Last August 15-19, the Environment Department held its first batch of Nature Interpretation (NI) training this year. As the newest member of the environment team, I was lucky enough to be able to join in on this immediately and learn more about El Nido. It was a great way to start as an employee and as a person now living in the area.
Since 1999. the Environment Department has been conducting annual NI training sessions to teach the Guest Activities and Marine Sports (GAMS) department about the animals, plants, proper guiding etiquette, and everything else about El Nido. At first, I was a little frightened – the amount of knowledge that I had to learn in a few days seemed overwhelming. I knew almost nothing about plants. I certainly had little information on the terrestrial animals of El Nido as well as marine turtles. I wouldn’t consider myself particularly knowledgeable on science-related topics, and I know even less about the scientific names of animals. However, I did have some exposure to fish and marine mammals because of my past experiences. NI seemed daunting, but I was eager to learn.
As I sat in front of the guides and members of GAMS on the first day, I was intimidated. As an environmental officer, I felt that I was expected to know many things about nature and the environment in general. These people who sat in front of me have been exposed to the sights and sounds of El Nido. Some have been giving tours for the guests of El Nido Resorts day in and day out. To say that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself was an understatement. Eventually, I realized that I should just focus on doing my best and retaining as much knowledge as I could.
Our topics on the first day were Palawan 101, plants, and marine invertebrates. The plants topic was the most overwhelming to me. Prior to NI, I had no knowledge on the differences of plants. To be honest, I didn’t have much appreciation for plants especially since I knew nothing about them. However, my feelings changed after our discussion. Once I stepped out of the classroom, I suddenly noticed all the different plants and trees around us. I found that I was challenging myself to identify as many as I could. Of course, I still struggled, but along with my growing awareness came a deeper appreciation, which then led me to respect the environment even more.
The following days were a blur. We tackled many topics, ranging from birds to marine turtles to caves and more. As the discussions progressed, the participants became more confident and engaged, which led to many deeper insights. It was nice to hear the variety of opinions from both the GAMS department, as well as the environment department. I learned so much, and not just about nature, but also about the concerns of everyone involved in the training. It was a refreshing way to get to know the people and to know more about El Nido in general.
The Nature Interpretation training embodies our approach to tourism. As a resort, we don’t only promote education about the environment and sustainability, but fact-based tourism as well. We instill in our employees the value of honesty – to never stray from the truth just to satisfy tourists. Worthwhile ecotourism doesn’t require over-marketing and spreading sensationalist information that may not be based on facts. This training gives the information to the members of GAMS. And through our tours and activities, our guides can then share this knowledge of flora and fauna with guests to enhance their appreciation of the beauty of El Nido.
Through nature interpretation, I also found myself more and more eager to learn about El Nido’s flora and fauna, and subsequently, more and more eager to find ways to protect them. This was probably my biggest takeaway – that with awareness and understanding of certain things, people have more respect, and with respect they are eager to protect. This is why I believe so much in education and its availability to the public. It is only through education that we can instill the same kind of passion we have in others, which in turn creates a community that respects and protects its own resources and environment.
I may have completed the Nature Interpretation course, but that does not make me an expert. However, NI has given me a thirst for knowledge and an enthusiasm to learn more and more about El Nido as my days as an environmental officer continue.
Alia is the Environmental Officer of Pangulasian Island Resort. After getting certified during her volunteer stint surveying reefs with the Coral Cay Conservation in Southern Leyte, she decided to make it her life’s purpose to share my passion for the environment and conservation. Her previous volunteer experience includes surveying cetaceans, particularly humpback whales, with Balyena.org at Camiguin, Babuyan Islands. Alia joined El Nido in August 2015, and so far her favorite part of the job is being outdoors and getting to know the animals of El Nido. Also, a great perk is being able to work alongside people who share the same passion as she does.