Beach fest revived as marine biodiversity effort

Crown of Thorns collection at Sarangani Bay

After being sidelined for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarangani Bay (SarBay) Festival made a soft come back albeit in a toned-down environmental initiative to help preserve the bay’s fragile ecosystem.

Regarded as the biggest beach party in the archipelago with a variety of sporting and wellness events and over 100,000 visitors, the fest highlighted the underwater collection of crown of thorns (COT) which prey on the coral reefs of Sarangani Bay, one of the country’s most biodiversity-rich protected seascapes.

Volunteer scuba divers from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), local government units of Sarangani Province, and the Philippine National Police (PNP) led the four-day environmental effort, where they were able to collect some 47,000 COTs in the beach resort towns of Maasim and Glan in Sarangani.

Dubbed as Wake Up Sarbay, the scaled-down festivities also featured the SarBay Sea-kad Bike and Plant ride where cyclists pedaled from the provincial capitol complex in Alabel town to the mangrove forest in Malapatan and Mt. Sabrina Resort in Glan.

Mangrove planting in Malapatan

Moreover, the Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 12 also launched its Dive Sox program to promote the Soccsksargen Region as alternative dive spots in southern Mindanao. The current dive haven in the region is Maasim town because of the presence of the Lemlunay Resort, the only dive center in Sarangani.

The DOT dive program aims to expand the dive areas to Glan, which launched its own program last year, and to the coastal municipalities of Sultan Kudarat province.

Wake Up Sarbay drew to a close with a Touch Mobile-sponsored evening concert at the famed Gumasa white beach featuring Daybreak band and Kakang of Virgu.

Bike and Plant participants at Provincial Capitol

Named in 1996 by Presidential Proclamation 756 as a Protected Seascape, Sarangani Bay’s coral resources cover more than 2,293 hectares spread over 20 areas with about 60 important live hard coral genera, 411 reef species in 46 families. Its seagrass cover is placed at 912 hectares, with 11 species.

Marine mammal species, which include spinner dolphins, risso’s dolphins, and dugong or sea cow, are often sighted which attests to the bay’s healthy marine life.

The bay has been experiencing occasional outbreaks of COTs over the past few years due to the loss of its natural predators such as the Triton trumpet, Napoleon wrasse, white-spotted pufferfish, and titan triggerfish which keep its population in check.

The rise in sea surface temperature due to climate change and deterioration of water quality also contribute to the growth of COTs across various bodies of water across the country.