Why Every Homeschooling Family Should Visit Mongpong Island for Ecosystem Study

thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Octopus observed near the shoreline at Mongpong Island. Photo credit to my brother, Jay Emmanuel.

I’m a self-proclaimed tree-hugger and nature lover. My first recollection of our country’s beauty was when dad and mom brought us to their hometown, Catanduanes, when I was nine years old. Back then, their small barrio could only be accessed by riding horses or by walking. Their barrio was so far, I remember, for it felt like we were walking for hours until it went dark. I still remember how every tree was lighted by fireflies like Christmas bulbs at night – we didn’t even need flashlights when walking on the paved road. I also remember how there were so many large trees in the forests beside the road and that it would take at least three adults to hug each tree’s girth.

The firs time dad set foot on Mongpong Island, he called me up and told me how beautiful it was and how he wished I was there with him. He said he was sure I was gonna love it there for he knew how I loved the beach so much. For seven years, dad and mom had frequented the island with my siblings to visit the satellite church there and conduct evangelical missions.

Mongpong Island lies at the north west of the main Marinduque island province. When my sister told me that they were arranging another tour to the island, I decided to go with them along with hubby and kids. I thought it would be an opportunity for the kids to explore the island’s ecosystem which my parents had boasted about. My mom had rented a van to bring us to Catanauan, Quezon. From Catanauan, we rented a tourist boat that would take us directly to the island. The boat trip took about 1 hour. We arrived at the northern coast of the island last February 27 at 9 AM. We stayed in a duplex nipa hut right by a white sand beach owned by one of the church members. If you plan to stay there, there are small resorts and huts for rent on the island.

thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
We stayed on a duplex hut by this beach. See how close the back reef formation to the shore? If you are homeschooling, you only need to walk along the shore and point the fishes and corals to your kids. 🙂
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Sunset photo taken by me using my phone.

Just like in any of our out-of-town trips, we took photos of the different rock formations seen around the island. However, I decided to post the photos taken by my brother since his phone shoots way better than my old Samsung phone. If you want to teach your kids about erosion and rock formation, this area would be where you should bring them. Below are photos of sandstone rocks of Ungab Rock Formation at the eastern side of the island.

I love the Ungab Rock Formation primarily because of the well-preserved layers of sandstone and also because the sea is much calmer beneath the kissing stones, it is safe to swim in for kids. Living corals and fishes may also be seen beneath the kissing stones. The beach is lined with mixture of sand, round pebbles and cobbles, and dead coral fragments. If you plan to stay for the night, there’s a nearby resort where you can check-in – as framed in the photo below.

thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Underneath the kissing stones of Ungab Rock Formation is the calm sea, corals, fishes, and round pebbles and sand. If you are bringing in kids, this is one of the places around the island that’s relatively safe to swim in.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Underwater shot of the lone boulder underneath the kissing stones in Ungab using my Fujifilm iTough camera. Notice how small soft corals are growing around this rock boulder.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
My brother and his fiancee had their pre-nuptial photos at Ungab with me and hubby as photographers. This shot was taken using my Fujifilm iTough camera.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Living corals and small fishes about 10 meters away from the Ungab kissing rocks. 🙂

Aside from white sandy to pebbly beaches, rock formations and friendly locals, Mompong Island is a great place to do ecosystem study because of the variety of native birds, marine life, and terrestrial animals that are present on the island. One of the things we did at night time was to visit the tidal pools exposed by low tide to observe creatures. We never got disappointed! Below are snapshots by my brother of some of the creatures we saw:

thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Aside from the usual starfish such as brittle star and the orange ones you often see on Philippine beaches, we saw ones that are large and spiny like this one – possibly a Crown of Thorns.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Another thorny starfish.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
Coral snake, anyone? This one is locally known as “walo-walo” which is so-called as supposedly its venom can kill a person within 8 hours. They have been consistently spotted around a limestone formation about 200 meters west of El Marinduqueno Resort.

We don’t have pictures of planktons but it’s normal to see them glowing at night when the lights are out. Some of them are encrusted around dead coral boulders while others are floating in the sea if you decide to wade in the water at night. There is one section of the island with limestone cliff that is known for walo-walo snake sighting – we never went into the water in this area. On our third night of exploring near the limestone cliff, we chanced upon an adult walo-walo snake and it followed our lights from the flash light for more than 10 meters, its head even broke the surface of the water to look our way. We were so spooked by its behavior truth be told that we decided to run away from it as fast as we could.

thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
We observed at least four varieties of crabs during our night explorations such as this one which hastily tried to look bigger than it really was when my brother tried to touch it. It was comical, really.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
How often do you see an octopus near the beach? In my case, not often and I have been beach hopping for years. So for my brother to see a full-size one less than 1 meter from the beach is truly amazing. The presence of an octopus in Mongpong is further proof of the pristine state of the coral reef.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
You prolly don’t see them clearly but there are plenty of land turtles submerged in this particular mud pit along a muddy creek in Mongpong Island. The only time that they get out of mud pits is 6 PM onwards according to the locals. True enough, when we got to one of the mud pits, we saw not only one but four! Don’t step into the mud pit, it might be too deep and I’ve heard there are quick sands in the area.
thefabulousscientist_mongpongisland
We went around mud pits to look for land turtles and saw at least four swimming in the muddy water near a nipa forest. They are shy and would only go out at night.

Below are some of the photos of corals when we went snorkeling.

The only thing that is still lacking in the island is fresh water. You need to pay someone to fetch you water from wells. They only have one well for fresh water and the replenishment rate is slow – I suspect the that source is also limited, possibly just a perched aquifer in the sandstone layers of the island. The other wells contain mildy salty water due to proximity to the shore. Part of the reason I went there was to see their water source personally per my mom’s request, she loves the island that much. I’ve already suggested to the locals to dig deeper and find another layer of sandstone for water source and to ask the LGU for funding for artesian wells – a motorized one might be better but the island is powered by generators only. All houses in the island have their own rain water collection tanks/jars as well.

Birds are also pretty common in the island – I observed kingfisher, plenty of crows (yes, we saw at least 5 in just one tree!), zebra doves, and others that I don’t recognize but they are colorful and can be distinguished by their sounds. There are decades old trees on the island but coconut trees are the most abundant. The next time we visit which is possibly this coming May or June, we plan to bring better camera lens to take photos of the birds from a distance.

Here’s a photo of my brother who bought a 6-kg fish from one of the fisher folks. 🙂

Mongpong Island is truly a magnificent place that deserves to be preserved in its semi-pristine state. If you plan to go there, here are just some of the reminders from me to preserve the island’s ecosystem and charm:

  1. Respect the peace and quiet of the community.
  2. Leave no garbage behind. If you can, please conduct a coastal clean-up with your friends and put the trash in bins or sacks away from the shore.
  3. While in the island, please minimize use of single-use plastic and again, don’t leave them behind.
  4. Don’t take nor disturb any living creature from their habitat. Observe respectfully from a distance.
  5. Don’t vandalize the rock formations and corals.
  6. Use only reef-friendly sunblock, read the labels when buying one. Also read this article why you need to use only reef-friendly sunblock: https://www.hawaii.com/blog/reef-safe-sunscreen/)
  7. Buy local produce to help the locals earn – this means buying their catch (fish and seafood) and agricultural produce such as arrowroot, rootcrops, banana, mangoes, etc.
  8. Don’t bring any pork products in the area to spare their pigs from African Swine Flu (these will be confiscated at Calauan Quezon pier too).
  9. Don’t collect sand to bring home with you – I’ve seen some portions of the island where there is active coastal erosion. I’ve seen locals collect sand from the beach to turn them into hollow blocks but that’s fine, I guess, since they need to build houses that can withstand typhoons. However, excessive collection of sand will exacerbate coastal erosion.
  10. Finally, enjoy your stay! Soak up the sun and relax. Self-care on the island was the best thing I ever did for myself this year yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s