Chasing Turtles at Apo Island

(The Freeman) - August 19, 2018 - 12:00am

It’s hard to imagine that just a short distance away from a bustling metropolis there’s an island paradise that seems undisturbed by the neighboring progress. Negros’s famed Apo Island is a mere few hours trip from Cebu City. There are boats – both fast-crafts and the regular  slow boats – that take passengers to  Dumaguete City, from where to take a  45-minute land trip to Malatapay, the  jump-off point to Apo Island.


Apo Island is a volcanic island with 74 hectares of rather rugged land area. It is located at some seven kilometers off the southeastern tip of Negros Island and 30 kilometers south of Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental. At Malatapay, in the town of Dauin, rental pump-boats may be contracted to take visitors to Apo Island, on a trip that takes another 30 minutes.

The Malatapay ‘harbor’ is itself an interesting spot. It is actually a marketplace for farm produce from the neighboring barangays and towns. One would find the freshest vegetables and fruits, as well as home-raised livestock.

Within a minute or two of the pump-boat ride on the way to Apo Island, visitors can already have a glimpse of the beautiful underwater life that thrives around the island. The crystal clear water ushers in a view of the seabed covered with lush corals and sea creatures. It is a preview of what’s to find ahead.

The surrounding seawaters of the island are a protected marine reserve teeming with marine life. Local fishermen and their families maintain the marine sanctuaries, which they themselves have established. The sanctuaries are at an area along 450 meters of shoreline and extending 500 meters from shore. It is said that the success of the Apo Island marine sanctuaries has encouraged the establishment of hundreds of other marine sanctuaries in the country.

From the sky, Apo Island resembles a resting giant turtle. The name of the island purportedly comes from the Filipino word “apó,” which means “grandchild.” The main Negros Island is supposedly the “lolo” or “grandfather,” the neighboring Siquijor Island the “anak” or the “child” – and Apo Island is the grandchild.

Apo Island draws visitors to its beautiful dive and snorkeling sites. Visitors may swim with the

“pawikans” or sea turtles, many species of which are found there. There is an enclosed turtle area in the marine sanctuary, where sea turtles abound. But touching and feeding the sea turtles are prohibited, as well as stepping on the corals.

Experts caution that swimming with wild sea creatures like the “pawikan” is not advisable – intruding the natural habitat of sea creatures may affect their wellbeing and may be risky for humans.

The island has two resorts, each with a dive center: Apo Island Beach Resort and Liberty’s Lodge. A lighthouse is its most prominent landmark.

The island is home to over 650 documented species of fish and estimated to have over 400 species of corals. Most of the Philippines’ 450 species of coral can be found in the Apo Island seawaters, from tiny bubble corals to huge gorgonian sea fans and brain corals. A small fee is collected from visitors and tourists to the island, for the upkeep of the marine sanctuaries.

For assistance, visitors may drop by the Negros Oriental Tourism Office at EJ Blanco Drive, Piapi, in Dumaguete City. It is open Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.  - Aristotle Quinain

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