Image courtesy Martyn Willes
New Corella is known as the “water basin of Davao Del Norte” and for good reason – its rainforested limestone hills have for aeons imbibed the monsoon rains and slowly released them, through hundreds of springs and streams, onto the plains below. The same aeons have slowly eroded the limestone beneath, creating some of the most beautiful cave systems in the World. Adventure tourists and speleologists can access the caves by hiking along forest trails or trekking up rivers, brimming with crystal clear water – filtered and pure.
Recognizing that it is the custodian of this area of outstanding natural beauty, the municipality of New Corella has created a series of adventure tourist packages, designed to allow those with a passion for the beauty of Mother Nature to enjoy the gifts that she has so generously bestowed upon Davao Del Norte.
The municipality has designated a “Greenbelt and Eco-tourism Park” covering ten barangays (Cabidianan, Mambing, Sta. Fe., Suwaon, del Monte, Patrocenio, San Jose, Limbaan, Carcor and New Cortez). The Park will feature “eco-tourism” sports such as: river trekking, caving/spelunking, camping, boating and fishing. The boating and fishing will come to the park once they have built the long-proposed dam, that will flood six-hectares of land. The dam is required apparently to serve the needs of the burgeoning population in the plains below, who need to reestablish the consistent flow of water that was once delivered by the dense rainforest. It is hoped that a hydro-electric power station can also be built beneath the dam . . . it only requires funding.
In related developments the municipality has already funded the creation of a municipal museum and also allocated: Php 50,000 for cave rehabilitation programs; Php 200,000 for the development of an indigenous peoples’ village; and, Php 200,000 for the “development of Panas Falls Resort”.
I can’t quite work out what they will spend Php200,000 on at Panas Falls Resort because to me it is already almost perfect: peaceful, serene, rustic, almost untouched by human-hand with habitat sufficient for rare indigenous birds to fly without fear. An al fresco restaurant serving native dishes (without karaoke) would be a useful addition perhaps.
I can foresee many challenges with the confirmation of the New Corella “Greenbelt and Eco-tourism Park” as a significant tourist attraction:
Regrettably, New Corella’s only recent self-discovery of the tourist value afforded by its natural beauty has come too late for many of the caves and watercourses. Both legal and illegal logging, has denuded many hillsides of the very resource that once regulated the steady release of the life giving rains to the plains below. The water was previously captured and stored in the trees’ root systems for slow release during the dry months. Today, in many areas, the monsoon rains simply fall and run straight to the plain, taking with them a fragile layer of top soil that has taken an age or more to create.
In areas where the forest cover has been stripped and replaced with plantation crops, many caves, previously constantly wet, can now no longer expand their beautiful stalactites and stalagmites and their luster is gone.
Water courses through the caves have become chocked with sediments and damaged vegetation because now, when the rains come, the water drains to the plain more rapidly, causing landslides, increased erosion of river banks and flooding of lowland areas.
Many of the caves, which were once home to colonies of hundreds and thousands of bats, have been “harvested” (local euphemism for ‘ravaged’) for the bats’ guano and the precious stalactites, to the extent that the bats are now long gone. Indigenous fauna that relied on the caves for water, for protection and for breeding, are also long gone; in many caves just a few rats may be seen scurrying between the piles of debris left by the guano-and-stalactites-thieves. Bird-nest thieves have also taken their toll. In one cave I saw where thieves had left a bamboo climbing pole in place, allowing rats to climb to the roof and decimate a colony of swifts on one of the few remaining ledges where nests had not yet been taken.
There is no obligation on the feller of trees to replant – to replace trees that have been removed. Indeed, the present mayor of New Corella, Nestor Alcoran, stated that reforestation was primarily in the form of plantation-crop trees such and cacao, coconut and rubber, “although if someone wanted to replant an indigenous tree it would also be welcome” he added. He noted that Department of Environment and Natural resources (“DENR”) does provide seedlings for replanting indigenous species if requested. However, large areas still have no reforestation plans at all and are instead used to grow bananas and maize – crops that necessitate the complete removal of other soil-stabilizing shrubs and grasses, further accelerating the rapid erosion of topsoil when the rains come.
The damage caused by the loggers and the guano/stalactite/bird-nest thieves is recent. Since the farm-to-market roads were laid in the latter part of the last century, it has become more profitable to steal from Mother Nature rather than to learn her ways and work in harmony with her rhythms. With the roads it is also easier to bring potential buyers to the source, to select the trees they want felled, the stalactites they want to buy and to calculate the quantity of guano that can be contracted for extraction.
Finally, within the burgeoning communities, environmental education is sorely lacking. On a visit to New Corella last year I discovered a rare coral snake, indigenous to the area, that had been hacked to death for no other reason than it was passing through a field of newly planted maize. There was no reason to kill the snake, for it is well documented that such snakes will run from Man if given a chance. But the information does not reach the people on the ground. In 2010, during one whole day of travel through New Corella, and with the exception of the area around the Panas Falls Resort, I saw but a handful of birds. Rainforest hills without birds? unheard of (irony intended).
New Corella has all of the natural resources required to become one of the most interesting adventure tourist destinations in Asia; income from adventure tourism could easily exceed income from unsustainable farming and theft. If New Corella wishes to achieve its full potential then there is a compelling argument to immediately embark on concerted programs of reforestation (focusing on indigenous trees & plants) and environmental education that covers all of the flora and fauna, especially the indigenous species, such that the areas rich heritage of bio-diversity can be protected and enhanced . . . for the sake of our children if not for the tourists.
To get to New Corella is relatively easy. Fly to Davao International Airport via any domestic airline and then hire a car or take an air-conditioned bus North to Tagum City and thence to New Corella. Travel time by bus from the airport is less than two hours if you avoid the “rush-hour”. Tours are arranged through the Tourism Office in New Corella.
For more information about the Eco-Adventure Tours in New Corella contact Joel Quinanahan Tourism Officer, New Corella