Tourists enjoy Albay island, help check illegal fishing
It was not just to offer tourists their dream destination that drove the Springael family to open a beach resort on Guinanayan Island to the public last year.
Gabriel Springael, 39, says more people and attention from the outside had to be brought to the island facing the Pacific Ocean to protect it from rampant dynamite fishing in its surrounding waters.
His family owns the 118-hectare island in Barangay Galicia of Rapu-Rapu, a coastal town in Albay. Guinanayan, with a population of 225 or 45 households, is four hours by boat from Tabaco City, the jump-off point in the mainland.
Gabriel and most of his nine siblings have been living there most of their lives, together with their relatives, but they were not that many to keep guard of the seas. Their parents, Rogelio and Elena, are both dead.
In October last year, they opened the place to campers, backpackers and tourists, putting more value on environmental preservation than the vertical-horizontal development that a resort business usually requires.
“Since the last quarter of 2014, we noticed that illegal fishers have not been spotted in our area. Our visitors helped us in keeping these fishers away,” Gabriel said.
Tourists like Monaliza Bayaban, 43, of Tabaco, are happy to be of help. “Aside from enjoying the beauty of nature this summer, we were able to help them in protecting the environment,” says the woman, who came with her siblings from Naga City in neighboring Camarines Sur province.
Bayaban discovered the island while browsing the social networking site Facebook.
April Vibar and her best friend, Bianca Montenegro, both 19, and from Legazpi City, were dismayed by what they discovered: damaged coral reefs in what should have been pristine seabed off the shore.
“This is our first time here, but we hope to come back to help them protect this island. As we roamed, we saw some pieces of evidence of environmental abuse, I am ‘in’ in their campaign to stop dynamite fishing,” Vibar said.
Supt. Marlo Meneses, provincial police director, said 137 people had been arrested in Albay for illegal fishing in 2014. During the first quarter of this year, 25 were apprehended.
Most of the illegal fishing activities occurred in the municipal waters of Rapu-Rapu, Tiwi and Bacacay, and of Tabaco. “Some of the fishers used compressor, fine mesh nets and dynamite,” Meneses said.
Four have been charged in court while some were fined by the local government units, the police officer said.
Though they lack boats for sea patrol, Meneses said barangay officials had been able to assist the lawmen in going after illegal fishers.
The effort of the Springael family to protect the Guinanayan Island has called the attention of the provincial government. This summer, Albay officials have endorsed the place as part of a day tour island-hopping package.
Tourists can see corals right at the knee-deep Binalagbagan Channel in the Cagraray Pass of Bacacay, says Rommel Candaza, a tour guide and water sports development coordinator of Albay tourism office. Orange starfish, sea urchins and other fishes are also visible in the crystal-clear waters, making the area ideal for snorkeling.
The channel is two to three kilometers away from Guinanayan. Four to five kilometers farther is the Uson Buang Pongco Bonga Fish Sanctuary and Marine Reserve, a designated marine protected area in Bacacay.
“Fishing is restricted. That’s why we can see growing corals and an increasing number of fish,” Candaza says.
While on Guinanayan, visitors can climb the three-story Guinanayan Hill to reach a perfect view deck for sunrise, sunset and even stargazing. On a clear day, they can also be rewarded with the breathtaking views of Albay’s three volcanoes—Mayon, Masaraga and Malinao.
For as low as P100, visitors can explore the surrounding waters by banana boat and kayak. Guides are available upon request, Springael says.
The resort collects an entrance fee of P20 per person, regardless of length of stay. An open cottage costs P200 per day while a tent for up to three people costs P350 per day.
Cottages and a tent pitching site are on one corner of the island, which connects to an expanse of white sandy shore leading to the foothill.
Though Guinanayan has not yet gained enough publicity, Springael says his family owes their visitors for indirectly discouraging fishermen from blasting corals and schools of fish.
“If you try to look under water, you can’t see growing juvenile corals along this island. We will have to wait many years before it will go back to its real grandeur,” he says.
At the port of Tabaco City, 37 kilometers from Legazpi City, a ferry trip to Rapu-Rapu Island is available at 11:30 a.m. daily at P60 per passenger. It takes about three hours to reach Rapu-Rapu port.
A boat ride to Guinanayan can be taken in Barangay Galicia.
The return trip from Rapu-Rapu to Tabaco is every 7 a.m. From Tabaco, one can head for Batan Island, which is also part of Rapu-Rapu, before transferring to another banca for Guinanayan.
Tourists can hire a boat for P3,000 to P4,000 straight to Guinanayan in four hours, depending on the number of passengers and arrangement with the operator.
A cheaper alternative is the day tour endorsed by the Albay tourism office, in partnership with Candaza’s travel and tour agency, Roaming Rome Knows Travel. The tour costs P999 per person for a group of at least 10 persons. The fee covers travel, beach entrance, cottage rental and three meals—breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rental of equipment is another matter.
From Tabaco Pass, visitors travel for an hour to reach Monkey Island in Bacacay, the so-called sanctuary of coconut-eating monkeys. From there, they can see the Bahi Cove and enjoy a short trip to the Cagraray Eco-Energy Park and its famed amphitheater.
They can head again for Guinanayan, passing by Misibis Bay Resort, the tropical getaway in Albay sitting on Cagraray Island. From Misibis, it takes two more hours to reach Guinanayan.
On the island, visitors can partake of a sumptuous lunch, walk around or swim for a few hours before returning to Tabaco.
“Instead of asking them to bring their own food, I am asking the resort owner to prepare local food for the visitors. Tourists will leave no garbage but income to the community. This is what we call community-based tourism,” says Candaza.
For reservations and inquiries, call (639) 27-242-5115.