Amazing Agutayan Island

The return to Agutayan Island was a dream come true. The first time I visited the island was in September 2014.  Members of the Jesuit Basic Education Commission of the Philippines were brought here for environmental awareness. It was at that time that I learned about Xavier University’s Ridge-River-Reef (R3) Program that aimed to establish the connectivity of three ecosystems as well as the implications that would arise as a result of the connectivity.

The R3 program had been a collaboration of different departments of the University: Agriculture, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Sociology, XU-Citizen Army Training, and the Fr. McKeough Marine Center. What was amazing about this program was that it involved local and national government units as well as “indigenous” peoples’ groups. The R3 Program was therefore a convergence program, where research bridged partner communities.

The R3 Program was therefore interesting to me. I knew then that I had to come back. I thought I could visit last April 2015, but I could not. My schedule was just too tight: I came from Cabanglasan, Bukidnon for the Holy Week and planned a short trip to Agutayan before my flight to Manila. But it was easier said than done.

Four months later, God gave me back that opportunity.

Fra-and Quimpo fetched us at 6:00 AM. He said that Erick Salonga, Bok Pioquid and I had to leave early so that the sea would not be too rough for us. Fra-and Quimpo, our guide is a marine biologist, based in Xavier University.

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Here are some photos of our ocular inspection of Agutayan Island last 1 August 2015. It was in preparation for Ateneo High School’s Eco-Spiritual Pilgrimage to Cagayan de Oro City.

I hope you’ll enjoy the photos, and therefore, would make time to do something to preserve the beauty of God’s creation wherever you are: at the banks of a river, on a  mountain, or diving into the depths of the sea.

Erick Salonga and I can't wait to reach Agutayan Island. Photo: Bok Pioquid

Erick Salonga and I can’t wait to reach Agutayan Island. Photo: Bok Pioquid

With the members of the Ateneo High School faculty, I found myself back to Agutayan island with a purpose: to bring my students to experience the beauty of marine ecosystems as well as to develop their hearts to protect and preserve marine life.

We took this banca to Agutayan Island since we were just 3 passengers. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

We took this banca to Agutayan Island since we were just 3 passengers. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

The old guard house still becomes an interesting subject. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

The old guard house still becomes an interesting subject. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Fra-and and Bok faces the marine sanctuary of Agutayan Island. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Fra-and and Bok face the marine sanctuary of Agutayan Island. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Now that you’ve seen the beauty of Agutayan Island, let me invite you to check these two pictures below. What do you feel?

Really? Whoever threw this at sea should burn in the fires of Gehenna. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Really? Whoever threw this at sea should burn in the fires of Gehenna. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

In SY 2007-2008, the National Service Training Program (NSTP) in collaboration with the McKeough Marine Center conducted a pilot study of the Information Education Campaign (IEC) on marine conservation using NSTP students.

The students taught public schools along the coast that faced Agutayan Island to spread awareness about marine conservation. Despite their age, they also realised that they could influence communities to become stewards of their place and Agutayan Island. The success of this campaign enabled the program to become one of the 1st NSTP Green Philippines Awards’ Top Ten.

We hope that many students will be like Fra-and Quimpo (below) who picked up trash as soon as he saw items littering the white sand bar of Agutayan Island.

Sad to see trash on the island. Fra-and Quimpo gathers trash.

Sad to see trash on the island. Fra-and Quimpo gathers trash.😦 Photo: Fr. JBoy Gonzales SJ

Below is the McKeough Marine Center, a research unit of Xavier University, Ateneo de Cagayan. This facility is dedicated to the sustainable management and conservation of the coastal and marine environment and resources in Northern Mindanao and its peripheries.

At Xavier University's Marine Station. Photo: Bok Pioquid

At Xavier University’s Marine Station. Photo: Bok Pioquid

Fr. McKeough Marine Station of Xavier University. Photo: Bok Pioquid

Fr. McKeough Marine Station of Xavier University. Photo: Bok Pioquid

The McKeough Marine Center is also an educational tool of Xavier University. It provides students with competencies and skills for marine research, with a sense of responsibility to the community and the environment. For example, it conserves and re-stocks giant clams (an endangered species), rehabilitates reefs through coral transplantation, has a gene-banking project for seaweeds, and a sea turtle conservation project. In addition, the MMC gives training workshops on community-based coastal resource management.

Marine biologist Fra-and Quimpo gives us a tour of the laboratory of the marine station. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Marine biologist Fra-and Quimpo gives us a tour of the laboratory of the marine station. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

On a personal note, Fr. Jim McKeough SJ was a biologist. He was my mentor and my spiritual director since my days as a pre-novice residing in Haggerty Hall from 1986-89. When I returned as a Jesuit regent (1995-97) and as a young priest (2001-2003), Fr. Jim continued to be my spiritual director. The McKeough Marine Center was named in his honor. (Proud son here.😀 )

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Thus, with the combined experiences of rafting Cagayan de Oro River and ziplining above Bukidnon’s forests in our Eco-Spiritual Pilgrimage to Cagayan de Oro City,  the R3 Program will enable the students to discover the correlation between these ecosystems. As a concrete example, I hope that they will not have the heart to throw garbage anywhere: because every item will indeed affect everything.

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Here are extra photos of the Jasaan Municipal Fish Port where you can rent a bigger boat to Agutayan Island.

Fishing boats, Jasaan, Misamis Oriental. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Fishing boats, Jasaan, Misamis Oriental. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

A fisherman sleeps on a bench at the Jasaan Fish Port, Misamis Oriental. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

A fisherman sleeps on a bench at the Jasaan Fish Port, Misamis Oriental. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Fishing boat, Jasaan, Misamis Oriental. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

Fishing boat, Jasaan, Misamis Oriental. Photo: Fr. Jboy Gonzales SJ

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