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Parks and preservation

In 2015, a 300ha area that had been rehabilitated from decades of


illegal logging, quarrying and deforestation opened to trekkers and
adventurers from Manila and beyond. Masungi Georeserve is now one
of the most popular geotourism attractions in the Philippines, and the
team behind it has one message: keep helping us save it

By N ina Unlay
Photogr aphy Thomas Caja

By Dana Ter
Photogr aphy Chris da Canha

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hey call it Sapot a manmade spider web of experience my next great adventure. But as developed for a variety of industrial uses frequently than in the 90s theyre hoping
industrial cable wire and organic rope, I cautiously take my initial steps toward the also made it vulnerable to quarrying. Both that more people will flock to Masungi to
measuring 20ft wide, thats able to center of Sapot feeling like human-sized activities also had a detrimental impact on actively participate in geotourism, a
withstand the weight of 15 adults. It has prey I feel my old fear of heights slowly the environments rich biodiversity. concept thats gaining greater popularity as
become the Masungi Georeserves chief resurfacing. But this is not an activity for the It was only 15 years ago that a privately the impetus to preserve and protect the
attraction, a sight that is quickly captured weak-spirited, so I keep my eyes up, force funded organization, spearheaded by Blue environment becomes more and more
and uploaded on the social media feed of myself not to think about the prospect of a Star Construction & Development urgent with each passing day.
almost every visitor to the park as they pose perilous fall and soldier on. Corporation, took it upon themselves not Ann Dumaliang, the project officer of
gingerly atop the structure, trying their best A few meters from the spider web, other only to care for the area, but to actively Masungi who has been overseeing the site
not to look down at the jagged rock trekkers are traversing a giant hammock fight for its conservation. They stressed the for years, is quick to stress the differences
formations that lie directly below. known as Duyan hanging hundreds of geological value of the land and wielded its between geotourism and ecotourism.
Masungi Georeserve is situated just an meters above the ground. Like Sapot, it potential as a prime destination for Ecotourism in the Philippines has come to
hour and a half drives away from Metro overlooks the Sierra Madre mountains one geotourism tourism that sustains or mean spending time or having an adventure
Manila, in the quieter parts of Baras, Rizal of the Philippines longest ranges and one enhances the geographical character of a in nature, even if its not necessarily
a place that remains largely undisturbed by of Luzons last remaining forests. For those place as a weapon against those who sustainable, she says. Geotourism focuses
urban development and the busy lives of who can pluck up the courage to come, the abused it for industrial and economic gain. on the geological features of the land, THIS SPREAD
A view of Masungi
city dwellers. In its current iteration, views at Masungi easily captured on In 2015, after more than a decade of which can be of aesthetic, educational or Georeserve from above;
Masungi is one of the countrys premier camera are truly a sight to behold. rehabilitation efforts, Masungi finally scientific importance. It places a huge Ann Dumaliang, the
nature parks, its 10km-long adventure trail But it wasnt always like this. In the opened to the public. By bringing people in significance on a places integrity, and project officer who
oversees Masungi
filled with well-designed rope structures 1990s, this 1,500ha forest was inundated and allowing them to experience a small youre only supposed to create manmade Georeserve; part of the
like Sapot and hiking pathways that take with illegal loggers, many of whom came for slice of the forest for themselves, the team enhancements that support the character of arduous trail that visitors
you on an amble though the areas unique the valuable hardwood thats indigenous to behind Masungi hopes to sustain and inspire the place. A geosite should be of high value come to conquer
rock formations, vast caves and lush forests. this region. The areas plethora of rare conservation efforts for the rest of the area. and low impact, both in terms of how the
Like many thrill-seekers who make their exposed karst limestone formations one of And while illegal logging and quarrying still site is administered by management and
way to Masungi, Ive come here to the more valuable minerals thats easily occur from time to time albeit less how its enjoyed by visitors.

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Now, on top of their daily sweep of the Cretaceous periods, making the Georeserve
area for illegal loggers or trespassers, Ann a place of particular scientific importance.
and her team have also employed and Despite the areas inherent significance
empowered a crew of park rangers locals and natural beauty, geological value is a
from the nearby communities of Pinugay, complex message to communicate. While
Cuyambay and Tandang Kutyo who many private protected areas in other
expertly guide visitors along the trail. countries are afforded some level of legal
Protecting the karst limestone rock protection via existing organizations for
formations the most valuable geological example, the Nature Conservancy of Canada
features in Masungi is also a high priority. and the Costa Rican Network of Private
The limestone exposure is possibly the only Nature Reserves this sort of legislature
remaining large exposure of rock from the remains unexplored in the Philippines.
Paleocene age in the Philippines, says Hence, independent conservation efforts in
Rolando Pea, a geologist who has been areas of environmental significance, like
working closely with Ann on research. Masungi, are afforded little legal recourse
In South-East Asia, karsts cover an area by the government. There are currently no
THIS PAGE of about 400,000sqkm, stretching over a laws in place that offer protection for karst
A section of the range of geological ages. Studies by the forests, or for geotourism parks that are
trail at Masungi National Research Council of the Philippines privately operated.
Georeserve; Rolando
Pea, a geologist show that only about 10% of the countrys Eventually, Ann hopes that Masungi will
who carries out terrain is made up of karst landscapes gain membership into the Global Geoparks
research at Masungi seen most prominently in tourist attractions Network a designation granted by
Georeserve and its
surrounding areas such as Puerto Princesas Subterranean UNESCO thats an honor equivalent to a
River, El Nido and the Calbiga Cave in World Heritage Site. Attaining Geoparks
Samar. Masungi Georeserve is currently the status often takes years and years of tireless
most accessible place in the country for research and on-the-ground work to
geologists to study karst formations that achieve, and there are currently none in the
first appeared between the Paleocene and Philippines. But by identifying more

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FLOR A
A N D FAU N A

The rich biodiversity


of Masungi includes
some exciting species,
including these two
rare varieties

The jade vine


(Strongylodon
macrobotrys)
While vines usually
flourish in tropical
weather, this unique
plant which is endemic
to Philippine forests and
can grow up to 18m in
length can only be
found in a few places.
The flower takes its name
from its green blossoms,
but at Masungi, due
to the limestone in its
surrounding habitat,
it turns purple. It only
geological formations worth protecting, blooms in the month of

Geotourism doing the nitty-gritty research work,


monitoring the area for trespassers and
February, so plan your
visit accordingly.

places a huge illegal logging activity, and promoting the


karst forests, Ann and her team are
determined to get there.
significance on a Meanwhile, while the defenders of this
land are quietly working on the ground,

places integrity, Masungi continues to create a buzz among


visitors, adrenaline junkies and thrill-

and youre only


seekers. And what an adventure it provides.
Barely a quarter of the way through the trek,
Ive already found myself climbing up tall
supposed to cargo nets and weaving in and out of
daunting rock formations, ducking my head

create manmade at different points to avoid grazing up


against the low-hanging caves not to Titan Arum
(Amorphophallus
mention coming face-to-face with Sapot.
enhancements
titanum)
As I take a break to catch my breath, Ann The Titan Arum is
whos already made it to the center of the ordinarily a giant of

that support the


a flowering plant,
giant spider web sits cross-legged from but the kind seen at
me, gazing in the direction opposite the Masungi is of the pygmy
variety, growing to

natural character
trail. On her face is an expression of utter
approximately 12 inches
calm and serenity a look that tells me this in height. Its also
is her happy place. When you are up here, known as the corpse

of the area" you see everything. You see the view all the
way to Metro Manila, she says while
flower due to its
odd smell thats been
likened to the stench of
gesturing toward the perfect panorama a rotting animal and
overlooking Laguna de Bay, lit by the magic was previously said
to be endemic to the
of golden hour. Over the years, you see it limestone hills of
coming close you literally see the West Sumatra.

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MANILA

PAL flies to 43 international


destinations and 30 domestic
destinations from Manila.
For more information, visit
philippineairlines.com or call
PALs reservations office at
+63 2 855 8888.

development looming closer. The forest


starts disappearing, the lights get brighter.
Despite the myriad challenges they face,
Ann and her crew are committed to being
full-time defenders of Masungi and finding
ways to secure legal protection to ensure its
current and future existence. If its not
protected, and people dont know about it,
its going to be so difficult for us, Ann says
Over the years, you see
with a tinge of frustration. In a way, were
trapped, and were just trying to figure out the development looming
closer. The forest starts
the best way to protect this place.
After a while, she rises resolutely from
her position on Sapot, as though immune to
the adrenaline-inducing sights ahead. For
Ann, this is not just another adventure: this
disappearing, the lights
is a mission. We leave the spider web, and
set out for the long walk ahead. get brighter"

ASIAN
G E O PA R K S
While there are
currently no Vietnam Indonesia China
UNESCO - designated Dong Van Karst Plateau Batur Caldera Stone Forest
Geoparks in the This karst plateau in the Ha
Giang province is made up
Batur features the countrys
most beautiful caldera roughly
Found in Yunnan Province, this
karst Geopark contains beautiful
Philippines, here are of over 80% limestone and 7.5km in diameter and rich rocky landscapes formed in the
contains fossils from species biodiversity, including monkeys late Paleozoic era. It gets its
some in neighboring that are up to 600 million years that live at the craters edge. name from a giant stone pillar
old. This highland area was the You'll also find the Kintamani cluster that resembles the trees
countries that are second reserve named as a dog, called Gemborong, which of a forest. The first layers of rock
Geopark in South-East Asia, and has a face like a wolf but a body here are estimated to have been
wor th the trip the first in Vietnam. like a chow chow. formed 250 million years ago.

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