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Balancing Environment Conservation and Economic Gain Through Community-based Tourism

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Dugan
Published: 25 August 2018
Last edited: 01 April 2019
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Sugba Lagoon demonstrates that tourism need not be a choice between conserving the environment and earning a living:

1. 2 peoples organizations from Caub, where the lagoon is, and from nearby areas were tapped to provide transportation and guest relation services. They were trained on tourism management by the LGU and other government agencies, and SIKAT, a 28-year old NGO with significant experience in community-based coastal resource management trained them on basic ecology and Marine Protected Area Management.  The POs were registered as organization and environment management is part of their mandate.

2. The LGU declared the lagoon as no-fishing zone and intensified its enforcement of fisheries laws with help from POs and NGOs.

3. The LGU developed infrastructure and procedures,  providing support and guidance.

4. The communities are kept informed of policies and importance of environment conservation through regular community consultations.



Southeast Asia
Scale of implementation
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Protected area management planning
Sustainable financing
Loss of Biodiversity
Climate Challenges (Hazards)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Ecological Challenges
Lack of alternative income opportunities
Economic Challenges
Lack of food security
Social Challenges


Siargao Island, Philippines
Show on Protected Planet


The Sugba lagoon tourism project helped the commuties realize that environment conservation and income generation is not a zero-sum game, rather, they go hand in hand. This realization helped the local government and NGOs get the buy-in that they need from the communities for their intensive campaign against illegal fishing and illegal mangrove cutting. As the income earned from tourism is helping  to augment the income of the families in the communities, this project also helped address the issue of declining fish stock which was a serious threat to the municipality’s food security and livelihood.

However, the unexpected surge in the number of visitors caused concerns with regards waste generation which prompted the LGU's monitoring team to recommend the lagoon's  temporary closure for rehabilitation. Since its re-opening, the LGU has put a limit to the number of visitors, implemented "no plastic" and "no garbage" policy and prohibited the bringing of food.



  • The community where the lagoon is located, and neighboring communities
  • Members of the 2 people's organizations
  • Small scale fishermen in Del Carmen who experienced increase in catch as a result of protected coastal habitat and well managed fishing grou

How do the building blocks interact?

The good relationship between the various stakeholders is the locus which holds the Sugba eco tourism project together. The leadership provided by the Del Carmen local government enabled the participation of the communities, as well as the non government organizations and the establishment of the people’s organizations. The local government unit provided the infrastructure, and through the tourism office, guidance and support were provided to the people’s organization which is very crucial in making the project organized. The participation of the community members through the POs enabled the smooth operation of the eco-tourism project, and also ensured the success of the local government’s environment protection and restoration campaign. The contributions from government agencies and non-government organizations were as important, as they worked together to build the capacities of the POs and empowered them to carry out their environment protection mandate and to manage the eco tourism program.


Making Sugba Lagoon tourism a community-based social enterprise provided the communities with the opportunity to partake in the socio-economic benefits of tourism and to take ownership of their responsibility to conserve their environment. The income provided by the lagoon motivated them to strictly implement the “no fishing policy” in the lagoon. Through community based eco-tourism, the members of the communities realized that it is possible for them to earn without destroying the environment.

Through capacity building activities organized by government agencies and NGOs, the people's organizations (PO) acquired skills in tourism management such as customer service and souvenir packaging, and organizational management skills such as financial management, team management and project management.  

The knowledge  and appreciation of the communities on the importance of environmental protection and conservation increased because of their training on basic ecology and protected area management, community consultations and information campaigns conducted by the POs, the LGUs, SIKAT and other non government organizations.  

As a result of their involvement, their training and their mandate to manage their envonment, the PO members have become empowered members of their communities as well as protectors of environment.  


Photo courtesy of Cheryl Dugan

Sugba Lagoon: A Story of Collaboration for Community-Based EcoTourism 

Sugba Lagoon is a story of how a local government unit (LGU), communities and NGOs work as one to create the balance between economic gain through tourism, and environmental conservation. 

When Sugba Lagoon opened to tourists in 2015, The mayor of Del Carmen, tapped 1 People's Organizations (PO) from Caub village where the lagoon is, to manage guests  and a PO composed of fisherfolk to provide transportation services.The POs were trained on tourism management, and organizational development. SIKAT, a non-government organization with significant experience in implementing community-based coastal resource management and a member of the Locally-Managed Marine Area Network provided them with technical support and trainings on basic ecology, and protected area management, among others.

The LGU developed infrastructure and procedures. The tourism office, manage the dispatch of boats, collection of fees and distribution of revenue to stakeholders. Jems , president of the PO for transportation and a former illegal  fisher, describes their working relationship with the LGU’s tourism office as "We're like one body."  This kind of team work enabled them to weather the first months when they were averaging only 5 trips per month. Sonny, president of the PO managing the guests, shared that they have always believed that tourism will pick-up. For Jems, it was their trust in Mayor Coro’s word that kept them going. Their trust was well placed, as tourism indeed picked up soon. 

After the lagoon was featured in a national news magazine program and posted in instagram by a Philippine actress/TV host, the tourism office saw a significant increase in the number of visitors.  Now , they are averaging 20 boat trips daily and could go up to 45  trips during peak season.

The economic opportunities provided by the lagoon served as incentives for the communities to stop illegal fishing and illegal cutting of mangroves. They are now strictly implementing "no illegal fishing" policy. They also do clean up dives twice a month and makes sure that the garbage are collected at the end of the day. 

This approach is not the easiest but with the LGU's leadership, NGOs' support and communities' cooperation, they were able to conserve and protect their lagoon. Jems was beaming when he said: "I am now earning money without destroying our environment."

Contributed by

Cheryl Dugan