Camiguin: Philippine’s Marine Sanctuary
By Apolinario Villalobos
Camiguin is the smallest island-province of the Philippines. Its minuteness should not be taken for granted, as the coralline island is cramming with nature’s treasures. The intriguing island can evoke imagined exaggerated stories, especially, as the highest pinnacle of Mt. Hibok-hibok dominates the view as the ferry taken from Balingoan (Cagayan de Oro) nears Benoni, the island’s port. The island province is composed of five municipalities…Mambajao, Mahinog, Guinsilban, Sagay, and Catarman.
Mambajao prides in the White Island Marine Sanctuary which is located two kilometers from Agoho, west of the town. The strip of white sand bar is shaped like a letter C. It is a popular picnic site of locals and visitors to the island. Around the sand bar are coral gardens that snorklers will surely enjoy. Other marine sanctuaries are Baylao Marine Sanctuary, Kabiling Tupsan Marine Sanctuary, and Magting Marine Sanctuary. Additionally, marine sports will also delight in the Jicduf Reef and the Old Volcano. The latter is composed of a series of peaks that rise 80 feet from the ocean floor.
At Mahinog, a pocket of forest offers birdwatchers endemic avian life. The green canopy is actually that of Mantique Island Marine Sanctuary where a fascinating scuba dive can be made. The minute forest island’s coral gardens are homes to big-eyed jacks and sea turtles. Aside from Mantique, the municipality of Mahinog also boasts of Burias Shoal, San Roque, Benoni and Binaliwan marine sanctuaries.
The southern municipality of Guinsilban on the other hand, offers Cabuan Marine Sanctuary and South Marine Sanctuary with more abundant and colorful coral fishes, while the Cantaan coral communities are dominated by giant clams.
West of the island is Sagay where two protected marine sanctuaries, the Alangilan and Balite, are found, with their coral gardens profusely alive with colorful fishes. The most famous marine product of the municipality is squid, albeit, fishing for which is regulated.
Catarman is the site of the so-called “sunken cemetery”, following the eruption of the volcano in 1871. The other attractions of the town are the Pasil Reef Marine Sanctuary, Catibac Marine Sanctuary, Lawigan Marine Sanctuary, and Poblacion Marine Sanctuary.
The island province has a total of 31 Marine Protected Areas (MPA), virtually making the whole island a protected area, and a top dive site of the country.
Other must-visit on the island are: Katibawasan Falls, 5 kilometers southeast of Mambajao; Tuasan Falls, 6 kilometers northeast of Catarman; Bura Soda Water Swimming Pool, located at Bura, Catarman; Esperanza Ardent Hot Spring, 6 kilometers southwest of Mambajao, fed by the warm spring water that escape from the vents of Mt. Hibok-Hibok; Sto. Niῆo Cold Spring, 4 kilometers, north of central Catarman; Tangub Hot Spring, 12 kilometers west of Mambajao; Macao Cold Spring, located at Tupsan Pequeῆo; Tanguines Lagoon, located at Benoni, a man-made lagoon fed with warm water, where boating can be made.
The prominent feature of the island is Mt. Hibok-hibok with its 3,584 feet above sea level height and craggy slopes. From a distance the jagged tips of black corals look forbidding. The extinct volcano can be negotiated in about four to five hours. For a leisurely climb, it is suggested to spend a night at the Abo camping site in preparation for the trek up, early the following morning. Guides and porters can be arranged at Benoni, where some tour guides can be found soliciting clients. The best way however, is to make arrangements with the lodging house or resort management where one is billeted.
The main produce of the island, aside from copra is lanzones which is one of the sweetest in the country. The islanders bring their produce to as far as Manila where it vies in popularity with those from Laguna, source of another sweet variety. The island is good for a three to four-day sojourn to fully enjoy the stay that should include snorkeling and diving, as well as, leisurely trek up Mt. Hibok-Hibok.
Historically, Camiguin was visited by Legaspi in 1565. The first settlement was Guinsilban, established in 1598. Many years later, a major Spanish settlement was established in Catarman known before as Katagman or Katagman, in 1679, growing by leaps to become what was known later as Barangay Bonbon. On May 1, 1871, Mt. Vulcan Daan erupted and destroyed the town, leaving only traces of the old Spanish church, convent and bell tower. Sagay was established as a town in 1848, while Mambajao became one, in 1855. Mambajao was derived from the Visayan word “to have breakfast”. The town of Mambajao prospered in the 1900s due to its port which was among the busiest in northern Mindanao. Both Mahinog and Guinsilban used to be under the administration of Sagay. Later, the two got separated to become municipalites, with Mahinog in 1860 and Guinsilban in 1950.
The island of Camiguin beckons to visitors who prefer unspoiled surrounding. For a packaged tour, that include Cagayan and Bukidnon, Camiguin is suggested as the last destination in the itinerary, so that the weary body can rewind in any chosen tranquil white beach of the island.