Manila, Philippines — USAID's environmental project Sustainable Coastal Tourism in Asia (SCOTIA) - Philippines recently held its end-of-project conference to share best practices with local governments and resorts outside of its project sites. These project sites included leading coastal tourism destinations like El Nido, Panglao island, Mactan island, Balayan Bay, Moalboal and Puerto Galera.The primary message of the conference was that proper environmental management is critical for protecting the tourism value of our country. Hence the lessons shared focused on environmental management like solid waste management and sanitation. Of special interest was the innovative low-cost, low-technology reed bed sanitation system that SCOTIA assisted many resorts to install. SCOTIA highlighted how it built local capability for setting up community-wide solid waste management systems that achieved waste reduction levels that were higher than the targeted 25 percent.The lesson that attracted the most attention from the participants, especially the 2 governors, 17 mayors and over 40 other LGU officials nationwide was the concept of environmental user fees. Environmental management costs money and yet it conflicts with the common notion that nature is free. The conference emphasized that when a tourist visits a place like Puerto Galera and enjoys its natural beauty for a couple of days, he leaves behind not only garbage but also human wastes like urine and feces, which must be treated properly so as not to destroy the touristic value of the place. On this basis, the LGU has the moral and legal right to collect environmental user fees. The conference cited the example of Puerto Galera which has collected close to PhP 7 million since it started collecting such a fee in November 2007. With such a financing source in place the local government unit has purchased the land for its centralized sanitation system and is currently preparing to bid out the first phase of the construction which is estimated to cost close to PhP 100 million.Secretary of Tourism Joseph "Ace" Durano gave the keynote address which also highlighted the need to protect the environment for the sustainability of the tourism industry. For the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Asst. Sec. Ana Lisa Teh also gave a clear message that there must be a balance between environment and tourism as an economic activity. A certificate of Special Recognition was given to the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) for "its persistent and resolute support in promoting Public-Private Partnership for the development of adequate infrastructure for sanitation in Puerto Galera." It was received by PEMSEA Executive Director Raphael P.M. Lotilla.Aside from SCOTIA, 15 other environmental projects, non-profit organizations and private environmental service suppliers set up exhibits at the conference hall to inform LGUs and resort-owners how they can better protect their coastal environment.