Our main reason for visiting Matnog – the town on the southernmost edge of the Bicol mainland in the province of Sorsogon – was to see the pinkish white sand beaches of Subic (in Calintaan Island) and Tikling Island. To get to these beaches we rented a boat at the pier in Matnog and soon learned that a private marine sanctuary in Juag Lagoon was included in the itinerary. But because the beaches were our primary destinations we considered the sanctuary a mere afterthought. We were soon to discover how wrong we were.
We decided to head out to Juag Lagoon first before hitting Subic Beach and Tikling Island (our boatmen concurred but it turned out to be the wrong decision as the waves at Subic Beach became rough late in the morning). As we neared Juag we were greeted by a stunning scenery of crystal-clear waters, small stretches of white sand beach and lively palms and mangrove trees.
Within 20 minutes of leaving the pier our motorized outrigger was gliding slowly into the calm waters of the lagoon. We made a beeline for the hut of the owners of the marine sanctuary that stood on stilts in the middle of the lagoon. Soon we were shaking hands with the wife of Alex Geneblazo, the owners of the sanctuary.
Clustered near the owners’ hut are several fish pens, each containing a wide variety of marine life. We began wading into the first pen and prepared to throw food pellets and small fish for the pen’s inhabitants. Before we could begin feeding them however, several large reef fishes suddenly materialized from nowhere and began swarming towards us, obviously wanting to be fed. The water was so clear we hardly needed masks and snorkels.
As we began throwing food pellets into the water more fishes joined in to start a feeding frenzy. They even encircled Leo’s nephew like native American Indians riding around a beleaguered wagon train.
These are not small fish, mind you. The owners told us that many of them have been left to grow for 10 years now and have grown to just about the maximum size they could attain if left undisturbed in their native habitat. They were quite colorful too.
Easily the star of the show is a huge Napoleon Wrasse, a rare coral fish that we’ve heard is now protected due to its dwindling numbers. Like other large fishes it is carnivorous and would only eat the small fishes that we threw into the water rather than bread or pellets. There were small and colorful reef fishes too but they dared not come out when we fed the bigger ones. The pecking order at work apparently.
Moving on to the next fish pen via a bamboo raft pulled by ropes we soon encountered the largest fishes in the sanctuary. Huge groupers (lapu-lapu) and large trevally or big-eyed jack (talakitok) were milling inside their pen and gobbling up handfuls of small fish thrown their way with lightning quickness. Bravely swimming alone in this pen were small puffer fish, unintimidated by the giants all around them. When you consider the fact that these puffer fish have enough poison in their bodies to kill a human being then you realize why the groupers and jacks left them alone.
Also in Juag Lagoon are giant clams, huge sea cucumbers, lobsters and even a sea turtle during the time we visited. The owners do not raise these creatures for consumption or to sell them. They were simply motivated by their fondness for the marine animals and their desire to preserve them. An exception is the lobsters which they sell along with souvenir items.
Entrance to the sanctuary was free but many visitors chose to give a donation to Alex and his wife. We did likewise out of appreciation for what the Geneblazos are doing and for giving us an unforgettable experience that exceeded our expectations.