The Bongsanglay Natural Park (BNP) in Masbate is now open to the public for day tours and overnight stays, according to Ana Bartolay, BNP Protected Area superintendent.
Located in the island of Ticao in Masbate, the Park has mangrove forests, which were declared a protected area under the category of Natural Park in 2000 and was subsequently legislated by Congress 18 years later.
Bongsanglay is composed of coastal and marine ecosystems, where 244 hectares host the mangroves and beach forests, while the remaining 275 hectares are a seascape of pristine marine ecosystem and home to coral reefs. The park nurtures one of the country’s remaining centuries-old 34 mangrove forests, having the distinction of being the only primary growth mangrove forest in the entire Bicol Region.
The Philippines is blessed with abundant mangrove forests dotting the archipelago, most of which are declared protected areas—like Bongsanglay.
“Mangrove forests, aside from enhancing the beauty of the place, assures continued supply of food and livelihood opportunities to local communities—and, yes, clean air, Bartolay said.
The park is one of the eco destinations chosen by the Year of the Protected Areas—or YOPA—campaign under the theme, “Protected Areas for a Protected Future.”
Bartolay described the park as “Masbate’s pride and joy—and Bicol Region’s most idyllic sanctuary.”
The mangrove forests of Bongsanglay were declared a Protected Area under the category of Natural Park in 2000 and was subsequently legislated by Congress as such in 2018.
Bongsanglay is the only park where all three species of the mangrove Sonneratiaceae family can be found. An edible mangrove called Sonneratia ovata also grows abundantly in the park.
Habitat for endangered wildlife. The park is also a habitat for a rich variety of fauna including some endangered, vulnerable and threatened species of wildlife like the Asian palm civet, large flying fox, Philippine duck, monitor lizard, Philippine sailfin lizard, cobra, and Visayan fanged frog.
The assortment of flora provides protection to barangays of Royroy and Gibraltar, Batuan, Masbate from soil erosion. The flora also protects the barangays from strong typhoons.
The Natural Park offers various water activities to visitors, who can swim, snorkel, dive, and explore the mangroves through the Park’s boardwalk. Thrill-seeking visitors could also try the kayaks or use the stand board paddle. Or simply, visitors can come enjoy the locally-served food while on a picnic in a rented floating cottage.
A day tour treats guests to a canopy walk or a boat ride along the verdant green mangroves, while marveling at the diversity of flora and fauna in the area. A “must-see” is over a century-old Api-Api tree, locally known as Miyapi (Avicennia officinalis), considered the largest and oldest mangrove in the Bicol Region with a height of seven meters and a trunk diameter of 1.35 meters.
Bongsanglay “exudes is real charm at night,” according to Ms. Bartolay. The river night walk would thrill visitors as they encounter the Tangkig, a dog-faced non-venomous snake—and dance with thousands of fireflies. When the water is very calm, chances are visitors will be treated to a display of bioluminescence—a rare state when the water glows and flickers as if there are hundreds of fireflies dancing in the water.
People’s organizations. Two people’s organizations (POs) are implementing the programs of the Biodiversity Friendly Enterprise (BDFE)—the Royroy United Fisherfolks Association and the Gibraltar Fisherfolks Association.
These organizations engage in livelihood activities of oyster farming and sustainable ecotourism activities for the Park — like kayaking, snorkeling, pasalubong making, homestay program, and catering services. Both male and female members of the POs are trained to implement BDFE programs. These organizations also manage the homestays. The Park started collecting fees last January and as of July 2022, it has 417 visitors already.
From the Masbate airport, visitors are advised to hail a ride to Punta Pier, where they take a passenger fast craft to Lagundi port. They are further instructed to take a motorcycle ride (habal habal) to Bongsanglay. Or, from the airport, visitors can proceed to Punta Pier, and rent a private motorboat (good for 10-15pax) which will take them to Bongsanglay.
“The Bongsanglay blooms with its mangrove forests, shines at night with its shimmering waters,” beamed Ana Bartolay, “and likes to play host to visitors who share the passion to preserve the mangroves, keep the air clean—and build a common future of beauty and blessings to the community for many years to come.”