THINK OF THESE: Vanishing Island

Just recently, Yahoo Philippines featured a blog written by Pinay Solo Backpacker.  It talks about the “5 must-see sandbars in the Philippines.”  On top of the list is the Vanishing Island, located at the Island Garden City of Samal in Davao del Norte.

In her introduction, the blogger wrote: “Undoubtedly, the Philippines has some of the best coasts in the world, with over 7,000 islands, you will never run out of beaches here. But more than that, our bountiful country also harbors idyllic sandbars that beckon sun-seekers.”

Sandbar, as per definition, is “a long mass or low ridge of submerged or partially exposed sand built up in the water along a shore or beach by the action of waves or currents.”

Here’s how the blogger describes the Vanishing Island: “A real stunner, the Vanishing Island – as you might have surmised from its name – disappears when the tide is high. Unlike other sandbars sitting pretty below jungle-clad mountains, this one is set in the midst of the sea and offers a view of a nearby bustling city. Its sand is silky and snow white, sprinkled with mangroves and lapped by clear navy blue waters.”

Cleto Bravo Gales, Jr. – more popularly known as Jon and is now working with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) – read it and shares some of his notes on the said island.

“Vanishing Island is merely the adopted contemporary popular moniker for this stretch of sandbar located at the north-western part of the Samal group of islands at the heart of Davao Gulf,” he told us.

According to him, its official name is Sanipaan Shoal or referred to as Arboles Island in other older maps.   “I came across two emerging traditions that may shed light to the naming of this sandbar as ‘Sanipaan,’ Jon pointed out.

Jon, who used to be the city administrator of Samal for 16 years, recalled: “It was claimed that this shoal used to be covered with lush ‘nipa’ and other species of mangroves, thus, earning for it the name ‘Sanipaan.’

“But, through time, due to lack of understanding and appreciation about the importance of this fragile ecosystem, the mangroves were harvested for fuel and other purposes  — and eventually was practically banished from the shoal.”

From what he could remember, as a consequence of this abuse, all that was left in 1998 (when Samal became a city) was a sandbar and two juvenile mangrove hills standing. “Sadly, what used to be a lush ‘sanipaan’ was reduced to a stretch of sandbar that emerges only during low tide, but ‘vanishes’ during high tide,” he deplored.

Thus, the present name, Vanishing Island, as it is known now, came into existence.

Now, on the second story.  “Early on in the course of my 16-year stint as city administrator, I eventually uncovered a sentimental and sacred indigenous Sama tradition claiming that the word ‘Sanipaan’ was inspired by the Sama word ‘piagsapaan,’ which is claimed to mean ‘where an agreement (‘sumpaan’ in Tagalog) was forged and sealed with word of honor.’”

Inspired by the complementation of these two traditions, the local government of Samal made a sentimental resolve in 1999 – that is, to reclaim what has been “vanishing” by launching the Project SSS (Save the Sanipaan Shoal).

Under this project, which was done in tandem with the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), they worked on mostly sandy substrate, experimented on various species, and tried on various schemes to bring back the mangroves and revive the Sanipaan ecosystem.

“After more than two years of trials-and-error, we succeeded in establishing the ‘pagatpat’ mangroves on some portions of the sandbar,” Jon reported. “A few years later, when the ‘pagatpat’ mangroves have been stabilized and have accumulated mud and other sediments that eventually developed into variations of substrates, other species of mangroves eventually thrived.”

Today, thousands of mangroves of varied species are standing alive and stable on Sanipaan Shoal – and still counting. And their foliage have now become the habitat, breeding and nesting areas for several species of migratory birds.

“Our partners from the academic and scientific community have confirmed that the Sanipaan Shoal is one of the richest ecosystems in the island in terms of marine bio-diversity,” Jon said.

It is only the beginning though.  As Jon puts it: “Many things remain to be done for Sanipaan Shoal.”

He then urged: “In re-living the essence of the indigenous truce (‘piagsapaan’) of our forebears, we call on women and men of goodwill to join us in re-claiming back from ‘vanishing’ the former glory of Sanipaan.”

Are there people listening out there?