18 April 2009

Woke up at 3 am. Outside the station, the sky was bright with stars and a quarter moon. It was peaceful to spend a few minutes outside with Yogi and the rangers creating a cacophony of snores inside. After half an hour, the winds picked up.

It was time to go back to sleep.

A few minutes after lying in bed, the rains returned. Sigh.

Tubbataha Ranger Station. A speck in the Sulu Seas

Tubbataha Ranger Station. A speck in the Sulu Seas

The chief woke us up at 6 to a beautiful sunrise and a full rainbow. We still didn’t know what the day was going to be like but we decided, rain or shine, we’d go camp on Bird Islet.

The rangers quickly responded. We met with Oceanic Explorer to get their permits and give the bag tags. Angelique Songco was onboard the Explorer with Alya Honasan, our expedition writer. They hitched a ride the night before and planned a full day of diving the sites around Bird Islet with the 29 other divers onboard.

Alya gave us the Easter Sunday issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, where she wrote a front-page story about this expedition and us. What a treat!

Camp on one day of sunshine!

Freund Factory camp on one day of sunshine!

Then slowly the sun came out. The four rangers quickly brought us to Bird Islet and set up our camp with a massive tarp and a frame made of bamboo found around the islet. We also set up our WWF flag.

Crested terns on the beach with the tide slowly coming in

Crested terns on the beach with the tide slowly coming in

The Tubbataha Bird Islet is a magic place. The Philippines is made up of 7,100 islands, and most if not all of it are inhabited. This tiny islet of 12,000 square meters is the only bird sanctuary and Ramsar Site that is off limits and highly restricted to the general public. For us to be allowed to stay here, Angelique had to get approval from the TMO Board. We were allowed only because they saw the importance of our mission of documenting the Coral Triangle.

Bird Sanctuary like no other in the Philippines

Bird Sanctuary like no other in the Philippines

Although the sky was not totally blue with ominous albeit dramatic clouds, it was nonetheless fantastic. The birds calling this home are the red-footed booby, brown booby, crested terns, sooty tern, black nodd, brown noddy, white egret, lesser frigate bird, greater frigate bird, Christmas Island frigate bird, plover, and whimbrel.

We went around the little islet and photographed with so much happiness. Angelique told us the story of the first time the Danish bird scientist Dr. Arnie Janssen, who has been coming to Bird islet since 2004 for bird tagging and monitoring, set foot here. He was jumping and clapping his hands with joy. We very much echo his feelings.

Choy and Secille, our rangers preparing lunch.

Choy and Secille, our rangers preparing lunch.

The rangers caught fish for us and brought provisions for the planned two-night stay. Rangers Secille (Navy) and Choy (WWF) stayed behind with us. They prepared our lunch and dinner of freshly caught and fried fish and rice plus a good traditional Filipino soup dish called “sinigang”– sour soup with vegetables and, of course, fish. We felt so very spoiled. The rangers are the only people allowed to legally catch fish in this Unesco World Heritage Site and Marine Park.

By 9 pm, amidst the cackling sounds of tens of thousands of birds, we were all fast asleep. I woke up at 11 pm and the sky was devoid of stars. Hmmm – not a good sign . . .