Bucas Grande: My Island, My Home

Serenity is where home is…

There are places you wanted to come home to even how far and remote it could be. A place where one can find comfort surrounded with green and blue waters listening the crashing waves, yet secluded from great structures. Bucas Grande Islands has always been my favorite get away.

After a lull of almost two years, I was back in the islands. There was no plan actually, my summer was void with trips except my farm visits. Things just fell its place, randomly our good friend in municipal tourism gave a ring and my travel buddy just pop up to visit the islands. My mind drift off to serene waters, blue lagoons, green environs, patch of white beaches, the nocturnal crickets singing, and the crashing waves that lull me to sleep. Simple pleasures that can be savored only in these remote islands.

We arrived Port Hayanggabon in time for lunch, so had a stop in a seafood shack while waiting for our boat. Lot of new structures sprouted at the port since my last visit. We found our boat and wasted no time for the cruise amid the waves, smiling our way as the sea breeze blew on our skins cooling the hot afternoon. And headed straight to tourism center for some pleasantries with our hosts and picking up where we left off since our last meeting.  After more than ten years there has been changes to cater the growing number of tourists and crew, and in a way surprised of new structures around the area.. The old tourism center almost dilapidated gave in to a larger shack with wider receiving area, surrounding ramps, platforms and docking area. There’s a floating cottage and floating restaurant nearby – well, I was wondering about its waste disposal!

Rushing up to get most of the remaining afternoon and the low tide, we head straight to Sohoton Cove – the mystical maze of islands covered in green foliage. We entered smoothly, our boat maneuvered perfectly with no hesitation or doubt. Once inside, I still had that same feeling of wonder like getting into a different realm, into another world – a city on the waters! We did our homage in Hagukan Cave, swam the warm waters glad of the super low tide, most importantly it was all to ourselves, such perfect timing! That rock in the middle was all to ourselves to stand on, as we view above the rock formations. I skipped the Magkakaub Cave, it was bit crowded. Angel did the climb and the plunge perfectly. 🙂 It started to drizzle as we did the last round and finally headed for the exit and in few minutes we were back in the center.  Later, we hopped to Puyo Island but decided to settle for Marka A Island for a swim.  We picked up few trash from the shores as we went around, the good thing was because it was already late, it was all to ourselves again.

We had a relaxing dinner back at the center, all the crew and tourists called it a day so we were left in tranquility, savoring again the serenity of the islands. The crickets started to chirp in the dusk. The center is now lit with few colored bulbs, a new improvement I guess as they were able to generate energy supply from few solar panels installed.

Unfortunately, Cinnamon Island where we had our lodgings for the night were full of guests so we missed its relaxing mode like it used to be. The crashing waves though, muffled the laughing and singing of the people.

Time was too limited, the next day though we revisited few sites we love. Our first agenda was the Tojoman Lake in search for the sting-less jellyfish, but there was none and instead looked up as brown giant bats started flying above the trees. We paddled around and our boat guide led us to Lubogon Lagoon, we found few juveniles silently floating the waters.  Tiktikan Lake used to be operated by fishermen coop, more structures were now at the entrance, bigger shack, slides, catwalk, platform and diving board. The interior lake itself was maintained but was deserted when we got there after a short trek, more people preferred the fronts which offered diving from heights.

La Fortuna was our last stop, the small strip of white beach at the front was an attraction but more was in store for us.  We trek for ten minutes for Bubon Lagoon, we have explored this secret nook before but now went beyond watching the placid waters. We kayaked around the lagoon, the lush foliage covering karst cliffs reflecting on the waters was purely a relaxing sight. It was all to ourselves! We’re on the run, yet we snatched few minutes to swam and play at the beach as we got back in the front.  Clottie joined us without complaining, this cute curly pup goof around with us, I gave her a bath but didn’t like it! And we enjoyed Raffy’s fresh buko, enough to quench our thirst and made us full!

We had late light lunch back at the center with our hosts, had brief pleasantries and finally bid bye. It was so short.  We cruised the afternoon waves for the port, again the sea breeze blew gently on our skin as we watched the vast blue sea before us. So brief, yet it felt so refreshing!

Last Note

It’s now more than a decade since I kept coming back here and I am glad that the islands have maintained its pristine waters and still free from trash. As we get around hopping to our fave spots, my keen eyes noticed few scraps which I pointed out to our boatman, in turn he assured me that a team was assigned for such task on a daily basis. The lesson I learned from the locals was that, getting the community involved to protect and preserve their invaluable resources was an effective strategy, they understood that nobody would do it for them except themselves and its protection is their ultimate mission if not to sustain this nature’s gift for their livelihood.  The coastal communities around the islands understood well that natural resources is always worth of care and preservation for the next generation.

Napantao: Paradise in the South

Whale shark abound the area and we were lucky during our hunt before leaving the Expedition!

The CCC Expedition required me to stay for a whole month in the base camp located in one of the most diverse coast along Sogod Bay. Napantao is one of the 22 barangays of San Francisco, a lowly coastal town in Southern Leyte.  Remote and unheard of, out of the tourism radar even for diving.

My stay was brief but long enough to observe and experience the diverse marine life on its front waters.  It was however, for my eyes only since photo shoots were not allowed or never part  during the training and survey dives.  In some way, it was a good opportunity to focus on the existing marine life in the surrounding reefs. Actually, a volunteer should be mindful and must stay focused, accuracy is necessary. In many instances, I was too engrossed on the lessons and actual exams underwater and so unconsciously ignored species in one way or another.  Like, if the agenda was Invertebrates & Impacts I will easily ignore the fishes and other marine life; or if our aim was for the Substrates, my eyes will search for the corals, sponges, rocks, mud, so on. My eyes were out for the day’s mission – no more, no less.

Yet, I could not undermine the richness of the surrounding waters which has been my training ground and the scenery at the end of each day. I caught glimpse of them every time after our second dive for the day. If we have more time, we swam back slowly over the reefs, wiggled among the big boulders and watch the colorful corals and variety of fishes. The surgeons, a group of damsels over there, a pair of trumpet fish darting from behind, brown and yellow box fish, a swarm of blue fusiliers and the different chromis in colors.  Then I encountered a giant hump head wrasse, it was unbelievably huge, it was roaming around perhaps looking for prey. I was just watching at a distance, it’s unethical to go near and disturb them.  Indeed, one should have a tremendous respect even for the marine animals.  Those giant spadefish that swam coyly every exit or approach in the channel, reminding me to relax and to take easy on a daily basis.

One morning, we woke up wondering that a luxury boat anchored in the front waters, only to find out it was a dive cruise spending whole day for the dives. And regularly, dive boats from Padre Burgos cruised to Napantao for diving bringing their guests, which for me brought home that surrounding waters is tremendously rich with marine life.

I will always think and believe that this coastal barangay is a legendary dive site and marine habitat. The soft waves riveting the blue waters and the golden hues of sunset at the end of each day were great reminders of God’s wondrous works. And there was much beyond the surface, the fish sanctuary and surrounding reef were filled with colorful marine life keeping in balance its marine ecosystem and sustaining the valuable resources of its community.

NB. Above photo was courtesy of FBM Gareth Turner

Finding Triton Trumpet!

This is exactly similar to what we found in the reef.
Photo courtesy of http://www.oceana.org

My dives during the CCC expedition led me to surprising encounters with marine critters, especially that their field base is nestled within Sogod Bay which is just one of the richest marine environment in the Philippines. We were having our second survey dive of the day doing outward for the fish survey, it was in pretty normal conditions, no current and animals were contentedly calm. I was scouring my side for the target species and unexpectedly this large shell came into view, I tried to come near but getting conscious that invertebrates was not our aim for the descent, time is always precious during survey dives! But the sighting was too rare to ignore, I tried to get Manon’s (our Project Scientist) attention – she was too absorbed as she was leading our mission. I pointed it out and she was surprised too! The intricate pattern of the its shell was just beautiful. We both came nearer and she signaled to record the sighting. That was my first encounter of a giant Triton in its habitat surrounded with other animals and I was wondering of its contribution to the marine ecosystem.

Here are are few facts I found at www.oceana.org about the specie:

  1. This invertebrate is an active predator and is known to aggressively chase its prey, which it detects through its excellent sense of smell.
  2. The giant Triton is known for relatively high speeds, especially for a snail.
  3. They feed on other snails and sea stars, most notably the crown of thorns starfish (COTS), Triton is the only natural predators of this destructive starfish.
  4. The specie was considered extremely important to reef health and is given legal protection particularly in Australia.
  5. The giant Triton reproduces through internal fertilization, and the female lays her sticky eggs on the sand, where they quickly become covered with sand and other material, protecting them from potential predators.

Unfortunately, because of its valuable and attractive shell it is collected at many places around the world, they are often sold in shops or markets in popular tourism destinations in the tropics such here in Philippines.  Gladly, that night during dinner as we were discussing the day’s activities, the giant Triton was nominated as critter of the day and was voted by majority!

NB.    The giant Triton was sighted in Nueva Estrella Norte, a fishing community in Pintuyan, Southern Leyte where a marine protected area (MPA) was just established.

The CCC Expedition

Check out dive at CCC house reef with my roommate Jemimah who hailed from Queensland, Australia.

Coral Cay Conservation is an internationally renowned and accredited conservation specialist dedicated to providing the resources to help protect coral reefs and tropical rainforests throughout the developing world. 

Since 1986 CCC have run over 20 successful conservation projects in more than 10 different countries around the world involving more than 10,000 volunteers, training several hundred scholars and publishing more than 300 key scientific research papers.

Across the world, CCC have had several internationally notable accomplishments such as the introduction of several Marine Protected Areas including the creation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belize; The Danjugan Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary for Negros, Philippines in 2000; The Limasawa Community Managed Marine Protected Area for Southern Leyte, Philippines in 2008.

http://www.coralcay.org

Marine conservation and protection is undoubtedly becomes a passion for many,   everyone is becoming conscious of the environment and for people who loves the ocean, always believe that it needs necessary care not only for the present but more importantly for the future generation. Inside me, I felt and thought that my effort for these issues was only a minuscule of what was necessary of the vast waters around us. The seventy percent water that comprises the Earth is unimaginable and sustaining this important resource from all forms of risks including global climate change is very challenging and gargantuan for that matter.  The Earth is in dire need right now of human intervention.

It was in September 2017 that I stumbled from the internet after curiously searching on marine volunteer works, about Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) based in London, UK with a field base in San Francisco, Southern Leyte.  So, I carefully browse the information from their website believing that their target participants were foreign nationals only, consequently inquired if they accept local residents for the programme. The reply was good news, scholarships are offered to local residents with matching screening and qualified divers were very welcome. The rest was history. I was accepted as a CCC Expedition scholar in October 2017!

It was only in November 2018 that I finally traveled to Southern Leyte for my engagement, the year was filled with challenging tasks and I was only available in the last few weeks of the year.  Such a long wait, yet the excitement was coupled with apprehension as I would be working with total strangers in an obscure remote town I was not familiar with.  I chose the long trip by land which was an adventure by itself, cruising to Visayas through Lipata and San Ricardo route was one of the routes I was searching on and wanted to do, long before.

I found it an advantage choosing the last batch team for the year, it was lean period and so it wasn’t crowded. The pace was fitting for me as I need to absorb the lessons deeply, the follow-up exams were not easy, both underwater and on computer.  The lessons were to prepare the volunteers for the survey works, identifying the substrates, invertebrates and target fish species correctly so that only accurate data were provided for the study in establishment of marine protected area.  The community were involved also and participated in  gathering data and raising awareness for marine conservation understanding.

The four-week stay in Barangay Napantao was full – household chores, lessons, exams, dives – Sundays however, serves as off-gassing day as a rule. Our meals were venues for stories, accusations, confessions, jokes, or the critter for the day’s dive nomination, and laughter… 🙂  Seriously, it was hard work and definitely not for the faint-hearted, diving have standards and protocols, whether boat or shore dives. I gained thirty five (35) dives during the expedition including one night shore dive at the house reef, again I would say it was hard work. Yet, I was grateful I was given the chance to work for a cause for the marine world. Perhaps my contribution was too trivial, yet I learned so much more about marine life and environment, most importantly gained scientific skills. The encounters were memorable and truly enriching. Indeed, we can only protect what we love. Obviously, the CCC team and other volunteers made my stint possible and a rewarding one.

The bruises, stings, scratches and scars I got during the expedition will soon disappear and  forgotten but the memories and gained insights will surely linger on.  Surely, we can only have good intentions for what we love and for what we need to protect. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am one proud CCC scholar!

NB. Photo credits to Mr. Gareth Turner, Field Base Manager during the period. The expedition base is located in Napantao, San Francisco, Southern Leyte within Sogod Bay.

Crustacean or Arachnid?

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Have you encountered a horseshoe crab? Few months back, I sighted one while we walked along Cockle Cove beach (Chatham, MA) and was wondering what it was!  It had a hard shell like a crab but has a tail, by appearance it formed like a ray but with hard externals. It was dead though as we found it partly buried on the sand. We found few more shells around in different sizes. The next day while on trail at Hamblen Park (Welfleet, MA), we found more on grassy wetlands. It was lifeless though, but bigger and still complete I thought at first it was alive. My sister said it’s not edible but never dangerous. I have never seen this animal in the Philippines.

Here are few interesting facts about the specie, I learned it’s not alien in Philippine waters and just one of many significant critters in marine world.

  1. Horseshoe crabs are actually not true crabs at all, being more closely related to arachnids (a group that includes spiders and scorpions) than to crustaceans (a group that includes true crabs, lobsters, and shrimp).
  2. Often called “living fossils,” horseshoe crab ancestors can traced back through the geologic record to around 445 million years ago, 200 million years before dinosaurs existed.
  3. There are four species of horseshoe crabs that exists today, viz.
    a.) Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) lives around the Gulf and eastern Atlantic coasts of the United States.
    b.) Mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) and the Coastal horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas) have similar ranges. They live in parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
    c.) Chinese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus). This species is found in parts of the eastern Pacific Ocean.
  4. This animal is harmless in reality, although some people viewed them as dangerous due to its spike-like tail. The horseshoe crab’s tail is used primarily to flip the animal upright if it is overturned.
  5. Horseshoe crabs are known for their large nesting aggregations or groups on beaches, the male fertilizes the eggs as the female lays them in a nest in the sand.  Most of this nesting activity takes place during high tides around the time of a new or full moon.
  6. The young and adult horseshoe crabs spend most of their time on the sandy bottoms of intertidal flats or zones above the low tide mark and feed on various invertebrates.
  7. Horseshoe crabs are an important part of the ecology of coastal communities. Their eggs are the major food sourceof migrating birds and these birds evolve to time their migration to coincide during spawning activity.  Many fish species have been observed feeding on horseshoe crab eggs in Florida. Adult horseshoes serve as prey for sea turtles, alligators, horse conchs and sharks.
  8. Horseshoe crabs are also extremely important to the biomedical industry because their unique, copper-based blue blood contains a substance called “Limulus Amebocyte Lysate”(LAL) that are chemically used to determine the presence of toxins. This compound coagulates in the presence of small amounts of bacterial toxins and is used to test for sterility of medical equipment and virtually all injectable drugs.
  9. Horseshoe crabs are marine animals, which means they live in salt water. The eggs are laid on the sand, when hatched the juvenile stay on shallow water where they are protected, like estuaries until they reached two years old. After two years, the now-adult horseshoe crabs can move into deeper water. Adults are found at depths ranging from 100 feet deep to more than 600 feet deep.
  1. They can and do swim, but for the most part they simply walk along the bottom since this is where their food is located.Its main diet consists of worms as well as mollusks, which are animals with a soft body, no spine, and a hard protective shell. Clams are the most common mollusk in the horseshoe crab’s diet.

There are three species of horseshoe crabs that can be found in the country; the Mangrove, Coastal and Chinese but unfortunately haven’t encountered any yet so far. I could only wish I will see one in the sandy bottom in the depths. Actually, they are endangered species in the Philippines and I think the remaining resources needs to be protected and managed.  They are very important in biodiversity conservation and plays an important role in the marine ecosystem.

NB.  Above facts were resourced from http://www.myfwc.com

Love from Cape Cod (Part III)

We drove to the northernmost tip of the Cape, Provincetown is where the historic first landing of The Pilgrims of the so called New World. I love this quaint town, so picturesque actually.

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White wash buildings were common in the town!

It has maintained its idyllic and rural setting and I believe its inhabitants never felt pressured to adopt modernity extensively. It is said that the residents felt violated with their privacy with the influx of tourists during summer. The town is filled with old buildings, art galleries, coffee shops & restos, seafood shacks, gift & souvenir shops and even thrift shops! It’s that kind of setting where you can just walk about the whole town, when you feel tired you can just sit on one of those benches around and you can grab something nearby if you need to munch or quench your thirst.  And we practically went around, my sister insisted with the unique shops and we didn’t miss the shell shop at Commercial Street, the friendly owner showed us around and it was interesting that she had visited Philippines twice and still planning to be back!

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Almost surrounded by waters and definitely part of the network of marine sanctuaries in the Cape, this northern town housed a center for coastal studies with on-going research on the Stellwagen Bank, an underwater plateau of sand and gravel historically important as a fishing ground for more than 400 years.  The region is rich with maritime history and teeming with life, it was designated as national marine sanctuary in 1992. Provincetown is very significant in the whole territory of Cape Cod.

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Waiting for the signs of whales!

Lastly, the highlight of my trip in the Cape was the whale watching cruise based in Hyannis,  I was not expecting or even planning for it, actually it was expensive. But my sister thought I love the marine world, Gary facilitated for the trip with the Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises as we drove to Barnstable. It was a more than two-hour cruise hosted by a marine biologist who has been on the research team for more than two decades (if I hear it right!). During the trip, the naturalist narrated about the Stellwagen Bank and extensively explained the whales species that normally migrated by season, it is the feeding ground of this animals during summer. The blues skies and the blue seas lifted my spirit even if I was in the midst of total strangers, the waters was perfectly balmy after out of the realms for many weeks!

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It took an hour before the first sighting, the host calling out – 1 o’clock!; 11 o’clock!; 10 o’clock! – the watchers shifted position now and then. We were at a distance when a humpback breached!  It was so quick, I just watched in awe, obviously no chance for photos! 😦  There were few more sightings, always shifting when the host called out the position.  You could hear the swooshing and the spray of salt waters up like a fountain, which they explained that the animal was breathing! The whale according to the naturalist was doing zigzag route down under, perhaps viewing the animal from their gadgets.  Many times, the whale showed its tale like waving for us, my position was not favorable for a wider view of the tale so my photos was somewhat obscure. It was too fast, I got stunned I merely watched the sight in awe! Truly, it was a wonderful experience!

My Cape Cod trip will never be forgotten, as they say, “it’s for the books!” but more than that, it’s for my heart treasured forever.  I may never get the chance again to be there but the memories was an important experience and a special part of my marine world learning in the Atlantic front. There was just abundance of life!

Love from Cape Cod (Part II)

Needless to say, vacation at Cape Cod costs a fortune, this exotic place definitely demands a price. But the Lord provided for everything through the generosity of my sister and family including the children. After more than two decades of waiting, I finally made it. Indeed, there is always a right time for everything!

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The summer house at Wellfleet!

The few days we had at the Cape was about getting around, while we were staying south of Chatham which has its own waterfront we spend more time at Wellfleet. My sister’s family revisited them to show me around, the children grew up coming in these spots almost very summer. Definitely, it was part of their childhood memories and always a joy for them to be here.

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The Salt Marsh is one good find at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, we started the trail from Uncle Tim’s Bridge crossing the Duck Harbor Creek to Hamblen Island overlooking the mudflats, where few birds took refuge and perhaps searching for shells, crabs and grasses for feeds. Then found a horseshoe crab by the side trails, unfortunately it was lifeless. It was my first encounter of such specie, it’s not edible though. There‘s small clearing near the bridge ruins at the creek, where one can sit and watch the view which at the time was all green, the rushing waters was also an attraction. Crabs, shells and other crustaceans dwell by the tidal marsh, a natural habitat for them. The locals on the area supported by the government have endeavored for its protection and preservation.

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The Cockle Cove Beach was facing the Nantucket Sound

The Cockle Cove Beach was just near our Air B&B abode in Chatham, for me it was more than just a spot for pleasure. The beach was just a short drive with my niece and nephew and fortunately the parking was free when we went there! The warm waters from Nantucket Sound is perfect for swimming but there were no beach-goers, only few people were there taking lessons for SUP and windsurfing.

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Yet, I was more interested of the seagulls hovering, unbelievably flying low with few landed along the sand picking with the sea weeds, it was surprising they stood their ground while we passed by looking for shells. Just few meters above was Mill Creek where we sighted thousands of hermit crabs and other crustaceans inhabiting the mudflats, a multitude were crawling by the creek side. The cove is without doubt part of sanctuary network in the Cape, series of restoration efforts were mobilized also due to sand erosion in the area.