The first time I was in Ursula Island was in 2003. I still vividly remember that day we arrived at the island. There was a big fishing boat anchored near the shore. Some fishermen had taken refuge in the island because of the strong waves and a heavy downpour.
That day, we were forced to spend the night in the island, in a nipa hut built by the rangers assigned to protect the island. Wine bottles, plastics and nets were all over the place. We were hoping to see many birds but was told by a ranger that the birds seldom visited the island because of the disturbance.
After more than a decade, I was excited to see Ursula again. The trip to the island was facilitated by Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation which have committed to the conservation of the island.
We boarded a naval boat and traveled almost an hour to Ursula Island. It was a sunny day and our group composed media practitioners from the city were all thrilled when we approached the island.
From afar, the incomparable white sand shoreline of the island was beckoning. The forest in the middle of the island was remarkably lush and it seemed the trees were waving to welcome us again.
A signboard had been put up there, providing some information about the island and the rules and regulations of the Protect Area Management Board led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
According to the signage, the land area of the island is 17. 243 hectares and the island’s management board prohibits the throwing of garbage to the sea or anywhere.
Reynaldo Dela Rosa, Community Relations Manager of RTNMC said that the company often do coastal clean-up in the area to maintain its cleanliness.
RTNMC and CBNC are active partners of the local government of Rio Tuba and the PAMB in various protection efforts in the island. The two companies shoulder the allowance of the park ranger and have adopted the island as part of their environmental protection initiatives.
It has become a routine that visitors of RTNMC and CBNC who come to Ursula conduct a coastal cleanup as part of the itinerary. So, we did coastal clean-up and we collected almost three sacks of garbage composed of styrofoam, old shoes, nylon nets, and some plastic bottles. These garbage were either left by people who stayed in the island or brought in by the waves.
I wanted to see if the nipa hut where I stayed during my first visit was still there but I was intimidated by the tall trees and pandan leaves with sharp edges that have lined up the path.
Some of my media colleagues found under the sand the soft eggshell of sea turtle which according to Mr. Dela Rosa is abundant in the island.
Ursula Island Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary used to be the roosting place of imperial pigeons, including the threatened grey Imperial-pigeons. Mantanani Scops-owl, a restricted-range small-island specialist, has also been recorded on the island. The shoreline is a wide resting place for migratory shorebirds and the surrounding waters are valuable feeding grounds for seabirds, particularly terns, according to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
PCSDS record shows that there has been a significant decline in the number of roosting pigeons in Ursula Island, from an estimated 150,000 to just over a few thousand over the last 60 years. Predators like Slender Arboreal Snake Dendrelaphis and rats are believed to have caused the decline.
The Ursula Island Game Refuge and Bird Sanctuary was declared as a protected area in April on April 30, 1960, through Administrative Order No. 14.
The efforts of various stakeholders to restore the natural beauty of Ursula Island have borne fruits. The birds have come back, the vegetation has improved, the marine resources are on the road to recovery. The partnership among stakeholders has strengthened, sealed by good intention to restore the beauty of Ursula.
As I left Ursula, I uttered one simple wish. That when I come back, Ursula will greet me again with its most beautiful smile. Until next time Ursula.