El Nido, Palawan: 100 Ways to Kill Coral

El Nido's Coral: Crown-of-thorns Starfish

We first published this article on El Nido’s coral destruction in 2010 after our month-long visit to Palawan. Sadly, eight years later, we are still getting comments from travelers confirming further environmental degradation. Read on to find out what causes the coral destruction and make sure to check out the comments below documenting the state of El Nido’s corals in 2018.

Above water, the Bacuit Archipelago is one of the most stunning places on the planet. Below the surface of its perfectly turquoise waters, it’s a different story. A story of neglect, corruption, mismanagement and ignorance.

It is estimated that only 1% of the Philippines’ coral is still in pristine condition. Sewage run-off, anchor damage, shore erosion, a crown-of-thorns starfish infestation, and overfishing are some of the more typical culprits. And, of course, coral bleaching due to global warming is a huge problem. But to kill that much coral, you need to employ some of the more destructive practices such as dynamite fishing.

What Is Happening to El Nido’s Coral?

If you are not familiar with dynamite fishing, that’s when fisherman drop dynamite on reefs in the hope of gathering the dead fish which float to the surface. I really thought that dynamite fishing was as dumb as it gets, but I was wrong. The waters around El Nido introduced me to a new asinine way to trash your own food supply.

While snorkeling along the walls of Tapiutan Island, we came across entire sections of the reef which were dead. I had never seen anything like it before, all the coral was intact, but it was clearly dead. I had never witnessed such large scale destruction before without signs of dynamite blasts. I was stumped.

It turns out, we were seeing the results of cyanide fishing, a practice I had never even heard of before. Fisherman pour cyanide into the water to stun the fish so they can be collected and sold alive, which apparently commands a higher price at the market. (Yummmmm, cyanide flavored fish!) Of course, the cyanide kills all the coral as well.

Is Anything Being Done to Stop El Nido’s Coral Destruction?

So why haven’t local authorities done something to stop all this destruction? With the help of donations from the United States and the European Union, local authorities have established an organization to combat all of these destructive practices. While we were in El Nido, this organization seemed extraordinarily adept at charging people a 200-Peso eco-tourism development fee. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be doing much else.

Questioning them directly, we asked why, after more than a decade of serious tourism in the region, there were still no boat moorings at snorkeling sites to eliminate the problem of boat captains dropping anchor on the coral. We were informed that this was in the works. Later, while snorkeling we discovered that there were actually already underwater moorings in place, but the lines had not been maintained. So of course, we approached them again and learned that local authorities were worried that these preexisting moorings might not be environmentally sound, so further study would be necessary. In the meantime, boat captains will just dump their anchors on the coral.

El Nido's Coral: Dead Coral El Nido

In a disappointing dose of reality, behind the scenes, concerned El Nido locals revealed the environmental fees were primarily designed to line the pockets of corrupt officials. In reality, it appears that precious little was being done to save El Nido’s coral.

Is There Any Hope to Save El Nido’s Coral?

In an area so reliant on tourism, I would have expected some awareness of such environmental issues, but there was none. Strangely, boat captains proudly carried us to reefs building them up as pristine snorkeling destinations when, in fact, they were devastated coral graveyards. At times, it seemed the boat captains had no idea of why we were snorkeling or what we wanted to see. If they had any awareness at all of coral damage, they usually blamed it on the crown-of-thorns infestation, as a natural explanation for the damage seemed far more acceptable to them. Interestingly, they did not appear to understand, or at least admit, that the crown-of-thorns infestation was related to overfishing.

There are still some nice coral sites in the Bacuit Archipelago, bits and pieces that have somehow survived the destructive practices of local fisherman. It is still possible to glimpse what is quickly disappearing. But even if environmental measures were to be fully enforced today, it would take a century of regrowth for the region to begin to approach earlier glory.

So What Should Travelers Do When They Visit El Nido?

While paying the 200-peso environmental fee, insist that moorings be put in place at all major snorkeling sites. Also tell the collector that it is not acceptable for sewage to be dumped into the bay. (Visitors also don’t want to swim in that either.) If you do visit a snorkeling site without a mooring, insist that your boat captain not drop anchor on the coral. Visitors should always remember that they are paying for the trips and they don’t want to fund coral destruction. If you don’t speak up, you are contributing to El Nido’s environmental degradation.

What Was Your Experience like in El Nido?

We just received this update from our reader Tito on the condition of the coral in El Nido on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. If anyone has any additional opinions (including El Nido locals), we would love to hear them in this post’s comment section. Make sure to check out the comments where many El Nido and Palawan visitors and residents have left detailed information on the state of El Nido’s coral.

A sadly update, 2018.

I went first to Port Burton. The beach was dirty, full of boats. We did the island hopping thing, and they still have a few corals alive. There before, they show you where are the “tourtles” and the “starfish”. Poor creatures, at least 30 people around them… of course people touching the starfishes and take them of the water in hands.

Well, back to El Nido, we avoid this crowded tours and we went kayaking. All completely dead and full of seaweed.

Its a pitty, as you said, the lack of education kills little by little the tourism and their first income.

36 responses to “El Nido, Palawan: 100 Ways to Kill Coral”

  1. avatar boayan says:

    thank you very much to speak up !

  2. avatar Tony says:

    Boayan, we went to your page and read through your commentary.

    We did not have the opportunity to visit San Vicente, but we are aware of the major threats to the coast and the off-shore islands. In fact, when you Google San Vincente beaches, you discover real-estate listing after real-estate listing.

    We truly hope that Palawan will find the strength to defend its natural areas from developers and learn to manage its resources more wisely to help preserve this area for the future.

    Palawan is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen anywhere in the world – I hope it stays that way forever.

  3. avatar Arvin Acosta says:

    please be informed that COT terminator team already destroyed more than 100,000 crown of thorns. please verify your data first after hearing from the boatmen.

  4. avatar Tony says:

    Hi Arvin,

    The focus of our article was really on the more destructive practices such as dynamite fishing, cyanide fishing, and the large number of boats dropping anchors directly on the coral. Shockingly, most of the boatmen we talked to had very little understanding of what they were doing to the coral itself.

    It is an impressive accomplishment that you have destroyed over 100,000 crown of thorns. However, as we said in the article, many of the boatmen blamed the crown of thorns for most of the destruction we were witnessing. That is simple not true as there was clear evidence of large-scale dynamite fishing, cyanide fishing, and anchor damage. There was little acknowledgment of the damage that poorly educated boat captains were causing themselves.

    Moreover, we witnessed boatmen killing crown of thorns by stabbing and crushing them underwater. Research indicates that this worsens the problem because eggs can be released or the pieces of the starfish can regenerate and cause even more damage to the reef system. In addition to improper disposal methods, many locals did not seem to realize that the infestation itself is related to overfishing.

  5. avatar Judith says:

    Thank you for writing this.
    It seems that you have done quite some research before coming up with this blog.
    While there was a huge effort on the Crown-of-thorn collection where we all participated, boat men training conducted, it still didn’t reach far enough and educate everyone, as many boat operators have not shown cooperation and willingness to attend.
    Dynamite fishing became again more of a problem and our reports to authorities were only sometimes heard.
    The P200 Eco-Fee was implemented before a finance and action plan was established. They are working on that as well. They have hired many Enforcers.
    Meetings about mooring buoys installation, rehabilitation are ongoing.
    I agree with you that a sewage system is the most important thing needed in El Nido.
    Good advise to the travelers you wrote and they should choose responsible Tour operators that care for the environment.

  6. avatar Thomas says:

    Thank you, Judith, for your comment. It is great to get feedback from a business owner whose livelihood depends on tourism and who desperately wants things to change for the better.

    Just keep pushing! Despite all the problems, El Nido is a wonderful place. We definitely encourage people to visit, but we want them to be critical when it comes to environmental issues.

  7. avatar Celine B says:

    I read about this article at thorn tree forum. I love El Nido so much! I have been there several times and I want to go back once more. I notice the coral destruction in many places. Often the boat captain said the coral was beautiful but in many places it was gray and broken. Please save the coral. Also please stop pollution in the bay. Many places smell very bad, like the pier.

  8. avatar Lee Goldman says:

    Sir, with all due respect, your blog is basically wrong. You do not know what you speak of (well, not entirely anyway). I have been snorkeling Tapiutan wall 50 times a year for 10 years now. I have SEEN the demise of the corals. As a coral biologist, I can recognize the problems with corals. It was NOT cyanide fishing that killed the corals on the wall. It was crown of thorns and high temperatures. They were in great shape in 2009. I watched them slowly die after COTS invaded the area and little was done to manage them on this particular reef. Also, if you remember we had an enormous amount of rain within a short period of time. This also had a negative effect on corals in the shallows (the deeper corals along the wall were still in good shape until coral bleaching this year. Contrary to what you think, the combination of CORAL BLEACHING AND COTS ARE ENTIRELY CAPABLE OF DESTROYING ALL OF THE CORAL YOU HAVE SEEN IN THE GIVEN TIME FRAME. It sucks but it is a reality. So please don’t go around writing about issues of which you are not sure about. It sends a dangerous message. But rejoice, I said you aren’t entirely wrong. The area that does need attention is anchor damage of which ALL OPERATORS ARE GUILTY. Mooring block’s are essential but more importantly is EDUCATION. Finally, I snorkel the bay extensively and can tell you there are a lot of reefs that are nice…maybe you hired a lazy operator who took you to the regular spots. The potential demise of Bacuit Bay (and all the Philippines) is our impact to the environment as a whole (Global warming, pollution, rise in CO2, etc.).

  9. avatar Tony says:

    Hi Lee,

    Thank you for leaving your comment. As we mention in the article, we were unsure what we were seeing. We were told in El Nido that this particular example of destruction was related to cyanide fishing. However, the larger issue of ongoing destruction remains.

    If the damage mentioned above was due to COT invasion rather than cyanide fishing, your comment leads to another very important question. The one example of a successful government campaign we heard of was the removal of the COTs. In fact, Arvin Acosta mentions this above and links into a Facebook Page on the issue.

    But now you are telling me that you watched the gradual destruction of the reef and little was done to protect the site. This is truly bizarre as the Tapiutan Strait is consistently listed as one of the best snorkeling sites in Bacuit Bay. So I guess the question is: Was the Tapiutan Wall destroyed by one random cyanide fisherman or did El Nido authorities sit by and allow the COTs to devour one of their most famous coral sites while they were supposedly waging an effective campaign to end the problem?

    Somehow the cyanide explanation, while horrific, sounds less offensive.

  10. avatar Karin says:

    Thank you about your article. I plan to go to the Philippines in November and I also wanted to go to El Nido. But now I’m not so sure. I’m not a scuba diver but I like to snorkel a lot. Can you please recommend another place in Palawan.

    • avatar Tony says:

      Hi Karin, I would definitely not skip El Nido. The area is phenomenally beautiful. And, as we mentioned at the end of our article, there are still areas where you can see beautiful coral growth. While the coral we saw on the boat tours was often quite degraded, we found some nice areas while kayaking. Perhaps, you should check with Lee Goldman who left a comment above (click on his name to visit his site). Clearly, he cares about El Nido and the environment, and a biologist would be a great person to lead you through the islands. He also mentioned that he knows several great snorkeling sites. If you (or somebody else reading these comments) goes with him, let us know how it was.

  11. avatar Lee Goldman says:


    There is so much more to it than just that. Conservation programs and COTs programs are not the end-all solutions and no one strategy is absolute. You can clean up 1,000,000 COTS and the reef will still be severely affected, just ask the Australian and Japanese governments. Did El Nido sit by and watch the destruction of their reefs…no, of course not. BUT what they did do was to select important reefs in which to focus their efforts. That is what the reef managers around the world do. Its all we can do. I saw in May of 2009 some of the shallow table corals already bleaching. A year later, most were already gone. Dr. Lyndon Devantier (a coral biologist at AIMS) warned us in October of a coming COTs problem. A few months later and it was upon us. Remember many of us in El Nido remember bountiful and beautiful reefs, no cyanide or dynamite fishing that destroyed everything. Also remember that where you (probably) went on Tapiutan, that reef flat had not recovered much since El Nino 1998. Also look at the realistic logistics. At the time of the COT’s main invasion it was also a time of serious weather (Think Ondoy in October). Getting to Tapuitan is not easy. So realistically going out there every day (which is what need(-s)(-ed) to be done was not possible…and took efforts away from closer just-as-important reefs. I was out there cleaning COTS every freakin time when we were out there, but from Oct- Dec no one was and within that time frame, COTS did their damage. Now coral bleaching is not solvable through action other than working towards fixing the environment as a whole so I wont even go there with regards to what El Nido can/can’t do. I know you’re upset over the situation. That was one of my favorite reefs (and I didn’t even go where everyone else did), but the reality is that there aren’t enough funds to manage the entire area. Even myself, who has dealt with management strategies for years, felt that the best thing we can do is protect the important reefs that are feasible TO protect. This is the Philippines. What we have in El Nido is a triumph over most other areas. Unfortunately, when you are trying to protect what is most susceptible to influences beyond local control (i.e. global efforts) it may come off badly as a local issue. The Philippines has a bad reputation but in this situation, it was NOT for a lack of wanting. You are not necessarily helping here. I believe you think you are by bringing attention to the problem, but bring more attention to the REAL problem. Focus on the anchoring issue…we need all the help we can get. BUT most importantly highlight the positives. Visit the place again and go to some of the better reefs. Some of the reefs that were monitored and managed. There are reefs that still have 90-100% live coral coverage (though I say that without having surveyed them since July – so the bleaching may have worsened). If El Nido is to make a triumphant comeback, the most important thing WE can do as a community is to protect the reefs still and allow for their recovery / recruitment of new coral colonies. To do that, the conservation fee can help and thus ultimately we would like people to still enjoy the area not dismiss it because someone is reporting about 100 different ways corals die.

  12. avatar Thomas says:

    Hi Lee,

    We are presenting this primarily from a traveler’s perspective. Most travelers visiting El Nido will visit and experience the region on boat tours. Many spots these tours visit are quite disappointing from an underwater perspective. This destruction is the result of decades of questionable practices which have gradually devastated the region’s coral (We mentioned global warming as one of these factors). Several case studies on negative fishing practices have also focused on El Nido’s reefs. Many of these practices are ongoing.

    Highlighting these problems can only serve to help the larger goal of saving the world’s reefs. We did not intend to tell people not to visit El Nido, however tourists need to think about where they drop their tourist dollars and how those dollars are spent.

    And it can only serve to help you. If you look at our travel tip, we suggest that visitors think about how visiting El Nido contributes to the destruction. I would think our comments would send more people to professional and environmentally aware companies such as your own. Additionally, insisting on boat mooring and cleaning up the bay will help make sure that El Nido stays beautiful well into the future.

  13. avatar Lee Goldman says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Whatever your angle, the information needs to be correct right? I understand completely about giving an honest perspective which is exactly why I commented..to set the record straight. Please don’t back pedal and say that the theme of the article was about what the tourist would see in El Nido (i.e. read the title to the blog). It was clearly about how you feel El Nido ‘failed’ the reef…and your upset (perhaps) at the tourism fee being assessed when it ‘seems’ as if nothing is being done. True this is a common theme around the world (especially for tourists who immediately feel they are getting ripped off the moment they step outside their country). Look, you’re not wrong at all to question the fees, just unfortunately for you you picked the right fight using the wrong weapon.

    If you want to redeem yourselves and still have full power behind your ‘message’ to travelers, you’d write an update to your blog addressing your concern about the fees and where they should properly go. IF you want to continue with this angle, and by all means you’re welcome too, just get it right

    By the way. I work in the tourism industry and I have a business in El Nido. I know what it means to approach topics from the tourist point of view…which is exactly why I am writing these responses.

  14. avatar Tony says:


    We do address this in our recommendation at the end of the article:

    “So What Should Travelers Do When They Visit El Nido?

    While paying the 200-peso environmental fee, insist that moorings be put in place at all major snorkeling sites. Also tell the collector that it is not acceptable for sewage to be dumped into the bay. (Visitors also don’t want to swim in that either.)”

    These two changes are extremely obvious and have been accomplished in other parts of the Philippines through pressure from both visitors and locals. We never suggest that visitors refuse to pay the environmental fee. However, we did encounter boat operators who encouraged travelers to bypass the fee by leaving on their trips later after the collector was off the beach. They did this because they felt the money was being misused.

  15. avatar Lee Goldman says:

    Hi Guys,

    Yes, fair enough, you do. But this doesn’t change the focus of your blog. Here, let’s try something: What if you really knew what was going on with the corals BEFORE you wrote the blog. Would you still condemn El Nido as do-nothings and question the fee? Really, challenge yourselves to be honest with this scenario. While we all agree that the fees need to be used appropriately, your argument about the ways the corals are dying versus what can be done are not entirely valid. Its okay to not be absolutely correct, you already said in your first response that you weren’t sure what was the true mechanism for their demise. I’m just asking you to re-evaluate what your purpose of the article was. Was it to tell everyone how El Nido did nothing to keep their reefs from dying and now they are collecting a environmental fee? Is subversion your idea of helping? Maybe and I guess that has merit but it doesn’t make it correct in this situation. If I wrote this article I would change the question of the fee I would change the reasons for justifying the fee. Judith already gave you your battlefront: proper waste management and mooring blocks. THOSE are the two key items that the people of El Nido can DIRECTLY control. That, in my opinion is where the funds should go. There isn’t the massive destructive fisheries in El Nido that you think there is and I already explained the death of the coral. Let that issue go and, if you really want to help and give sound advice and correct information to travelers, then write something about how travelers should talk up proper waste management or moorings. Don’t put off people from visiting there (notice the comment immediately proceeding my first response? what did that tell you about your blog?). As for the folks who are not collecting the fee from guests, is that the right answer? I don’t know. Personally, I think it is a way for the operator to scam a guest onto their boat. Really, read my blog I linked above, travelers are cheap and what a better way to save $5 USD than to go with an operator who doesn’t charge it. Locals know this and take advantage of it. Guaranteed if the operator got 50 pesos for every 200 collected for the fee, they would charge it. Guaranteed…and where would their principals be then? As for other areas with conservation fees and making it work, each area (in the world) has a unique set of circumstances that leads towards success or failure. Be careful to make comparisons…

  16. avatar Lee Goldman says:

    Sorry In the sentence that says I would re-write the blog to ‘I would change the question of the fee’ it should read I WOULDN’T change the question of the fee…

  17. avatar David says:

    Interesting post, you guys.

    My brother and I are planning a trip to Palawan this winter and this post really got us talking. We googled El Nido and we found many posts talking about El Nidos coral problems.

    A page I found was frm a girl who said she heard dynamite fishing while she was scubadiving this July. You can read it here.

  18. avatar Tony says:

    Thank you David for the links.

    Perhaps, the best recommendation for our readers is simply to research the subject for themselves on the web. There is plenty of information out there discussing El Nido’s coral issues. Or better yet, go snorkeling in El Nido and find out for yourself. We would love to get more visitor feedback.

    And one quick correction, Lee. Please do not attribute our statements about coral damage and sewage issues to Judith. In her comment above, she confirmed that these issues were indeed a problem, but we do not want local authorities to hold her responsible for our statements. She is not one of the people we interviewed in El Nido.

    We observed first-hand that dropping anchor on the coral was a major problem caused by several different companies. The sewage issue was VERY clear as we paddled out through a flow of human excrement on numerous occasions. That is why we devoted one third of our article to these specific issues. This is also why we suggested visitors take steps to help solve these problems.

  19. avatar Freda says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I just read this article and why is there no mention about human overpopulation.
    Take a look at the history of growth of the population and it will astound you.
    What ever happened to the organization, (Zero Population Growth) that was so big in the 70’s.
    Why now are there television programs celebrating the birth of 6-8 babies at one time?
    HELLO——- Humans are the main contributors to pollution and Global warming, (warming waters) garbage, air pollution, including dead coral.
    I respect anyone trying their best to clean up the mess or get the word out but it is now time to take a more proactive approach get a handle on having so many babies.

  20. avatar Tony says:

    That’s a really good point because overpopulation is a MAJOR issue in the Philippines and many organizations have pointed out the connection between population and over-fishing.

    Overfishing is one aspect of the Crown-of-thorns infestation which Lee was talking about above.

    It is important to mention that Palawan is less densely populated than many other islands in the Philippines. However, while researching dynamite fishing for this article, we discovered an interesting article about a boatload of fish (acquired through dynamite fishing) being intercepted while being shipped from El Nido to Manila.

    I would link to the article which was in a Filipino news site, unfortunately I was unable to find it again. If anyone happens to stumble across it, please send me the link and I will add it here.

  21. avatar Johnny says:

    Hello Tony,

    Thank you for the report.

    I have been to El Nido twice… in November 2010 and more recently, last week. On my first visit, I did island hopping tour A (Miniloc Island and surroundings) and found that most of the coral was dead, and consisted mainly of rubble. The snorkelling sites were shallow and I assumed the rubble was due to the daily stamping of careless tourists.

    Last week, I did tour C (Matinloc and Tapuitan Islands). The tour operator collected both the tour fee and Eco Tourism Development Fee (P200) from each person the day before. The operator did not give a briefing on safety or the “Do’s and Don’ts” when visiting coral reefs. This is a common failing with tour operators in SE Asia.

    Tour C covers up to 6 snorkelling sites, either in open water or from a beach. At no point during the tour were we asked to show our receipt for the eco fee. At one beach where many visitors were having lunch, I saw a municipal employee collecting litter and putting it on a boat for transportation to El Nido (presumably). And at the same beach, I saw a young boy collecting starfish to show to his family.

    No mooring buoys were available at any of the sites. I did see some rotting mooring lines underwater at one of the sites.

    At each site, the boatmen used two anchors, one for the bow and another for the stern. When mooring at a beach, the bow anchor would be lodged into the beach and the stern anchor thrown into the water. At the open water sites, both anchors were simply chucked overboard. Maneuvering the boat into place was done by bamboo pole.

    At each site, the boat captain would indicate the areas with “good” coral. The captain did not advise poor swimmers to use a life jacket when snorkelling.

    I found the coral to be mostly dead at all the sites, consisting of lots of rubble and some intact algae-covered skeletons. Live coral (generally of the same species) could be seen in small isolated patches amongst the sand and rubble. I did not see any crown of thorns last week (or in November 2010).

    When I remarked to the captain that most of the coral was dead and asked if the fishermen were using dynamite, he simply shrugged and said nothing. I think the tour operators and their boatmen are reluctant to get into the water to see the current state of the coral for themselves.

    After the tour, I discussed the reasons for the dead coral with the tour operator. She confirmed my suspicion about dynamite fishing and said that crown of thorns were also a problem. She agreed that the snorkeling sites needed mooring buoys.

    El Nido has grown a lot since my first visit. There is a new marine port and several new hotels plus a few more being built. The town is much busier with pedi-cabs, motorbikes, tour vans, private cars and pedestrians all competing for space on the narrow streets.

    The number of visitors has increased significantly, especially so for Chinese New Year last week. All the hotels were fully booked and some El Nido residents took to renting out rooms in their homes to tourists. I also heard that some tourists had to camp out in a basketball court.

    In my opinion, tourism in El Nido will continue to grow regardless of whether the coral survives or not. El Nido is attracting the type of mass tourism that is more common to Boracay and many businesses are getting very rich.

    Most tourists will leave with happy memories having seen the famous El Nido scenery and a few colourful fish in the crystal clear waters. The average tourist cannot tell the difference between live and dead coral, and some even believe that coral is nothing more than rock.

    The eco fee of P200 is not pittance in the Philippines; it is equivalent to a day’s salary for many Filipinos. For P200, you can buy a hearty meal with drinks for two people at a local eatery.

    The El Nido authorities collect this eco fee from almost every visitor. It amounts to a lot of capital and more transparency in how they are spending our money would be appreciated.

    I think that conservation alone is no longer enough to save the corals at the El Nido tour sites, there is not enough live coral left for it to recover (unless man was to suddenly disappear for a very long time).

    Hands-on coral restoration (e.g., Biorock), a proper sewage system and education (for tourists and locals alike) to promote respect and care for this valuable resource are needed. And I would like to see the eco money going to this end.

  22. avatar Esvian says:

    I have followed the post of El Nido here and decided to go anyway. When we got there, first thing we noticed was the overpriced accommodation, you dont get a good value for the money you spend. Second, on our first afternoon(we arrived in the morning) we decided to go on an tour. It was amazing scenery, but as we approached the shore, the boatmen just dropped the anchors on the reef! we pointed this immediately but all of a sudden they couldnt speak english anymore… but we noticed that it was not only our boat but all the others. And they where rushing us all the time in total we spent 54 minutes on land. We complained at the agency but they assured us that all boats do the same so that is ok…
    Shocked by the answer we walked away and decided not to set foot in a bangka again for the rest of our stay in el nido. So opted for renting a kayak, pack our food and water and do the islands by ourselves.
    Our opinion of the tourism related people is that 90% dont even realize or know the destruction they are causing on their main source of income. We wondered what is going to be of all the people living there as the tourism decreases, wich is already happening according to owners of restaurants and shops we talked to, accommodation is full but the rest of the business are seeing rough times.
    But i felt not ALL the fault is theirs as the days we spent on our kayak and encountered tourist we saw them stepping into the coral with their fins, not snorkeling but walking on the coral. And as you point this people just gets angry and argue that they paid to be there so they are entitled to explore, so sad. We loved el nido none the less.

    • avatar Thomas says:

      Unfortunately, it seems to be the same story over and over again. I find it impossible to believe that they have still not installed moorings in El Nido. It’s such a low cost solution. How hard can it be to train the bangka captains to stop dumping their anchors onto the coral? They live from tourism. (Although if they keep this up, that might not be the case in the near future.) We would love to hear from El Nido locals if there is some reason for the lack of action.

  23. avatar Ruby Jose says:


    • avatar Thomas says:

      Yes, we are very concerned about Palawan and El Nido. Palawan is one of the most beautiful areas in the world and all nationalities should care about protecting this important piece of the planet’s natural heritage.

  24. avatar Peter says:

    Jacques cousteau’s son did a program on the discovery channel about saving coral in the Mediterranean. It takes 5 years before you see any difference. Then after 10 years the very big fish return, which can only be good for the island. There needs to be reserve areas where no fishing and no touching the coral and no anchors is the rule. Enforced by heavy fines. Only then will there be a change. It needs the support of the Philippines government and the islanders and education of the tourists. In Hawaii you watch a video for 10 minutes before you are allowed in some bays.

  25. avatar Chris says:

    Hi ContemporaryN,
    Great post! Thanks for the info. Ive been working my ass off trying to find info on El Nido and some of the surrounding islands. It looks like there is limited info out there.

    Thanks guys!

  26. avatar Magnus says:

    Well, here comes an update from 2016
    It has gotten worse.
    If you manage to se the glimpse of live coral you have to be out a bit from shore.
    Big and Little lagoon are affected.
    You can see schools of fish swimming like they were hunted.
    Were you once could se plenty of Scalare you only see a pair or 2.
    Still no moorings around, anchers just dropped at patches of sand but lines goes on the corals.
    I Think that I Heard maybe 2 or 3 captains telling people to not step or touch the corals but that is all and that was almost a joke since the corals were dead anyway.
    It has actually got to an state were it’s even worse than in Thailand and maybe the new president should do just as they have in Thailand and Close certain beaches and areas of for some time to give it a chance to recover and also train the captains in how brittle the eco system is when it comes to corals.
    I know that there will be some people raging about this post but sadly they have brought it on them selves…

  27. avatar Tito says:

    A sadly update.
    2018. I went first to Port Burton. The beach was dirty, full of boats. We did the island hopping thing, and they still have a few corals alive. Therebefore, they show you where are the “tourtles” and the “starfish”. Poor creatures, at least 30 people around them… of course people touching the starfishes and take them of the water in hands.
    Well, back to El Nido, we avoid this crowded tours and we went kayaking. All completely dead and full of seaweed.
    Its a pitty, as you said, the lack of education kills little by little the tourism and their first income.

    • avatar Thomas says:

      Hi Tito,

      Thank you for the update. It’s devastating to hear that Palawan is going down that route. When we were there in 2010 many people who ran tour and kayaking businesses were very aware of the environmental issues. While every tourist taking a tour has to pay the Eco-Tourism Development Fee, it’s not apparent what is being done with this fee to develop sustainable tourism in the area. If anyone has more info on how this money is being used, we would appreciate your input.

  28. avatar same day taj mahal tour by train says:

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  29. avatar Joshua says:

    Upon my return to El Nido in March 2018, just 10 months after my previous trip in June 2017, I was mortified to see that most of the coral reefs surrounding Dilumicad Island (AKA Helicopter Island) have died off. Also, there is a complete absence of giant clams which were fairly abundant in 2017

    • avatar Thomas says:

      Thanks for sharing this Joshua! I wish we could get better news out of El Nido. It’s such an amazing place worth protecting (or at this point – restoring).

  30. avatar Karen says:

    This is an honest review. Coming back here after 6 years, indeed a lot has changed! I also wonder where those 200 pesos Eco-fee feed goes? Now I live here and I’m promoting ‘ethical travel’ and sustainable eco-tourism. Massive tourism and the rise of cheapskate backpackers have cheapened and destroyed things as well, so yeah to be fair, everyone is equally responsible and nobody is better than the rest.


    • avatar Tony says:

      Hey Karen, Thank you for your comment. I’m not sure it is fair to pin this one on “cheap backpackers” as backpackers having been coming to Palawan a lot longer than luxury tourists and this extreme damage does seem to correspond with a boom in more conventional tourism. Also backpackers are often much more willing to living in low-impact accommodation as opposed to high-end tourists. We do agree that rampant development in general can be very destructive. We also wish higher-end accommodation would lead the way to preserve what is left of the coral and wildlife in Palawan. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Unfortunately, it seems to be deteriorating very quickly.

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