Danjugan Island: Where Vacation and Conservation Go Hand-in-Hand
Summer is nearing and its time to start looking for where to park your bum when it arrives. The Visayas is littered with beautiful spots that are all vying for your attention, but there is one destination that stands out, because of its natural beauty, and of the cause at its core.
In Negros Occidental, just floating off the tail end of the region’s ‘sea horse’ shape is Danjugan Island, a marine sanctuary and nature reserve.
It takes 3-and-a-half hours by land and sea to get from Bacolod City to Danjugan Island, but the journey feels like a giant step away from the creature comforts of city life.
Limited cellphone reception and lack of running fresh water and electricity (the island runs on solar energy) are key aspects to life on the island, which is a relief for those among us who are looking for a break from their phones and laptops.
Arrive a tourist, leave a conservationist
Visitors get to experience nature’s diversity first-hand at Danjugan Island: forty three hectares of sea and forest have been playing host to hundreds of different plant and animal species since being acquired as a conservation site close to twenty five years ago.
Five lagoons, countless coral reefs, a forest filled with birds and wildlife, and an unpopulated beach facing the Sulu Sea—these are what await the nature-loving tourists who come for a choice of a 3-hour eco-tour, day-trip, or overnight stay at Danjugan’s two accommodations (Moray Lagoon Camp and Typhoon Beach).
After a municipal ordinance declared the waters around Danjugan Island as a marine reserve with three sanctuaries (or no-take zones) in 2000, the PRRCFI (The Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, Inc.), headed by its President, Mr. Gerry Ledesma, has taken further steps to ensure the protection of the habitats and species in and around Danjugan.
They and the people involved with Danjugan work with conservation as their top concern by prioritizing wildlife conservation before any project’s goals, conducting scientific studies or surveys to monitor wildlife, operating with a low-impact tourism program to sustain the project, reporting illegal fishing activities, cleaning up marine debris from the shores and reefs, and mostly conducting environmental education events and efforts.
Aside from the low-impact tourism program that allows a few visitors to visit at a time, Danjugan has been holding Marine and Wildlife Camps since 1991.
Danjugan Island Marine & Wildlife Camps: Inspiring today’s youth to be tomorrow’s conservationists
The first Marine and Wildlife Camp was organized through the leadership of Mr. Ledesma, aiming to gather youth and expose them to marine and terrestrial biology and environmental sciences, bringing theory immediately to life by experiencing nature.
Mr. Ledesma, also a Scuba Dive Instructor, has since invited scientists to facilitate hands-on and experiential learning in the camps, and this has become the camp’s approach over the years.
Speakers like Dr. AA Yaptinchay of the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, Anna Oposa of Save Philippine Seas, and Vince Cinches of Greenpeace Philippines were present at the 2016 camps, while regular speakers like Pavel Hospodarsky of Talarak Foundation, Lisa Paguntalan and Godfrey Jakosalem of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc., Dr. Rene Abesamis of the Silliman University – Institute of Environment and Marine Sciences, and Dr. Ari Barcelona (formerly of WWF Philippines and Balyena.org) have also been invited to speak to camp participants in the past.
The Marine & Wildlife Youth Camps grown in frequency since its inception—growing from once a year to four, this year.
The camps are run by volunteers aged 18 and older who preferably have a strong science and conservation background.
“It’s essential that volunteers inspire and educate campers towards taking care of our environment when they interact with campers at every moment while in camp”, says Kaila Ledesma, one of Danjugan Island’s board members.
“We really enjoy leading ID activities – when campers either snorkel with an underwater slate on hand to take note or drawings of fish and corals to identify them with biologists back to shore, or when campers trek around the island to identify birds or plants.”
PRRCFI Executive Director Dave Albao shares that camps have been held exclusively for numerous schools and private groups (British School Manila, Cebu International School, Beacon Academy, Multiple Intelligence International School, Lamblight School, University of Scranton in the USA, and Hiroshima University in Japan), and stresses that Danjugan Island highly encourages and continuously engages schools and organizations to participate in or organize their own Marine & Wildlife Camps.
Adult volunteers need great water skills too: leaders need to be able to handle young campers and ensure their safety during water activities, like snorkeling. Doctors/nurses or professionals with first-aid training are also encouraged to volunteer.
Interested volunteers need to write a formal letter to PRRCFI with their bio and CV, but slots are subject to availability. However, volunteers need not pay for their lodging since they will be assigned work during camp.
“When kids (also adults) conquer their fear of the water or the wild, when they are able to appreciate, enjoy, and connect with nature, when they see the role of a clean and healthy environment in their lives, and when they understand the need to respect and protect habitats and species—those would be the among the best takeaways.
What always moves us are moments when former campers return, as scientists or conservationists (advocates, lawyers, teachers), say that the camps inspired them to pursue their careers, and then volunteer to inspire the next generation of campers. At our last adult camp, one participant was a camper from the very first camp (in 1991). He came back to participate as an adult camper with his wife, and also to reunite with another camper from the same first batch who is now a marine biologist.”
With only twenty four young campers allowed per camp, in a remote island with very little distraction from the modern world, enables the campers to connect with each other—to both the volunteers and leaders—and build friendships that last.
The obvious takeaways would be getting to experience such natural beauty first-hand, but they’re far from the only things to be had out of a visit to Danjugan.
The youth camp costs P13,500 for 5D/4N (inclusive of lodging, meals, and boat transfers. The adult camp costs P11,500 for 4D/3N (all-inclusive).