THIS small crescent-shaped island in the province of Misamis Oriental is taking the spotlight as one of the next big tourism attraction of Mindanao. The Agutayan Island in the Municipality of Jasaan, with its breathtaking coral reef and amazing fine white sand is a magnet for both local and foreign tourists who are fishing for fresh adventures in the Philippines.
The Agutayan Island was chosen as one of the destinations of the Miss Philippines Earth 2017 candidates in their Mindanao provincial tour. The residents of Agutayan warmly welcomed the 15 candidates last June 20 to explore and experience the beauty of the Agutayan White Island and the coral reef.
The Agutayan white island is located about 30 minutes off the coast of mainland Jasaan. It is a naked, uninhabited, and highly preserved three-hectare patch of sand in the middle of Misamis Oriental's rich blue sea.
Over the years, there have been sightings of rare animal species in the area such as the eagle ray, the sugeon fish, and the whale shark. This, according to one of the locals is a good sign that the Agutayan reef is still a healthy and untouched marine habitat which continues to grow through the years.
Everything about the island speaks of natural beauty and wildlife. Even the sands of the island is being preserved because, according to a study conducted by Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, these are composed mostly of fine corals straight from the surrounding waters.
The local government of Jasaan and the Provincial Capitol of Misamis Oriental have been giving out efforts to preserve the marine sanctuary while taking profit from its large tourism potential.
A number of fun activities can be done upon arriving in the Agutayan Island. Tourists can snorkel or dive in the rich waters to view the marine reefs around the island. They can also just walk on some of the shallow waters to observe the numerous starfish. The island can also be a good picnic spot for families or friends.
For only P1,000, tourists can hire a pump boat which can take about five to six people to the island.
The visit of the 15 lovely candidates for the Miss Philippines Earth is a much awaited boost for the local tourism of Agutayan. Esmeralda Capin, one of the locals who own some of the boats that are used to go to the island said that they feel that all their efforts to preserve the place and help the local tourism is now being noticed.
"In all the years that I have been working here, there has been no visit like this here. We feel so famous and loved by the government and I think that more and more tourists will go to our place once the candidates share their Agutayan experience to others," Capin said.
The Miss Philippines Earth ladies loved their Agutayan experience, with some even promising to come back for more after the pageant. Others named it as one of the most beautiful adventures they have had in all their years.
"I did not expect that Misamis Oriental would be this beautiful. It is really captivating. When I come home, one of the biggest things that I will bring for my family are stories if my memories here in Agutayan sand bar," said Miss Puerto Princesa Sandrine Stoelzaed.
"With all the news of the Mindanao martial law in TV and in social media, I think that there is a need for us to highlight these beautiful places in Misamis Oriental and in so many places here in Mindanao because they need that, we need that," added Shaina Louise Kim of Lucena City.
The effort of the local government and community to take care of the marine sanctuary was also lauded by the visiting beauties.
"The place is so clean and pure that it is touching that the locals really poured so much effort to preserve it while making it one of the local tourism attractions here," said Kim de Guzman of Olongapo city.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on June 25, 2017.