LAMAVE Adventures: A Turtley Awesome Trip to Apo Island (Part 1)

I woke up very early hoping to have a quick bus ride from Cebu City to Dumaguete since I was told that the travel would last more than 6 hours. As I hopped in a cab, I left an anxious smile to my classmate Krai, who housed me for a night, since it was my first time to journey alone over Visayan Islands. I brought with me four luggages—vexing for a long travel I reckon—and rode one vehicle to another, which was a discomfort at that time. I arrived at 8:30 a.m. at the South Bus Station and needed to wait for the bus that would go straight to Dumaguete. I took my breakfast in the terminal and after an hour and a half of waiting, I finally managed to get a comfortable seat on the bus.

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Me and Krai

The travel lasted for six hours and I finally arrived in Malatapay waiting for upcoming passengers who would ride with me across the sea. As I stand on its shores, I gazed upon one of the Philippines’ well-known community-managed marine reserves, a microcosm of the rich Philippine seas—the Apo Island. It is known for its diverse marine ecosystems, which are favorite sites for divers, and recently became a must-see tourist attraction because of its marine turtles. Yes, marine turtles or locally known as Pawikans are a guaranteed sighting in the area and they were the reason why I am headed to the island.

In April 2016, I happened to read an opportunity posted by Dr. Alessandro Ponzo, the Director of the Large Marine Vertebrates (LAMAVE) Project Philippines on Facebook. It was a month-long scholarship for their Marine Turtle Tourism Interaction Study in Apo Island, Dauin, Negros Oriental in May 2016. Confident with my concurring experiences in research and advocacy works, I boldly applied and was fortunately got accepted. It was a momentous time for me knowing that LAMAVE was not a dream anymore. I’ve always wanted to be a part of their team; in fact, when I was still a Marine Biology student, I liked reading the works of LAMAVE, especially about whale sharks. It fascinated me a lot and would want to work with them someday. And that someday finally came. Never did I imagine that I’d be visiting Apo Island, not for a vacation but to work as a researcher of LAMAVE.

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The first photo I took when I was leaving for Apo Island

I boarded the boat with a French-Arab family and a few locals from the island. Since it was late afternoon, I expected to have a rougher ride, but it didn’t worry me for I have done oceanographic surveys during the Southwest Monsoon in Sarangani Bay. As we navigated forward, the shores of Malatapay faded while on the other side, Apo Island welcomed me with its limestone formations and contiguous stretch of white shores. The dark blue waters became shades of turquoise as we approached the shallows. While they were docking the boat, I took a quick glance of the circumambient people hoping that I would find someone wearing a LAMAVE shirt. Dashed, I jumped out of the boat and the boatman handed me my belongings. When I turned around, I saw a tall, slit-eyed man approaching and eventually reached out his hand and uttered Ethan. I knew then that he was a colleague.

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The sea turtle team: (from left) Ethan, Ivan, Monty, and me

Ethan, a BS Aquatic Biology student from Western Philippines University, introduced me to our two other teammates: Ivan, a BS Marine Biology graduate from Visayas State University and was an instructor of the same school, and Monty, an English MS Astrophysics graduate from the University of Sheffield and also our team leader. Ivan was a flamboyant lad and I knew then that we’d go along with each other because of our common interests as both Marine Biology graduates. On the contrary, Ethan was a serious-type, brother-figure, who talked few words yet enough to make me feel welcome. The coyness of Monty caught my attention, and if I would best describe him, he was reticent. He was selective of his words yet spoke like a learned man as he is. It’s like anytime he would speak about the physical nature of the cosmos and other celestial bodies. Although I kind of struggled following his northern English accent, it gave me the challenge to converse with him more often.

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A typical sunset in the island

As we all walked to our quarter, I noticed the picturesque scenery of the sun kissing the horizon—the clouds stretched long across the sky and were embellished with hues of orange and shades of blue. Ivan and Monty hurriedly spotted a perfect position, and from their vantage point, they both captured the spectacle of sunset on their cameras. Tourists walked along the shore as they enjoyed the breaking of astronomical twilight, the cold touch of wind was ironic to the fiery skies up above us. We’ve reached our two-storey quarter, which was being renovated at that time, and settled for a bit before we did the hours of works and acquaintances until the electricity went off at 9:00 p.m.


Photo was taken by another team member, Simon Hilbourne

It was a very tiring day and we all went to our respective place to sleep. I was offered to sleep on an airbed—the best thing I’ve had on that day. I positioned the bed in the balcony so that the fresh cold breeze from the sea would complement its comfiness. I was about to drift off, but the vast stillness of impenetrable umbra and its astral display of diverse constellations were too sublime not to be gazed upon. For a moment, I realized that tomorrow is the beginning of a month-long island adventure with LAMAVE. And as I closed my eyes, the breaking of waves became a soothing lullaby to that peaceful darkness.

To be continued …