Djilba 2019

Discovering Calataganda

A remarkable Eco-tourism project in the Philippines 

by Caitlin Flannery

The founder of Calataganda Jessie De Los Reyes looking over the reefs his ecotourism business strives to protect in the Philippines.

As I waited for Jessie De Los Reyes, I was parked on a busy local street idly watching dozens of Filipinos in a funeral march. There is a saying in the Philippines, “happy lang.” It means, “just happy.” Even when life is hard, there is just a happy feeling to be shared. The marchers filled the air with the “happy lang” vibe of chatter and laughter as they shuffled down the road.

The mythical proportions of his passion and achievement hardly fit such an unassuming nature. This was the vision behind the ethical ecotourism operation, Calataganda. His name is Jessie De Los Reyes.

Jessie is originally from a fishing family, as many provincial Filipinos are. Instead of fishing, he became a volunteer sea patrol or “Bantay Dagat” to police the area for illegal fishing. These patrols are necessary to protect fish stocks, the country’s primary source of food. However, without salary, the positions are often thankless and ineffective.
Over the course of his time as Bantay Dagat, Jessie was more than effective. He brought hundreds of legal cases against illegal fisherfolk. He was so frequently threatened that he was forced to hire a bodyguard to protect him.  

As his passion for the ocean grew, he made more commitments to its protection. He shifted his family business from fishing to a sustainable ethical community project—Calataganda.  

Calataganda offers snorkeling, sandbar hopping, dolphin watching, scuba diving, island hopping, bird watching, and much more. The project combines marine ecosystem education with recreational activities. They intertwine the beauty of nature with the understanding of its intricacies.

In a country plagued by overfishing and collapsing marine ecosystems, they are making a difference with their work. The Calataganda property resides alongside a mangrove forest. With his hard work, Jessie has reforested vast swathes of this wetland ecosystem. The hardiness of the mangrove forest is inspirational in its re-growth.

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