The Leave No Trace Principles for Filipinos

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

leave no trace

In the travel and outdoor community, we often hear or (read) these three letters: LNT. These three letters get thrown as often as irresponsible travelers throw their trash. We know LNT stands for Leave No Trace, but what does that truly mean? Let me try to explain.

The LNT, short for LNT Principles, is a list of 7 "rules" to minimize the impact of human visits to natural and cultural heritage areas. According to the LNT website:
"Minimum impact travel and outdoor recreation practices must be flexible and tempered by judgement and experience. Techniques are continually evolving and improving and are based upon scientific research, though influenced by environmental ethics. The general rule is to consider the variables of each area in terms of culture, wildlife, vegetation, soil, climate, and use that it receives."

Consequently, the LNT Principles were formulated to serve as "guidelines" but had now become somewhat the standard code of conduct for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. So, what are the 7 principles? Let's list them down and try to extract its essence in the context of the Philippine outdoors.

You know that modern Filipino belief? Mas natutuloy ang mga lakad na hindi plinano? Well, spontaneity may account for something in the grand scheme of things, but it is still best to be prepared when traveling. Gather information  there is already more than enough sources to equip you with adequate and appropriate knowledge.

Why must you do this, you ask? The obvious answer: for your (and your companions') safety. Accidents can and do happen, but while there are some things we just can't control, there are also many others that we can. Remember: it is never wrong to turn back when you or someone from your group sustains an injury. It's never sayang to cancel a trip when a storm is coming. Mas sayang kapag may napahamak. To put this into perspective: prevention will always be preferable than the cure. 

Aside from your safety, planning and preparation can make you a better guest. By knowing the customs of the place, you'd be able to navigate your way through countless complex social and cultural situations.

This is, again, not only to keep you safe, but also to avoid irreparable damage to trails. Camping on soft plants, muddy sites, and fragile soil layers is obviously dangerous and uncomfortable, it also impacts the area negatively. Try also to avoid stepping or trampling on areas like these as it's more difficult for them to recover. We must also keep passing through riparian zones – banks or patches of land along a stream or river – to a minimum, as vegetation here is very delicate. Camping on riparian zones is also a big no-no – being that close to a body of water is a disaster waiting to happen.

Furthermore, it may be exciting to go on a hike on a rainy day, but trampling on wet tracks can do years of damage to the trail. Trails are most vulnerable when wet, so let's try to avoid the mountains during rainy days. Again, not just for your safety but for the mountains' well-being. Think of it this way: rain literally rinses the environment. Let's allot the rainy days as Nature's "recovery days".

This is incredibly simple, but what I find is that the simpler a thing is, the harder it is to grasp. Come on, Filipinos! We can do so much better! The LNT website puts it beautifully:

"'Pack it in, pack it out'. Any user of our outdoors has a responsibility to clean up before he or she leaves. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for rubbish or spilled foods. Pack out all rubbish and kitchen waste, including leftover food.

Lead by example. Pick up any rubbish you see not just your own."

And let's not just do this on the mountains or on the beach, let's practice this everywhere! Proper waste disposal can do so much good and will create a positive ripple effect. We can do this!

What we often forget is that we can still experience even without touching. Leaving things alone in the wild, not touching them, not taking them home for souvenirs, allow us to pass the gift of discovery on to those that follow. Let's not be selfish,

Also, simply overturning rocks can leave a creature homeless. Always keep in mind that whatever you do leaves a mark – make that mark a positive one.

Campfires may add "magic" to the experience but we all know how destructive fires can beLet's all learn from the Mount Apo Fire of 2016. Most mountains here in the Philippines do not even need bonfires as they are at their most stunning at night when there is only the stars. Even Mount Pulag, with its cold climate, can be survived without a campfire. There are many and less-damaging alternatives to fire. Let's stick to those so we can avoid conflagrations of any scale.

I say the best kind of living is when we are "in tune" with every thing and every one in this world. We must learn how to co-exist especially with other living creatures. How can we do this? There are many ways. First, do not patronize "exotic pets", "rare animal keepsakes" such as ivory and leather, and delicacies that use parts of a threatened animal – these encourage hunting and poaching. Never, at all cost, should you also feed animals found in the wild as this will make them dependent on humans and will destroy their natural eating habits. Feeding the fish while snorkeling? You can only imagine the damage that this causes to the ecosystem. Moreover, you can also choose tours that promote the survival and conservation of animals. I'll write something about places that practice sustainable tourism soon so you'll have a more informed choice when it comes to tours. But, let me tell you now: the way they're handling the whale sharks in Oslob is horrifying. Please do not go there!

Nature is all about sharing. We must not be selfish and always consider others in any situation. Want to listen to music? Plug those earphones instead of blaring it through speakers. Keep noises down to a minimum in courtesy of everybody else. Don't hog all the shade. Don't stay too long on often-photographed areas. Say hi to fellow travelers. Be respectful and courteous to absolutely everyone (even if they appear to not be deserving of it.)

So, those are the 7 LNT Principles. As you may have noticed, at the core of all of these is one value: respect. I understand that most of you will probably think, "I didn't know that was harmful" or something to that effect, but that's exactly why I devote time and effort to spreading awareness. We've all been beginners at some point. We made mistakes, that's true. The key is to share the word and make better adventurers out of everyone, including yourself. Now that we know better, let's do better. Instead of bashing, let us inform. Chances are, our fellow travelers are willing to listen and improve. And, I'm sure, they'll have something different but equally valuable to share too! The magic word is respect, adventurers. Padayon!

See also this cool LNT infographic on Celineism's Facebook page, made by my awesome artist friend Jethro Lacdan. Do share the word!
Want to go deeper than your usual travel? Check out the posts under "We Travel, We Care"!

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