Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

In the midst of the famed blue waters of Ticao Island, a mangrove forest that has been declared a protected area, promises visitors an amazing nature and adventure experience.

The Bongsanglay Natural Park, or BongNP, covers 518.90 hectares of lush mangrove forests, brackish river systems, and white sand beaches in Batuan, Ticao Island, Masbate in the Bicol Region of the Philippines. 

BongNP belongs to the 113 legislated protected areas (PAs) throughout the country. As part of a PA, BongNP’s land and water have been set aside for their uniqueness, ecological richness, and biodiversity. They are further protected from exploitation and destruction caused by human activities. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

BongNP was first declared as the “Bongsanglay Mangrove Forest Reserve” through Presidential Proclamation No. 2152 in December 1981. 

Mangroves of Bongsanglay

BongNP Protected Area Superintendent (PASU) Ana Bartolay said that 244 hectares of the total area of BongNP are covered with mangroves. The protected area’s diverse mangrove forest is over a century old, and it is home to what is considered the biggest mangrove tree in the Bicol region as per records in 1998. The tree, which may be visited in the natural park, measures 1.35 meters in diameter and stands at 7.60 meters. It is locally known as “Miyapi.” and has the scientific name, Avicennia officinalis.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Apart from the “Miyapi,” many other mangroves may be found in BongNP. The latest inventory by the DENR as of 2019 reported that 34 true mangrove species and 32 mangrove associates exist in the protected area. 

PASU Bortalay said one of the 34 species of mangroves has been classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. 

The UNDP’s Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme also cites that BongNP has all three species of the mangrove family of Sonneratiaceae— “pagatpat,” “pedada,” and “pagatpat-baye.” 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Mangrove ecosystems such as those in BongNP grow in intertidal zones along coastal areas and estuaries, among others. Mangroves support diverse marine life, prevent land erosion, lessen pollution, recycle nutrients, and act as lines of defense against typhoons and storm surges, among others. In the Philippines, natural mangroves covered 247,263 hectares in 2003 based on DENR data. 

But mangrove ecosystems face the threats of destruction amid urbanization, land development, overharvesting, pollution, and conversion of areas to fish ponds, among others. 

The World Bank notes that without mangroves, flooding and damages in the Philippines would increase annually by around 25 percent. Philippine mangroves reduce flooding to 613,000 people per year, 23 percent of whom live in poverty. 

Opening up protected areas like the BongNP to ecotourism activities helps disseminate such facts to more people, aside from generating additional revenues for conservation efforts. 

Activities in Bongsanglay

Photo courtesy of Department of Tourism.

To better appreciate the mangroves of BongNP, visitors can go on a guided tour with the forest protection officers in the PA. Entrance fee to BongNP is P30 as of June 2022. Visitors can see the big mangrove trees known as “Bakawan-lalaki,” which, according to Dr. Jurgenne Primavera, a widely recognized Filipino scientist who has studied mangrove ecosystems, are the largest she has seen in the country. 

Visitors can find in BongNP the big octopus tree, or encounter the threatened or endangered mangroves “Bantigue” and “Gapas-gapas,” as well as the “Hoya” flowers. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

BongNP is also home to the Visayan fanged frog, sailfin lizard, and Philippine wild duck. On nights without rain, fireflies become a sight among the mangroves. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

According to Bartolay, there are four river systems flowing through BongNP. These, and designated marine parts of the natural park, serve as areas to be explored through kayaking. There are parts of BongNP with fair coral cover, offering the possibility of snorkeling and diving as activities. Bartolay said that the snorkeling and diving areas have yet to be established. 

The Bongsanglay Natural Ecopark Trail, which spans 423 meters, is available to tourists. The DENR Bicol launched the trail in February 2022. 

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

In addition to the trail and a boardwalk, visitors can stroll along the mini wharf to the sea. With fortuitous timing, tourists can witness bioluminescence on the waters at night. 

Homestays offer overnight accommodation in designated areas, and members of the people’s organization in the PA, particularly those trained by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), can cook for guests. 

By request, guests may order food seasoned with      edible mangrove fruits from Sonneratia ovata. The fruits may be processed into sweets or used in the Filipino soup dish, “sinigang.” When available, snapping shrimps or “takla” may also be served. An overnight stay costs P200 per head.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Bartolay said that as part of protecting BongNP, visitors are limited to strolling on designated walkways, but they can participate in tree planting in assigned areas. Bartolay also reminds visitors to maintain silence when in mangrove areas to avoid disturbing animals, including sea snakes and firefly colonies. 

Ways to get to Bongsanglay

BongNP covers the barangay units of Royroy and Gibraltar in Batuan, Masbate. 

From the Masbate Airport, also known as the Moises R. Espinosa Airport, visitors can ride a public fast craft to Masbate Port for P207. In Masbate Port, there are motor rides or “habal-habal” going to Lagundi for P150; the ride takes one hour. From Lagundi, travel to BongNP would take an additional hour.

Another option from the Masbate Airport is to take a ride to Masbate Pier. From the pier, groups can take a “bangka” or boat for P1,500. The boat will bring them to BongNP. 

To know more about visiting BongNP and making reservations, visitors may send inquiries to the Bongsanglay Natural Park Facebook page

Government efforts to conserve Philippine PAs 

Currently, there are 247 PAs under the NIPAS, 113 of which have been legislated, 13 have been proclaimed by the President, and 120 remain as initial components of the System. The NIPAS was established by virtue of Republic Act 7586 or the NIPAS Act of 1992, and amended by Republic Act 11038 or the Expanded NIPAS (ENIPAS) Act of 2018.

NIPAS is the classification and administration of all designated PAs to maintain essential ecological processes to preserve genetic diversity, to ensure the sustainable use of resources found therein, and to maintain their natural conditions to the greatest extent possible.

The year 2022 marks the 90th anniversary of PA establishment in the country through Republic Act 3915 that was enacted on 1 February 1932. In line with this, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Tourism (DOT), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) signed a joint declaration to support the celebration of the Year of the Protected Areas or the YoPA Campaign, which promotes Philippine national parks.

The DENR, through its Biodiversity Management Bureau, and the Biodiversity Finance Initiative (BIOFIN) of UNDP Philippines, in partnership with the DOT and DILG, are working together to promote protected areas under the NIPAS. They are also working with other agencies at the national and local levels to ensure effective conservation and sustainable management for national parks nationwide.