It was in 1974 when I and some 15 classmates of a NAUI basic course first saw Danjugan Island. Its thick limestone forests hosted many different kinds of birds and bats. Its underwater was so clear with schools of fish and magnificent, intact coral reefs. And the population of the village where it is located, Barangay Bulata, was small—a few houses in what is now Purok 3 and another cluster around the compound of the then Mayor Ricardo Chua.
Scuba diving became popular and most divers then were spear fishers—many were forcibly retired from wildlife hunting due to the Marcos martial rule. At the end of each dive day, tall stories were told about the sharks seen —there were tigers in the outer reefs surrounding the island and white/black tipped in the nearby reefs– and the big fish that got away. It is believed that the now illegal Compressor Spear Fishing was inspired by scuba spearfishing.
The early 1980s saw the decline of scuba diving due to the economic crisis brought upon by the government’s mismanagement of the sugar industry that most of the divers in Negros depended on. 1984 was a bad year too for Danjugan Island as Maricalum Mining Corp (MMC) stopped operations and its displaced workers started destructive fishing (blast and poison) with blasting caps and cyanide from MMC. The year also brought Typhoon Nitang that destroyed the shallow reefs of the island as well as in the entire foreshore of municipalities of Cauayan, Sipalay, and Hinobaan.
The rest of the 1980s was fairly the same with another typhoon (Ruping) in 1987 and the unabated unsustainable fishing practices that included the encroachment of big commercial fishing vessels into the municipal fishing grounds of Southern Negros Occidental. In 1990, a group of scuba divers leased what is now Typhoon Beach for the purpose of recreation and study of the declining coral cover and fish stocks. At that time, the undersea had deteriorated considerably most specially the disappearance of schools of fish on the surrounding reefs with evidence of destructive fishing on most of them.
Observations of commercial fish catch off loaded to the village and the absence of the enforcement of fisheries laws lead to suspicions that the local chief executives of Cauayan were in furtive partnerships with commercial fishing companies. It was not until a big purse seine catcher’s net snagged on a reef just 3 kilometers from the island and when another was apprehended by a patrol operation that ascertained the business partnership. Then, the municipal fishing grounds was seven (7) kilometers from the shore. Due to the ignorance of marine and wildlife conservation, the group piloted the 1st Youth Marine Camp in 1991 with their children and children of friends and relatives. The camp had pleasing results and children from the village of Bulata were included in the subsequent camps. Presently, the camps are conducted each summer as the Youth Marine and Wildlife Camp and with the Philippine Department of Education as the Danjugan Environment Education Project (DEEP).
The years of early to mid 1990s emphasized the need for Danjugan’s conservation with episodes of logging and the poaching of a White breasted sea eagle chick by its owners, the Montes family; a blast fishing injury on what is now Manta Reef, and in 1994, they put up for sale the Eagle Tree (Dungon late?) and this finally provoked us to offer to buy the island but we didn’t have money.
William Oliver, a British zoologist working with us on Negros endangered wildlife species, suggested to contact John Burton of the World Land Trust (WLT) whose thrust is the purchase of important biodiversity sites for conservation. I did call asap and John was indeed interested. Soon, a noted marine scientist from the UK, Sue Wells, came to visit and not long after, Peter Raines of Coral Cay Conservation (CCC). Then, an invitation to England for the launch of the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Project and within a month, a fund was transferred to us for the down payment of Danjugan Island.
Foundation President, Gerry Ledesma and CCC Director, Peter Raines
The story of Danjugan does not end here because our story deserves a happy ending. While 3 MPAs had been established in southern Negros Occidental by PRRCFI with the help of CCC and the Province, while the island and its wildlife had been saved and its surrounding coral reefs likewise saved, the fish that it host are poached by the very community of Bulata due of the absence of environmental governance from the Local Chief Executives of Cauayan. We are still working on this issue and hopefully, the next chapter of the story will have that happy ending—if not, the descendants of the founders of PRRCFI and the DEEP campers who have become stewards of Cauayan will tell the 3rd chapter.
Gerry Ledesma – PRRCFI President