By Juan Escandor Jr.
MASBATE CITY---From the city, eleven minutes of winding road trip to the reclaimed area named Tugbugan which is the take-off point going to the Buntod Sandbar Marine Sanctuary, a strip of conical white sandbar crowned with mangroves, the most visited site in this city.
In April, the number of visitors visiting the place reach 120 to 150 visitors with the peak during the 25th Rodeo Festival from April 10-14, visited the sandbar and marine sanctuary from morning until sunset, according to Masbate City Mayor Rowena Tuason.
The city government of Masbate in its official website describes Buntod sandbar as “20 hectares of core zone and one hundred hectares of buffer zone.”
Tuason said the increase and sustained traffic of visitors to the Buntod sandbar give additional livelihood to 34 fisherfolk families living in the adjacent coast of the mainland Masbate called Purok Sinalikway (a word in Masbate dialect that roughly means abandoned or rejected.)
She said from the opening of Buntod as tourist destination in 2008, the fisherfolks through their organization called Samahan ng Mangingisda sa Purok Sinalikway (Samapusi) actively participated in the institution of the management and administration of the sandbar and marine sanctuary.
Romeo Soria Jr., president of Samapusi, said the role of the organization is to co-manage the Buntod Sandbar and Marine Sanctuary.
Soria said they collect entrance and users’ fee of P20 per head and P100 per table used that he said had been supported by an ordinance of the village.
Criseldo Ragasa, 53, member of Samapusi and one of the guards here deployed by set of eight for one week, said he reports for seven days a month for duty---escorting visitors, picking up garbage at the sandbar and marine sanctuary.
“Since Monday, for example, I received (honoraria) P1,200; Tuesday, P1,300; Wednesday, P1,500 Thursday, P1,700; and tomorrow Friday…the average I think is like P8,500 in one week,” Ragasa said in Masbate dialect.
Mayor Tuason said the Sumasapi also derive income from the store and diving services while boatmen earn from boat rentals.
Senior Inspector Lawrence P. Martinez, chief of police maritime unit in Masbate, was impressed at the management of the Samapusi of the sandbar and marine sanctuary.
“They can maintain a high level of cleanliness even though when we went around the mangrove area we saw a couple of plastic trash. But still satisfactory because they have sustained the protection of the sanctuary,” Martinez said.
He said the maritime unit is involved in the preservation of the Buntod sandbar and marine sanctuary being a member of the city-government initiated program “Adopt A Marine Protected Area (Ampa) which include the city government, Philippine Coast Guard, Maritime Police.
18 minutes boat ride
Some 18 minutes boat ride from Tugbugan, the Buntod sandbar and marine sanctuary beacons with the crown of mangroves on the far right of the almost one-kilometer of narrow strip of white beach going to the left.
Except for the for cottages on the stilts of cement posts over wooden planks and roofs made of light materials break the natural beauty of the sandbar and marine sanctuary.
“We built the first structure for the purpose of establishing quarters for the use of the fishermen who act as sanctuary guards,” she narrated.
She said since there was no place for tourists to stay when the sandbar and marine sanctuary opened to the public, the structures are necessary.
“The cottages are built on the stilts with minimum impact on the natural environment,” she said.
Tuason considers the building of the structures in the marine sanctuary unharmful to the environment and the ecosystem and sees them necessary after 10 years since it opened.