MABINI, Compostela Valley (May 12) – Tourism regional director Sonia Garcia pushed for the adoption of a turtle conservation plan along the beaches of Compostela Valley and the island of Kopiat to protect the rare and endangered marine creature which breeds in the Mabini protected seascape of Davao gulf.
Garcia was speaking at the opening of the new cosmopolitan bar of Beach View Resort in Pindasan, Mabini and the 2nd summer beach festival of Compostela Valley on May 8 where she was the guest speaker.
The festival, an annual summer sports project of the province’s association of hotels and resorts, the provincial fitness and sports council, and the provincial tourism was launched successfully last year with a series of beach sports events including water volleyball.
“It’s high time that Comval took advantage of its coastline to promote its ecotourism program and to join the advocacy to conserve the rare turtle species that have made the coasts and the nearby Kopiat and Lunod islands their spawning ground,” Garcia said.
Impressed by the investment Beach View Resort has poured into its operations, the tourism director said the resort could enhance its growth further by embracing a turtle conservation advocacy program that would tap the endangered species as an icon.
Garcia said Beach View Resort, founded in 1991 initially as a private resort of the Omandac family, could organize a tour package that will feature a turtle exhibit, beachcombing and monitoring the turtle breeding grounds of Kopiat island, and a fireflies tour to and mangrove immersion in nearby Lunod island.
The DOT regional director said she had been pushing for what she called a “punta pawikan” initiative among beach resorts in Davao region and was happy that Beach View was open to the idea.
Eliza Omandac, owner of Beach View, said years ago the resort featured a marine turtle viewing but had long ago stopped it after they freed the creature back to the sea.
“If the plan pushes through, we would be proud that we in tourism have helped protect these endangered species at the same time promote eco-tourism and the general tourism industry of Compostela Valley,” Christine Dompor, provincial tourism officer said later.
The shoreline of Compostela Valley forms the northern beach strand of Davao Gulf and stretches for some 50 kilometres from the boundary of Tagum City in the coastal town of Maco to Pantukan at the boundary with Davao Oriental. Mabini lies at the centre of the two Compostela Valley towns with Pindasan hosting the most number of resorts including Beach View, Centro Beach Resort, and Berioso Beach Resorts I & 2. They are just some of the 20 beach resorts dotting the provincial coastline including Magnaga Waters and Welborn in Pantukan.
Off the coast of Mabini are the hawksbill nesting islands of Kopiat and Lunod.
Travel to Kopiat takes about 20 minutes by motorized boat and a tour of the 87-hectare island takes about 45 minutes. A portion of the island encircles a seven-hectare lagoon. Unknown to many, the island hosts unspoiled reef areas with rare coral beds that house exotic marine life.
The island is a breeding ground of some of the marine turtle species found in Davao Gulf:
the Hawksbill, Oliver Ridley, Green Sea Turtle, Loggerhead, and the Leatherback.
Lunod island, a name derived from the Visayan dialect to mean being submerged, is surrounded by thick mangroves. It has an area of 17 hectares, more than half of which is a submerged mangrove forest and rich coral gardens, spawning grounds for fish, crustaceans, and other marine life that teem the Mabini seascape.
It takes 15 minutes to reach the island from any point of Mabini. A night tour of the island is a wonderful experience with the glittering tiny lights from fireflies that abound there.
Philippine Environmental Governance Project 2 (EcoGov), a technical assistance project in the Philippines funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said Davao Gulf is feeding ground to 11 species of cetaceans including sperm whales, killer whales, and bottle-nose dolphins.
A number of these species regularly swims the channel between Kopiat and Lunod to feed on the seascape’s seagrasses, rich planktons and krill. It is also a nursing ground to five endangered turtle species including the hawksbill, the leatherback, and olive ridley.
But sightings of these endangered marine mammals have become rare in the last years. The Davao Gulf Management Council, has warned that some of the world’s most vulnerable and threatened animal species found in Davao Gulf are being pushed further to the brink.
The council blames the situation on the lack of concerted initiatives to address environmental concerns in this key biodiversity area (KBA) in the Philippines, listed as one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots.
KBAs, which are considered "globally significant sites," are building blocks for conservation programs that maintain effective ecological networks and prevent biodiversity loss.
The gulf council, the coordinating body for initiatives to address environmental concerns in the gulf and composed of 23 local government units, said fragmented initiatives by national government agencies and local government units (LGUs) that deter integrated coastal management, and weak inter LGU mechanisms for coastal and fishery law enforcement were some of the pressing concern.
"The pressures of economic and social growth have to be addressed through a concerted effort by gulf stakeholders, especially LGUs, because Davao Gulf is the source of livelihood for the people around the gulf," says Save Davao Gulf Foundation president Leo R. Avila III.
Beach sports festival
The tourism office of Compostela Valley came out with the idea of a summer beach festival in 2009.
“It was born out of the common desire of Governor Arturo Uy, the resorts owners, the Provincial Tourism Council, and the sports and fitness council of Compostela Valley to tap the province’s coastline as a summer sports site for the youth, promote more local tourist visits, and raise awareness on the need to protect the rich marine biodiversity of the Mabini seascape,” Dompor said.
“That’s why on our second beach sports fest we introduced a marine-themed body paint contest, a regatta, and the Kopiat swimming challenge. Through these sports, we hope to make the visitors aware of the sea’s contributions to life. This, I believe concretizes the concept of eco-tourism,” the ComVal tourism officer said.
The festival actually and unofficially opened last May 1 with the Magnaga Girl of Summer Bikini Open. Last May 8, Beach View Resort in Pindasan Mabini held the grand opening of its Beach View Bar and hosted a press conference attended by regional Philippine Information Agency Director Efren Elbanbuena and regional tourism director Garcia.
It was one of the most attractive events along the Maco-Mabini-Pantukan coastline and feature the Kuntaw Ethno Band, Manong’s Island Fire Dancers, an art exhibit, a small bazaar, bonfire lighting, henna tattoo, and a fireworks display.
The official 2nd Summer Beach Festival officially will open on May 15 at Beach View Resort with a men’s beach volleyball competition in the morning and the fire dance competition, beach dance riot, and a reggae band contest in the afternoon and evening. Beach View will also host the women‘s beach volleyball on May 16.
The other events are: May 22 the Kopiat Challenge, a 700-metre swimming contest to Kopiat island from Beach View; Body painting competition and regatta sailing contest on May 23 in Berioso Beach in Pindasan; water volleyball in the morning and amazing race at Welborn Beach resort in Pantukan; and Bankarera at Magnaga Waters on May 30.
The Kopiat Challenge, Body Paint, Dance Riot, and Fire Dance contests are the latest competitions introduced to the beach festival following the success of the initial beach sports festival last year.
We plan to institutionalize the Kopiat swim challenge and open it to swimming lovers all over the country. We hope we can attract sponsors for a silver Kopiat cup and a bigger prize to the annual winner…maybe next year,” Dompor said.
Dubbed The Paint, the body paint is a body art competition all about painting the body based on marine environment themes. “We intend to promote the human skin as a perfect expression our love for the sea that gives us life and for art,” the provincial tourism officer said.
The Regatta is a competition of the ordinary and gaily-decorated out-rigger or non-outrigger boats with colourful sails to conquer the changing wind and sea conditions. “It is our way of paying tribute to the seafaring skills of Filipinos,” she explained.
The fire dance is a competition of dancers dancing and gyrating to loud music while swirling and throwing fireballs on string.
“Of course, this is the first such event in Davao region and we hope to gradually attract many people and visitors to join us in the future so they will have a taste of what Compostela Valley has in store for them in terms of culture, adventure and ecotourism,” Dompor said. (By Jimmy P. Abayon - PGO-Tourism Services Section)