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Sipalay’s coastal cleanup story wins global tourism award

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Sipalay City Mayor Maria Gina Lizares (2nd from right) with (from left) Negros Occidental 6th District Rep. Mercedes Alvarez, president and chief executive officer of Society for Sustainable Tourism Susan Santos de Cárdenas, Green Destinations president Albert Salman and City Tourism Officer Jerick Lacson at the Green Destinations Top 100 Story Awards of Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) Berlin 2024 in Germany Wednesday night.* Sipalay City LGU photo

The women-led shoreline cleanup volunteer project of Sipalay City, the top beach and diving destination in Negros Occidental, bagged one of the major prizes in the Green Destinations Top 100 Story Awards at the Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) Berlin 2024 in Germany Wednesday night (Thursday morning in the Philippines).

The southern Negros city’s story, “Lakbayon (Steps) – Women Steps Toward Sustainability”, got second place in the Thriving Communities Category, together with Tibau do Sul, Brazil’s “The Oyster`s Smile” at first place, while Katon-Karagai, Kazakhstan’s sustainable development model on the rescue of a remote Kazakh region received the third place.

Sipalay City’s entry is the only one from the Philippines that reached the top three in any of the six categories this year.

“A proud moment for all Filipinos, especially to Sipalaynons, for this remarkable and noteworthy achievement,” Mayor Maria Gina Lizares said in a statement on Thursday.

Lizares, together with Negros Occidental 6th District Rep. Mercedes Alvarez and City Tourism Officer Jerick Lacson, received the award from Green Destinations president Albert Salman during the ceremony.

“We are very proud of Sipalay being at the forefront of sustainable tourism. People don’t call it the jewel of Negros Occidental province for nothing. This honor from the Green Destinations Story Awards is a testament to the efforts made by the city and for the city,” Alvarez said in a separate statement.

“We hope to inspire, to help, to share Sipalay’s best practices with other communities so that there will be more green destinations,” she added.

The story of Lakbayon (“Lakbay sa Baybayon” or “Walk along the Beach”) Women’s Beach Cleanup Volunteer Project tells of how “(a) simple strolling exercise activity of an organization of women contributed to solving the waste pollution problem in the city’s Poblacion Beach, supported their family income, and helped Sipalay become a major tourist destination.”

The project, which started in 2000 by the Sipalay City Council for Women in partnership with the city government, has 14,675 family member-beneficiaries in 11 barangays since last year.

The volunteer work of single mothers, wives of fisherfolk, teenagers, students, and abled senior citizens “significantly cleared and cleaned the 11-hectare beach and mangrove forest of waste, which led to the declaration of 40 percent of the shoreline as a conservation area for sea turtles.”

“Through the consistent cleanup, the beach is now the main beach tourism and recreational area of the city and venue to various local and national-level sports tourism activities,” the city government said.

The two-kilometer Poblacion Beach hosts various sports tourism events such as surfing, skimboarding, beach volleyball, mountain biking, triathlon, and its flagship sport, kite flying, which made Sipalay the “kite tourism capital” of the Philippines.

Before the Lakbayon Project, Poblacion Beach looked like “a dumpsite of household and human wastes and a stretch of sand filled with piles of plastics, entangled trunks of trees, and storm debris.”

Through a daily morning walk aimed at promoting a healthy community, volunteers clean, collect, and dispose of waste, strictly practicing proper ecological solid waste management guidelines supervised by the City Environment and Natural Resources Office.

Aside from reduced waste pollution and increased forest cover, the Lakbayon Project also resulted in increased fish catch in the area, from 20,715 kilograms in 2020 to 115,840 kilograms in 2022.

For joining the two-hour daily cleanup activity, volunteers receive incentive support of P40 per hour or P1,200 for 15 days, enough to buy a half sack of rice for two to three weeks of consumption.

In one of the project discussions, the member-beneficiaries said the value of the spirit of volunteerism, which enabled them to sustain the project for 24 years, is the biggest lesson they have learned from their globally-recognized inspiring story.

“It did not only change our place, but it also changed and turned us into responsible individuals,” said Jeraldine Oyo-a, president of the Sipalay City Council for Women.

Known for advocating sustainability as the core of its tourism development, Sipalay City was first included in the Green Destinations Top 100 Stories for 2023 unveiled in Tallinn, Estonia, in October last year before it was shortlisted for the ITB Berlin 2024 awards.

The Green Destinations Story Awards at ITB Berlin showcase and celebrate the most inspirational initiatives for sustainable tourism development from stories submitted to the yearly Green Destinations Top 100 Stories competition.

ITB is the world’s leading travel trade fair, where leaders and major stakeholders of the global tourism industry gather to conduct business meetings.*PNA

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