This definitely wasn’t your usual beach scene, under this bluegreen blanket, a few meters from where we were standing, were the most kickass sights I’ve ever seen.
Aside from my Lola’s hometown of Valencia, if there was one place in the province of Negros that I would have not minded going back to again and again, it would have been Apo Island. This tiny island may just make it into my Top 5 Most Epic Destinations of all time!
Know the places I featured in The Batanes Great Spaces List? Roll them all into one then multiply its impact a few times. Yes, it was that amazing especially for somebody who never learned how to swim. Having been able to behold such grandeur under the sea was such a treat! I’m talking about the underwater playground that was the Apo Island Fish Sanctuary..
A Little Island History
In the early 80’s, destructive fishing brought about a decline on the fisherfolks’ catch. To address this, a marine conservation program was started. Though not all of the locals were quick to support the project at first, they did come around and a no-take zone on the eastern part of the island was established.
No-Take means no fishing, no boat laying anchor, and the number of allowed people and activity (swimming, diving, snorkeling, etc..) at any given time is limited near the sanctuary. The goal was to protect the reefs where the fishes spawn thereby ultimately increasing fish abundance and promoting sustainability. Years later, the community saw the wonderful result of their efforts as colonies and colonies of corals began thriving in the sanctuary.
How to get to Apo Island
Get to the Dumaguete Ceres Bus Terminal and hop on a bus bound for Bayawan, let the driver know that you will be getting off at the Malatapay Market so you won’t miss your drop off point (like what happened to us and we have to hire a trike to backtrack). At least, the trike did bring us to the edge of the market where the tourist center is thereby saving us a 5 minute walk from the national highway to the boat post. You can then arrange your boat ride to and from the island, this may cost Php 2000.00 round trip for a small group.
The Wonders of Apo Island
Some favoritie activities on Apo Island are diving, chasing the pawikans, a trek to the lighthouse and those “photo shoot” on the rocks. But for our trip, the highlight of course was getting up close and personal with the creatures of the sanctuary.
I can’t deny it’s mighty fun swimming with the pawikans, but when it comes to underwater view, the western part paled compared to that of the sanctuary – the eastern side just vibrated with more color and life!
Unleash your inner mermaid! Or attempt to, that is..
I can’t stress it enough how scared I am of “deep” waters. If the water is at neck level I would most probably be on panic mode and already wading my way back to shore. (Yes, I’ve lived on an island city since birth and was surrounded with beaches and resorts, but somehow, I never learned how to swim! Err..) So yes, being in the water is a bit daunting for me. Thankfully, life jackets are available for rent so armed with snorkels, with our life vests strapped on and swimming shoes donned, off we go plunging into the water. We have 2 kids with us as guides slash photographers.
What made this excursion more delighting was that I didn’t have to go far out into sea to witness this breathtaking underwater scenery. Just a few meters from shore and with the water just 1-2 meters deep, the wonder begins.
So.. since I’m lame when it comes to the swimming thing, I’ll just show you how my good friend, Freedom, lived up to her name, swimming freely with the wonderful residents of this gorgeous city under the sea.
Oh, oh! I tried to do that, too!
I let go of the life vest for a few precious seconds just so I can (try) to dive under and get closer to Nemo Land (Clownfish City is what the locals call it) but it seems I neither know how to swim nor how to sink that one of our guides has to pull me down just so I can at least get closer to the sea floor and have that epic pic with them fishes, but alas, it was not meant to be, ugh, I think I chased them away..
Hence, for the duration of the “swim”, I may have just been skimming on the surface but I was perfectly happy! It was like flying over this colorful out-of-this-world city! I really wished my eyes can take photos so I can capture just how awesome that experience has been being in the actual sanctuary.
A Heartbreak Story
Our trip to Apo Island is definitely one for the books. That is why it was devastating when I learned that a few years back, two strong typhoons critically hit the island – destroying everything in the sanctuary.
Storm surge crushed the vulnerable branching corals, destroying entire colonies in the sanctuary that the east side had zero coral cover after the second storm. When I think of all those beautiful formations and creatures gone in a blink, that wonderful city being no more, yes, it is mightily heartbreaking. To this day, this part of the island remains closed and may stay that way for several years to allow the corals to recover.
– Fact, this sanctuary was started even before I was born, it took decades for it to flourish as most coral types just grow 1-2 cm only a year.
– Fact, climate change is real hence these storms may just become stronger.
– Also a fact, I’m awfully scared of learning how to swim.
– Adding these all up, I may sadly never see such grandness in my lifetime again.
There is Hope
But they say that the west side of the island where you chase those pawikans did escape the brunt of the storms. I’ve also read accounts that 1-2 inches of coral colonies are starting to spurt around the island. With these baby corals growing, and hopefully storms bypassing the island in the coming years, a new sanctuary may just arise! In a few years, the reefs may be flourising and color may just come back to these shores once again. Yes, there may still be hope.. and I may somehow finally learn to swim and I can frolick in this Underwater Playground once again.