Awe-inspiring, enchanting, mysterious are only some of the description you’ll hear from people who had a glimpse of Enchanted River.

But who would have thought that the river traversing the boundaries of Barangays Talisay and Cambatong, flows out of Hinatuan Bay facing the Pacific Ocean, and tagged as one of the most mysterious tourist spots in the country was bare and no one dared to visit.

Well, that was the facet before any development was introduced at Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave System (HERUCS). Seeing its potential, the local government after acquiring land ownership around HERUCS of about 27 hectares has transformed its landscape, made it enticing and friendly to visitors. Structures like cottages, beach umbrellas, and even comfort rooms and wash area were built and installed at the upper portion few meters away from the location of the river itself.

From then on and with series of explorations made by experts to fathom this mystic piece of nature, the area gained instant popularity as one of the best tourist destinations in Mindanao. The Enchanted River’s shade of sapphire and jade stunned guests and made the area all the more welcoming. Also, the fish feeding right on cue of Hinatuan Hymn added to the spice of its interesting attractions.

Sometime in 2010, after it was opened to the public, people flocked the Enchanted River resembling like mushrooms. On its peak seasons, according to caretakers of the area, guests (local and foreign tourists) counted to around more than a thousand per day. In fact, in 2016 there were 321,192 total number of tourists registered based on the report of the Municipal Tourism Office. That big number was indeed a welcome development for the local government of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur, especially that it generated additional revenue and boost the town’s coffers.

However, coupled with this upturn was the transformation of the once natural charm radiated by this zone.

Congestion, depleting water quality, flooding, and poor sanitation were among the challenges threatening the splendour of Enchanted River.

In 2015, Enchanted River was included among the water bodies monitored in the Beach Eco-Watch Program, which was lately changed to “Recreational Waters Monitoring Program” of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Caraga. It is done to assess if the water quality of the recreational water body continues to support its beneficial usage and befits for bathing and swimming or other primary contact recreation, as Class “B” for freshwaters and Class “SB” for marine waters. The 2015 water quality monitoring was good and compliant with the criteria of the water quality parameters monitored, but in 2016, the Enchanted Lagoon section failed to comply with the standard for fecal coliform. Since then, and up to 2018, there were occasions

that certain portions of Enchanted River have failing results for fecal coliform. EMB Caraga provided the yearly water quality assessment of Enchanted River to LGU-Hinatuan

Without second thought, LGU-Hinatuan takes the recommendations of EMB Caraga as reference point of their actions to improve the aesthetic condition of the river. Enchanted River was then closed for a month to recuperate and avert further degradation.

Determining the carrying capacity was one of the interventions conducted, which later became their basis of limiting the number of guests in the area in a day. Picnic huts and other structures potential to contribute pollution were removed. Instead, the local government decided to build the needed facilities 300 meters away from the lagoon. They also restricted swimming activity in the lagoon as it can potentially cause deterioration and affect the cave system. Further, the diving activity was allowed only for study and research purposes. And finally, LGU Hinatuan initiated conservation measures by declaring Enchanted River as “Protected Area”, which was later amended into “Local Conservation Area” through a resolution that the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) had passed.

This goes to show that LGU-Hinatuan is resolute in its mission of promoting sustainable eco-tourism development and establishing a well-balanced environment with inclusive economic growth, so as not to put public health at risk and most of all compromise the natural beauty of nature.

EMB Caraga will continue to monitor the water quality of the river until such time LGU-Hinatuan will be capable to do the activity as management tool for the protection of the environment and the health of the people using the water resources. (CM Elpa)