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Bahay Kubo in the Turtle Islands

Story and photos by Beau Baconguis

Seafood paradise! That is how I would describe the Turtle Islands and rightly so. This is a marine heritage park, difficult to access because of its distance, and has some level of protection compared to other coastal areas. The communities on the Islands almost fully depend on the sea for food. Shrimps that sell for PHP500.00 a kilo in urban centers were sold for about PHP200.00 in a wet market in Bongao, Tawi-tawi but, in the islands, they were just being given for free. So we had our fill of shrimps, crabs, and fish.

While I love my seafood, I am also a bigger fruit and veggie eater. I was looking forward to see what the vegetarian options would have been. Apart from the marang, mangoes and durian that was plentiful in Bongao, on the islands, I was disappointed. Apart from the 4 young coconuts I had in one seating, the only fruits I had were watermelons and cucumbers. And the last two, we learned, were purchased in Sabah, Malaysia.

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Why fruits and vegetables were not being grown locally was disturbing to me especially in Taganak where the densest population was located. The exception was Lihiman Island where a mango plantation existed and more agriculture was happening with corn, peppers, squashes and other vegetables being cultivated.

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I am reminded of the folk song Bahay Kubo, the bamboo hut with a thatched roof and the 18 vegetables planted around it. It is a representation of simplicity, resilience and food sustainability. Especially in Taganak, where I spent most of my time, there are flat lands and rolling hills that would be a great permaculture challenge. How wonderful it would be to be able to build swales or terraces to harness and retain the rainwater and use it to make the land more productive while providing better and more diverse food and nutrients for the community. I would love to see dry composting toilets on the islands to reduce the potential for biological contamination of their shallow groundwater and marine waters and use the compost for food production.

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Hopefully, with the establishment of the Materials Recovery Facility and the training on processing organic fertilizers and pesticides by the Turtle Conservation Society of the Philippines making organic fertilizers and pesticides would encourage the locals to garden more.

Beau Baconguis is a board member of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.

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