Tao Philippines: The immersive island-hopping expedition that helps to sustain and enhance Palawan's environment and island communities
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It all began with one fishing boat on a
However, at Tao, their goal is not just to share their home with people from around the world but also to preserve and sustain the natural environment to ensure that Palawan can be experienced by generations to come.
Formed of 1,780 islands, Palawan is a tropical archipelago at the heart of South East Asia, a dreamscape of mountainous jungle and a haven for diverse tropical marine wildlife. A myriad of limestone islets, wildlife sanctuaries, and hidden lagoons, the region was untouched apart from fishermen until the 1970s, and still remains relatively unexplored.
Onboard the Tao expedition. Image credit: Katie Treharne
The only expedition of its kind in the Philippines, Tao is an immersive exploration of Palawan’s paradisal islands guided by those who know them best, trained islanders nicknamed the “lost boys”. Departing from Coron and arriving in El Nido, explorers can choose from a three-day or five-day expedition
Tao, meaning human in Tagalog, is a resilient and innovative community who operate with a sense of pride and passion which motivates them to sustain and preserve the environment while still offering
Image credit: Tuka huts at Tao base camp. Image credit: Katie Treharne
The company originates from an adventure into homestays with isolated island communities in 2006, which laid the foundation for the strong bond between Tao and Palawan’s island communities today.
As trained crewmembers with roles ranging from drivers, chefs, and guides, the
In turn, Tao creates jobs, supplies food and safe water as well as schools and scholarships to the island communities, encouraging an alternate means of livelihood to fishing, which has inflicted so much damage on marine wildlife already.
The lost boys. Image credit: Katie Treharne
Whilst Palawan is renowned for the biodiversity of its marine life, currents bring in waste from elsewhere which poses a threat to many species of animals, including sea turtles and
Their hands-on approach to combatting waste is encapsulated in the moment Expedition Leader Jeff Deniega grapples to rescue a
“Not often do we happen to meet creatures under the sea. If they need help, do something to set them free,” Jeff says.
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Most of Tao Philippine’s work for sustainability is concentrated at the Tao Centre Camp, based on a secluded 700-meter-long sandy cove in San Fernando in El Nido, known to the locals as Pangaraycayan.
Surrounded by hillsides previously devastated by harmful slash-and-burn farming techniques, Tao has since helped to bring back the fertility of the soil through gradually re-educating local farmers and villagers in sustainable farming and fishing methods, as well as offering alternative means of earning a wage to help preserve the ocean’s fish stocks.
Tao Centre Camp. Image credit: Katie Treharne
Sustainability at camp is encouraged by solar panels and a generator that is only turned on between
Food served in the Kantina and onboard the expeditions
Worms are used to process manure and toilet paper at the Tao Farm. Image credit: Katie Treharne
Tao Centre Camp is also the source of Tao’s community projects, which are funded directly by the Tao expeditions. A symbiotic relationship exists between Tao and the island communities, where products are shared back-and-forth through barter. Island families are Tao's partners, who helped to spread the word of Tao in the Philippines and have been crucial in helping to construct base camps, lead expeditions, and offer local indigenous knowledge
In the low season, the focus shifts to giving back to the community through projects focusing on education and women’s training.
Children from the isolated island communities previously struggled to complete primary education only offered in larger towns, accessible by long journeys on foot or by boat. Tao supplies
A family home at the Tao Centre Camp. Image credit: Katie Treharne
Furthermore, since the formation of the Tao Kalahi Foundation, Tao has trained over 40
‘Becoming a masseuse for Tao has had a great impact on my life. We now have extra income for bringing up our seven children and I also really enjoy meeting such a wide variety of people. I’ve even learned English from doing massage,” says Gemma
Preserving and sustaining the environment extends from waste management and wildlife protection to enhancing local communities. A model of sustainable travel, learning and growing through experimentation and innovation, Tao Philippines provides
Learn more about Tao Philippines' expeditions and their vital work to sustain and preserve Palawan on their website.