By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
The Masungi Georeserve in Rizal province was recognized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as one of the most sustainable and innovative tourism projects worldwide.
In a special awards ceremony held in St. Petersburg, Russia last Sept. 10, the UNWTO presented Masungi Georeserve as one of three leading tourism projects in the world led by a private sector.
“We are very honored to be recognized alongside more established organizations from across the world. Masungi is quite young and highly local, and to be acclaimed at this stage, in front of hundreds of tourism ministers and high-ranking officials from the United Nations, is a rare feat,” Masungi Georeserve Foundation trustee and National Geographic explorer Ann Dumaliang said.
While the top award for the Enterprises category was eventually presented to V Resorts of India, the team behind Masungi is grateful for UNWTO’s recognition out of almost 200 projects nominated worldwide, the Foundation said.
“The recognition inspires our team to continue the difficult but important work we are doing and make the country proud. With this prestigious award we would like to invite more organizations and government entities to join us in this victory and support our conservation efforts decisively,” Dumaliang said. “Besides our team on the ground who worked tirelessly to keep Masungi alive, we also dedicate this award to two of our fiercest champions whom we lost this year, renowned geologist Dr. Rolly Pena and environmentalist Gina Lopez.”
Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, who was also present at the event expressed pride and support for the recognition.
Masungi Georeserve Foundation is responsible for the conservation, education and geotourism efforts for the limestone formations and biodiversity in Baras, Rizal.
In the 1990’s, the area has been heavily damaged by illegal logging and quarrying activities.
To prevent further degradation, the area became part of a joint venture development of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Blue Star Development Corporation for housing alongside the preservation of the area’s natural characteristics and limestones.
In 2017, former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez expanded the group’s mandate to restore some 2,700 hectares of denuded land around the original site in an ambitious initiative called the Masungi Geopark Project.
Over 47,000 native trees have since been planted in the new area by park rangers, volunteers and guests.