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Puerto Galera Bay among world’s best

Source: PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER, May 12, 2005

The Puerto Galera Bay in northern Oriental Mindoro is now a member of the prestigious Club of Most Beautiful Bays in the World.

Supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the club is an international non-government organization based in Vannes, France which aims to promote, protect and develop marine and bay sources.

It was founded in Berlin in March 1997, upon the initiative by the tourism office of the Vannes region in the Gulf of Morbihan in France.

Puerto Galera is the 32nd bay in the world to be recognized as among the world’s most beautiful and the third in Asia after the Halong and Nha Trang Bays in Vietnam. It is the first in the Philippines.

The accreditation was based on four concerns: protection, enhancement, promotion and local people’s commitment to the project.

Puerto Galera’s winning features were captured by Frenchman Hubbert D’Aboville, 50, in an audio-visual documentary he presented before 80 club members in Agadir, Morocco, in November last year.

On May 7, D’Aboville turned over the diploma of club membership to the municipal government, through Vice Mayor Juan Ascan, at his house in Villa Malasimbo during the launching of the Puerto Galera Bay Association, the club’s local chapter. Over a hundred guests came, the Frenchman said.

The Puerto Galera Bays club membership was recognized on March 30 in Nha Trang. The club has been helping it gain worldwide publicity.

D’Aboville showed to his guests the slide presentation that won the membership diploma for the bay.

Discovery

The documentary narrated that Puerto Galera was discovered by Spanish explorers Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo on their way to Manila in 1570. Since the 10th century, it has been known to seafarers as a trading port and strategic harbor along the vital shipping routes to and from the near East, Indian coast, Indochinese coast, China, various points within the Philippine archipelago, and the kingdoms of Sumatra and Java.

According to residents, the town of Puerto Galera used to be a lonely place as nobody wanted to inherit the beach area from their parents, until it was discovered in the 1960s by European backpackers.

D’Aboville said the University of the Philippines established a marine biological station in the town in the mid-1930s.

The post has identified 121 fish species (from the reefs); from the families of Pomacantridae, 140 species; Pomacanthidaw, five species; and Chaetodontidae, 15 species; nine out of 16 seagrass species in the whole world; 19 of the 40 mangrove species in the Philippines (dominant are the Rhizopora apiculata, Avicennia of ficinalis and the Avicennia marina); 152 out of 400 coral species in the country; and the rare hard corals, Anacropora puertogalerae.

In the ’70s, Puerto Galera became a "Man and Biosphere Reserve", an environmental program of the UNESCO, owing to its diverse and unique marine and terrestrial flora and fauna.

In 2000, the Department of Tourism declared it the ninth tourist destination in the Philippines.

D’Aboville, a forester, married Araceli Valenzuela, a Filipina and granddaughter of revolutionary hero Pio Valenzuela, in 1982. Araceli was then engaged in tourism work in Manila.

Later, D’Aboville commissioned a man to look all over the country for a place to a stay. After a month, the man could not find a place to his liking, he said.

On their 10th wedding anniversary, the Frenchman was worried about his gift to his wife. "My kids saved me on the evening of Dec. 30, 1992 at the Coco Beach. They were holding beautiful shells from the shore of Puerto Galera".

The following day, D’Aboville went to Tony Taylor, owner of the Ponderosa golf course in Puerto Galera, and was shown a 2,000 square-meter property. "It was just the size of my lot in Manila, I wanted more space to stay outside", he said.

One day, as he traversed Mount Malasimbo, he climbed a tamarind tree and saw a scenic view of Puerto Galera. "And that’s it", he said.

A certain Angela Cataquis showed him a land title covering an area of 10 hectares and one square meter, which, incidentally, was the number of years D’Aboville, had been married (10 years and one day). Right out, the land purchase was consummated.

"We have had the best relationship with the Cataquises since then", said D’Aboville.

Now a resident of Puerto Galera for 25 years, D’Aboville has been bringing many of his countrymen to Puerto Galera. He rents a house in Manila, where he manages a power and company. He is involved in a rural electrification project in Masbate, which is financed by the French government.

Personal Advocacy

D’Aboville’s commitment is more than personal. "Boracay is degraded after 20 years. Excess of something will kill a place. Development is very tricky; you have to think a plan. We don’t want this to happen to Puerto Galera", he said.

"This world is so small, fragile. We’re caretakers for a short time, I also care for myself and to live longer, we have to protect while enjoying the environment. It’s our responsibility to keep it. I’m terrified at the continuing cutting of trees in the country. People seem to not be scared of the effects", he said.

He remains steadfast in his advocacy for Puerto Galera, following up what the municipal government has done on reported cases of illegal logging.

A hectare of coffee plantation was started by his farm manager, Maning Morillo, a graduate of the University of the Philippines.

"We will plant seedlings to be given away to the people around us. I can buy their produce and sell them to Nestlé. It can be like a cooperative", he said. "They’ll be happy and this will even stop soil erosion", he said.

D’Aboville has been talking with key people. "Whether the diploma will remain on the mayor’s table or the recognition will remain as such is to be seen. And I don’t know whether they’ve understood me".

"People here are so familiar with Puerto Galera that they take it for granted. We’re not much concerned with money but with conservation [of resources and beauty], job [generation], then attracting tourism. Purity of air, freedom and others are what the paying tourists are after," said D’Aboville.

Because of D’Aboville’s contributions, Councilor Daniel Enriquez has proposed to make the Frenchman an "adopted son" of the town.