MANILA, Philippines – Moray eels and small, almost transparent sharks in ankle-deep waters.
Giant clams, octopuses and fish in almost every color of the rainbow in deeper waters.
Dark forests reflected in hauntingly quiet lagoons.
Expanses of seemingly endless white sand and rock formations.
Sea eagles calling and circling in the sky.
These were just some of the things I looked forward to every day during my stay in Danjugan Island.
Danjugan Island is a marine reserve and wildlife sanctuary of around 43 hectares in Cauayan, Negros Occidental.
The Philippine Reef & Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI) calls Danjugan “nature’s perfect classroom” because it is home to different ecosystems: mangroves, sea grass beds, lagoons, coral reefs, open ocean, limestone forests and caves.
In fact, the PRRCFI regularly holds marine and wildlife camps for kids and teens to teach environmental awareness and protection.
During my stay in the island, I was fortunate to observe and occasionally take part in the camp for Grade 5 and 6 students of Sialay Elementary School from the Negros mainland.
They had classroom lectures on the importance of ecosystems like mangroves and coral reefs, how to identify birds, how to address climate change and more.
Of course, the camp would not be complete without outdoor activities like snorkeling, bird watching, beach clean-up and, yes, even a talent night.
Danjugan is a model of environmental protection with solar-powered lighting, regular rain collection and the use of a compost toilet.
The importance of resources is impressed upon the campers as the island has no fresh water supply — all fresh water for washing and drinking is delivered from the mainland. Collected rainwater can be used for washing only when available.
Thus, each camper is encouraged to use only one pail of water per day.
Staying in Danjugan, in fact, is not just about appreciating its natural beauty but about going back to the basics. In fact, there is no community living on the island, save for a handful of staff.
Thus, guests cannot expect 5-star resort accommodation while staying there. Campers, volunteers and even guests sleep on mattresses in open-air cabanas. There are no toilets per cabana; toilets are communal. The dining area is also communal.
Mud houses are currently under construction, though, to possibly accommodate guests and activities in the future.
But though the island may not offer all creature comforts, it is a promising feast for the senses to the camper and day or overnight guest alike.
There is no shortage of activities — one can go trekking in the forests or diving in any of the island’s 10 dive sites.
There are sightings of hawksbill turtles, blacktip reef sharks, and sometimes manta rays and whale sharks.
Other activities are snorkeling in reefs near the shore, kayaking to and through lagoons, bird watching, “bat caving” or simply just sitting or lying in the sand to soak in the island’s beauty.
Campers will leave with better knowledge of the environment as well as awe with their unforgettable — and for some, first — encounters with wildlife.
The campers and I were definitely dumbstruck when we first saw a white-breasted sea eagle and blacktip reef shark.
To paying guests, there is also the added gratification and perhaps fulfillment that their money is being used to keep the island in its beautiful and unspoiled state. – Rappler.com
Claire Madarang is an adventurer who believes in traveling light both in the outer and inner journey. She has just backpacked for 7 weeks around Visayas and is now traveling more. Follow her adventures at www.iamtravelinglight.com.