By Mark Cabrera
I met Haron Deo Vargas about three years ago while we were working on an Information Education Communication (IEC) project for the Municipal Waste Management Program. I was a volunteer while he was part of the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (MENRO). We were teaching the Manocmanoc Elementary and High School students how to make Ecobricks to address the plastic pollution crisis. The Ecobricks project was an instant success as the Tulubhan Road, which was previously polluted by plastic bags and wrappers from junk food, was immediately plastic-free as all plastic elements were then stuffed into the Ecobricks by the students. Since then, we would regularly see each other in environmental activities like coastal cleanups, coral planting and releasing of turtle hatchlings.
Boracay is now being recognized as a “Turtle’s Paradise”. It is also gaining traction in the sea turtle universe as a famous nesting ground. In fact, there have been many sightings of sea turtles laying eggs on several beaches around Barangay Yapak. Through Haron’s guidance, there have been many successful releases of baby turtle hatchlings. These successful hatching and releasing of sea turtles earned Haron the cognomen of “Mr. Turtle.” He is now the go-to person when sea turtles are being spotted nesting on the island.
A Mindanao State University Graduate, this young marine biologist shares his expertise with Boracay Island. When he was working for MENRO, Haron was an advocate of the Coastal Resources Management Program. Under this program, Haron spearheads environmental projects such as Coral Planting, Underwater Cleanups and Sea Turtle Conservation.
Did you know?
According to Haron, out of seven species of turtles in the whole world, four species of sea turtles are spotted only around Boracay Island. Endemic to Boracay are the Green Sea Turtles and the Hawksbill Sea Turtles. The Olive Ridley Sea Turtles regularly visit the island to nest and lay their eggs. And the huge Leatherback Sea Turtles are spotted passing thru the Yapak and Manocmanoc channels. Haron also shared stories of rehabilitating injured turtles and other marine animals before releasing them back to the ocean.
DENR – CENRO
Mid last year, Haron started working for the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), the local arm of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). He and his team manage the protected areas around the island. They act as the biodiversity and coastal conservation units of the DENR. They watch over the wetlands, the forestlands, as well as the coastal and marine areas of Malay.
As of this writing, he is active in three major activities: first, the IEC campaign for front liners, fisherfolks and stakeholders. They are working with Green Fins, an international movement whose initiative aims to protect and conserve coral reefs by providing environmentally-friendly guidelines that promote a sustainable diving and snorkeling industry.
Second is the monitoring of coastal and marine activities around the island. His team makes sure that tourism activities follow environmentally-friendly practices. So far, island tourism activities like helmet diving, scuba diving, snorkeling don’t feed the fish anymore. This way, the biodiversity of marine life is preserved in its natural state. So if you see tourist activity operators who are feeding the fishes to please their guests, kindly report them to the CENRO immediately to help protect the environment.
Third is the rehabilitation of injured marine animals. Aside from the four species of sea turtles they are continuously monitoring, Haron and his team were able to rehabilitate pythons, sea snakes, fresh water turtles, flying foxes, and a variety of birds. Once these injured animals are fully recovered, they are then released to their natural habitats. So if you see a stranded or injured marine animal on the beach, contact the CENRO immediately. Our resident marine biologist and his team will be there to the rescue.
The state of Boracay’s waters
We asked Haron about the state of Boracay’s waters. He said, “Super safe po syempre (of course) and with regularly monitoring by our Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).”
Being an avid swimmer, I followed up by asking if the beach is safe for swimming. He answered, “Opo. Pasok po sa standards namin.” (Yes. Within our standards.)
When we asked him about the brownish water by Station 1 White Beach. He tells us, “Yes po we’ve been monitoring that since first week of January. We are waiting for the consolidated report of the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB), a branch of the DENR.”