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Wardens at Bongan Sandbar keep poachers, COVID-19 away

Getting inside a tourism bubble

A dilapidated bamboo raft with a paint-coated plywood walls and a separate kitchen bobs up in the waves spawned by the habagat, in the shallows of Bongan Sandbar in the middle of the Danajon bank, 8.5 kilometers off Talibon, Bohol. 

The flimsy bamboo raft is the base of two fish wardens assigned by the local government unit of Talibon to watch over the sanctuary, drive away illegal fishers, and enforce the environmental access to the strip of white sand that is a magnet for beach-seeking tourists and the region’s rich and the famous in their gleaming yachts. 

Armed with a small pumpboat, identification cards and an ordinance, the two fish wardens or locally known as Bantay Dagat have reportedly very little to do now that corona virus disease (COVID-1) has reached the Philippines.

BONGAN SANDBAR. Uninhabited, isolated, and pristine, Bongan sandbar is 8.5 kilometers off Talibon and sits in the middle of the Danajon Double Barrier Reef. (RAHC/Talibon Tourism Office)

With the flimsy pumpboat tied to the raft skipping in the surf, the two men adjusted the mooring ropes to protect the boat from smashing into the raft, as they facilitated a docking space for the coming boatful of local tourists. Off the distance are two white yachts, tender boats teetered in the aft as colorful bikini-clad ladies walked in and about the gangways, and men adjusting the tenders.

Edilberto Torreon, 34, and Erickson Mamolo, 26, are among Talibon’s municipal fish wardens; both are assigned to guard Bongan Sandbar, a strip of white sand peeking out in the middle of the Calutiban reef in Bohol’s famed Danajon bank.  

Danajon is among the world’s rarest marine phenomena: a double barrier reef that is noted to be among the world’s most bio-diverse marine environment.

KEEPING COVID-19 AND POACHERS AT BAY. Talibon fish wardens Erickson Mamolo and Edilberto Torreon keep the stand here at Bongan Sandbar, with the rickety bamboo raft as their base. Armed with a small pumpboat, IDs and an ordinance, they keep off anyone coming to the sandbar without the proper documentation and those with the evil intention to destroy the pristine sandbar. (RAHC/PIA7 Bohol)

It should have been not as choppy on that day despite the habagat blowing mad, after all, Talibon is on the lee side of Bohol. “Whether the sea is as calm as oil or as choppy as this, we are here, in the hottest of days and in the coldest, darkest night,” shared Edilberto, whose family lives in nearby Guindacpan Island, separated from the Bongan guard house by a kilometer of shallow reefs.

Soaked from the drenching rains and the lashing wind that sprays waves into the base, the two prepared to wade into the tide submerged sandbar to get to the yacht occupants who have boarded their boat and landed on the western end of the sandbar.

"We have been ordered to stop the people from the yachts from leaving their boats, the risk of the pandemic still high with foreigners possibly carrying the virus," adds Mamolo, who slipped into a rash guard.

FAMILY TOURISM BUBBLE. A family traveling in a tourist bubble is ferried to the Bongan Sandbar for a day's picnic. There, wardens Torreon and Mamolo explained to them the policies for sandbar guests. (RAHC/PIA7 Bohol)

However, if the yacht guests are locals from Cebu, they may come to the sandbar in a bubble but has to stay away from other groups. Still, the wardens need to come to the picnicking guests to collect the P100 per head environmental users fee as legislated by Talibon.

Bongan Sandbar, at low tide, presents itself as a curved strip of white sand measuring 150 meters more or less and punctuated by a three-storey abandoned concrete guardhouse, which on high tide, sits as a lonely sentinel standing guard in the middle of the sea. Naturally attracting beach-seeking picnickers, Bongan Sandbar has since been a favorite island hopping stop including the nearby Macalingao sand bar, attracting boatloads of beach goers, Torreon said.

In fact, the former Talibon mayor, who is a strict marine protection advocate, ordered the erection of the guard house after unscrupulous beachgoers brought in barges to siphon off the white sand to be sold to Cebu beach resorts. It was when the LGU decided to make sure that environment users, who could seldom be disciplined, are asked to pay for the access fees that guests to Bongan sandbar thinned.

SENTINEL AND MARINE BASE. The Bongan Sandbar guardhouse watches over island-hopping picnickers in their sand frolics. (LGU Talibon)

Managed by the Municipal Tourism Office, the Bongan Sandbar guards also make sure none of the visitors leave garbage, or do anything that could destroy the sand bar. While still many people visit the island that could be totally flooded and disappear during high tides, the pandemic and the protocols of community quarantine and gatherings without social distancing have thinned the guests to the sand bar, Mamolo admitted.

In Bohol, however, when COVID-19 cases are especially alarmingly high in the populated areas, public beaches are closed even to travelers in tourist bubbles.

In the northeastern part, however, being an uninhabited sandbar isolated from the islands here, Bongan is ideal for tourist bubble family bonding in these times of the pandemic.  (RAHC/PIA7 Bohol)

About the Author

Rey Anthony Chiu

Regional Editor

Region 7

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