A Lesson In Sustainability: How A Filipino Coastal Town Wants To Save Its Islands

A Lesson In Sustainability: How A Filipino Coastal Town Wants To Save Its Islands

Time to present you another creative mind with another piece of work you should care about. Mariel Bulaong is part of the Biancissimo crew since this site was born and my very good friend since way before that. Besides helping me with designing Biancissimo, she is one of the most talented art directors & visual artists I ever worked with throughout our times working at VICE & Virtue. 

For Biancissimo Mariel is presenting a short film she made back in the Philippines about the ongoing problems of globalization that are affecting the villages over there. Mariel spent one month earlier this year with a community that found its very own way to face these problems by turning one of natures ongoing big problems into a smart solution: Tourism


A Portrait of Lajala Village by Mariel Bulaong

Being born and raised in the Philippines is the equivalent to growing up in paradise. 7,641 islands of paradise to be exact. My free time consisted of spending as much time as possible with my family at the beach or doing anything possible in the water, like swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, wakeboarding… you name it. Dad sails. Mom windsurfs and kiteboards. My sister surfs. We all spent as much time as we could by the ocean. So you can only imagine that the words “culture shock” would be a slight understatement to describe my experience when I turned 16 and moved to a small town by the Baltic Sea in the coast of North Germany, where the water was too cold to even swim in. 

How to spot a Filipino from a foreigner: The Filipino will always choose the shade.

Only when I left my country did I realize what a privilege it was to live in the tropics, which made it even more heartbreaking for me to go home every year and see how much has changed from the past. You can’t swim in the water without spotting old plastic wrappers or bottles. World-class coral reefs destroyed by cyanide bombs to feed the population. Beach towns overrun by hoards of tourists and jetski bros, where prices for rent and food have exploded so much that locals can no longer afford to live there – but hey, why not build another luxury resort?

Local boatsman in Coron Island, Palawan

As a Filipino, it’s hard to look at famous backpacker destinations like Bangkok and Bali and not hate tourists. You can only hope that your country doesn’t turn into another Full Moon Party Trash Bash for post-college party idiots. But however easy hating tourists can be, it’s still one of the biggest industries in the Philippines. So, why aren’t there more sustainable ways to travel and enjoy a foreign country while supporting the local community and ultimately preserving that country’s environment? (And how can you spread the word without sounding like an obnoxious hippie treehugger?)

At the newly built port of Lajala, which was destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013

So here’s my experience. I spent a month in Palawan working with Al Linsangan, the head and heart of Calamianes Expeditions & Ecotours, learning about his local initiative there. Al has partnered with almost 100 local families with the goal of providing tours while conserving the environment and supporting local communities and ethnic groups. Lajala Village and the Tagbanwa tribe are just some of the communities where he’s made a difference. I had the privilege of meeting the lovely families of Lajala, who shared their stories with me in my latest short documentary.

Tiny wooden boat taxi between Coron Town and Lajala Village

If you’re like me, when someone says generally abstract shit like “support your local community”, it’s probably not going to make a very big impact. Getting to know the Lajala villagers finally put a face to that community, and I swear, their stories will warm your cold hipster heart and make you think twice about how your next trip to the beach can ultimately change an entire community. Think about it.

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