickets and even blind cave fish thrive inside the Langun-Gobingob Cave. The lack of light confines plants to entrances, but mushrooms and other types of fungi cling to life as discreet denizens of the dark.

“The speleothems or rocks in caves are in a very real sense ‘alive’ – they just grow and move at timescales difficult for people to comprehend,” explains Dr. Allan Gil Fernando, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences in UP Diliman. “The constant dripping of water for instance leaves minute traces of minerals like calcite. Over time these traces pile up to form hanging stalactites and their inverted kin, stalagmites. It takes about a century for a stalactite or stalagmite to grow one inch.”

It is because of their surreal beauty that many caves are sundered.

“People used to enter the Langun-Gobingob Cave to break apart and mine stalagmites plus white calcite rocks for collectors,” says Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) Assistant Superintendent Eires Mate. Our guide Alvin confirms this. “Locals used to mine the cave for Taiwanese businessmen, who paid a paltry PHP7 for a kilogram of rock. Balinsasayao or swiftlet nests were plucked out too, to be shipped to Chinese markets.”

The cave was finally declared a protected area in 1997. “Thank God for legal protection. Mining was effectively stopped,” says Eires. The Langun-Gobingob Cave is just one of many natural systems benefiting from the country’s protected area system.

“Declaring key biodiversity sites as protected areas is one of the best ways to ensure that future generations can continue enjoying their beauty,” says United Nations Development Programme Biodiversity Finance Initiative (UNDP-BIOFIN) Manager Anabelle Plantilla. “Visitors should positively support local communities but be mindful of the environmental impacts of their travels. They should for instance, avoid taking wild plants or leaving trash in tourist sites.”

Year of the Protected Areas

Launched in May of 2022, YOPA hopes to generate funds from tourists to ensure the continued management of protected areas hard-hit by COVID-19 budget cuts.

The Langun-Gobingob Cave is part of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), one of YOPA’s six highlighted parks, the others being the Bongsanglay Natural Park in Masbate, Apo Reef Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro, Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park in Negros Oriental, Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental, and Mt. Timpoong Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin.

The country’s caves are now open for tourism, but visitors should know what not to do inside them. “Cave tourism should be well managed and there are cave do’s and don’ts,” says Buddy Acenas from the GAIA Exploration Club, a Manila-based caving and exploration group. “A comprehensive assessment should be conducted before a cave is opened for tourism. Trained guides and set trails should be used to minimize human impacts. Like so many of our fragile wilderness areas, caves must be stewarded by those visiting them.”

For its part, the Philippine government is doing what it can to promote responsible tourism. “Our caves, mountains, beaches and other protected areas are now open for tourism. We invite both Filipinos and foreigners to come and visit, but to do so in an environmentally-responsible manner,” adds DENR-BMB Director Natividad Bernardino. “By practicing responsible and regenerative tourism in PAs, we’re helping our national parks flourish and recover from the economic blow they suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Travel

3 Ways to travel during hurricane season like a pro

Typically, hurricane season is June through November. If you’re planning on traveling to a coastal region soon, Yonder Travel Insurance has created a list of three expert tips to help make it a bit easier.

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Photo by Thom Holmes from Unsplash.com

Weather is a factor most travelers take into consideration as they plan their trips. Although traveling during hurricane season shouldn’t make you rethink your plans, being informed before you depart is wise.

Typically, hurricane season is June through November. If you’re planning on traveling to a coastal region soon, Yonder Travel Insurance has created a list of three expert tips to help make it a bit easier.

Be Weather Aware

Staying on top of the weather radar can help you mitigate changes to your trip. An easy way to be alerted if there’s a hurricane brewing is to check the National Hurricane Center or enroll your trip with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). That way, you’ll automatically be alerted about safety conditions and your family will be notified of your whereabouts if you get caught in a storm during your trip.

Buy Travel Insurance Early

Luckily, most travel insurance policies include coverage in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster. The key here is to purchase travel insurance early before a storm arises.

“We recommend purchasing travel insurance after you’ve booked your trip. If you wait until the news brings up adverse weather and you decide to cancel your trip, it may not be covered under your policy,” says Terry Boynton, Co-Founder and President of Yonder. In addition to cancellation coverage, your baggage could be covered if it’s lost or damaged amongst the shuffle of delayed or canceled flights during your trip.

Pack & Plan Smart

Even if the forecast looks promising for the duration of your trip, packing a few emergency essentials and having an emergency departure plan in place shouldn’t be thrown out the window. Adding items like a mini-battery powered flashlight, a small first aid kit, a few granola bars, and extra cash won’t take up precious luggage space, but could be a life-saver in an emergency.

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