TOURISTS can now enjoy diving with mermaids in Coron, Palawan. Dugongs inspired the legendary mermaids while lonely sailors were out at sea. Also known as sea cows, these shy mammals can be found in the shallow waters of the Coral Triangle, a marine biodiversity hotspot that includes the Philippines.
They would eat seagrass and help keep these pruned to encourage better growth in the future. Dugong (Dugong dugon) used to be common in the Philippines but habitat destruction and hunting have reduced their population. Now, they can only be found in the waters of Palawan, Isabela, Mindanao and Guimaras and are classified as critically endangered in the Philippines.
The Tagbanua tribe have become the protectors of the dugong in the coasts in Northern Palawan. The dugongs are protected by the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act (RA 9147) because they are also threatened by poachers and can be tangled in fishing nets. During the ecotourism program called “Dugong Watching”, tourists can watch the dugong from the boat, then they can snorkel and scuba with these gentle animals as guided by members of the Tagbanua tribe. The islands of Dimipac, Aban-aban and Maltanubong are in the ancestral lands of the tribe on Calauit Island.
There are 30 Tagbanua members trained and assigned to be “Bantay Dugongs” to make sure that the program runs efficiently while protecting the marine wildlife of the area. These Bantay Dugong can stop a tour if tourists refuse to follow the guidelines of the dive. Tours are also limited to forty people per day to allow the dugong to rest and prevent them from being stressed by the tourist activity.