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Paradise is where humanity and nature coexist in perfect harmony. This statement summarizes my whole experience at the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a place where respect for nature is paramount, and one of the ultimate virtues is to respect God’s creation.

Spearheaded by the government, the Agusanon-Manobo natives have holistic approaches to coexisting with nature in mutual symbiosis. The natives play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance in the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary by actively participating in the conservation of wildlife and plants in and around the vast wetland.

Contemporary science and traditional knowledge systems and practices are critical approaches to effectively conserving the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary. Additionally, the indigenous cultures and belief systems of the Agusanon-Manobos also contribute to the extensive wetland’s economic, ecological, and socio-cultural significance.

An Introduction to Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

Dubbed as the largest and least disturbed freshwater wetland in the Philippines, the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary has complex natural watercourses and lakes covering an area of 15,000 hectares (roughly the size of Metro Manila). This immense wetland also plays a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance in the Caraga Region.

As its name suggests, the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is a valuable habitat for sixty-seven endemic avian species, Philippine crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and turtles. Additionally, Agusan Marsh is a natural refuge for migratory birds escaping winter from Russia and East Asia.

Situated in Northeastern Mindanao, in the Province of Agusan del Sur, the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary covers six municipalities and thirty-eight barangays. It has been home to the Manobo tribe since time immemorial. Here, they live in floating houses that ebb and flow with the changing water levels, and they are regarded as the protectors of this significant wetland.

Eco-Cultural Tour at Panlabuhan Manobo Floating Village

Anchored along the lakeside of Lake Kanimbalayan — one of the 56 lakes in this wetland — are floating houses made of wood and coconut thatch, which serve as the humble abodes of the Agusanon-Manobo natives. Among these dwellings is a floating guesthouse that accommodates visitors in the marshland.

To reach the Panlabuhan Manobo Floating Village, one must be accompanied by natives who know the angles, turns, and directions in this wide swampland.

In my experience, I lost my sense of direction in this swampland when we entered towering cogon grasses. All I could see were the sky, tall cogon grasses, and muddy waters. Then, after almost an hour of navigating through a shallow stream, the marsh opened up into a lake of endless beds of water hyacinths and skeletons of trees fringed with vines, remains of an inundated forest affected by ever-changing water levels in this immense everglade. This wetland emanated an eerie but uniquely alluring beauty, especially at dawn when the swamp was engulfed in thick fog.

Once we arrived, the villagers welcomed us with festive traditional songs and dances as our canoe arrived at the floating guesthouse. Before we could wander off into this swampland, the babaylan or shaman performed rituals to ask permission from spirits and to keep visitors from harm. After the ceremony, the women also performed traditional dances that depicted their traditional beliefs and daily activities.

To experience their way of life, we decided to visit floating houses, talk to the villagers, canoe around the area, or even try swimming in the murky waters of the marsh.

Although visitors feared the presence of crocodiles, villagers reassured us that sightings of these dreaded reptilian species were rare as they usually stay away from humans. Much to my delight, swimming in this marsh was on my list of must-do activities. After that reassurance, I finally found the courage to jump off the canoe, as swimming in designated areas of the wetland was guaranteed safe. Note that we were accompanied by guides and villagers.

Overall, my trip to the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary was one of the highlights of my 2021. Combining the hospitality of the Agusanon Manobos with the beautiful scenery in this vast wetland, this eco-cultural trip is one I highly recommend. Truly, there’s a lot to explore in the Philippines!

Interesting facts about Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

The ecological significance of the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is protected through Proclamation Number 913, issued in 1996 by former President Fidel V. Ramos. Furthermore, acknowledging its global importance, the Ramsar Convention — an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands — included it in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance on November 12, 1999.

The Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary acquired much stronger protection under Republic Act 11038, solidifying the government’s stance on protecting our highly valued wetland. More recently, in 2018, it was officially recognized as the 9th ASEAN Heritage Park of the Philippines.

Additionally, the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary was home to Lolong, the world’s largest captive saltwater crocodile. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the enormous saltwater crocodile measured 20.24 feet (6.17 m) and weighed 2,370 lbs. Sadly, Lolong passed away due to multiple organ failures while in captivity on February 10, 2013.

How to get to Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary

Agusan del Sur, home to the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, is a 5-hour drive from Davao. To get there, you can take public transportation or rent a vehicle from us.

If you choose public transportation, your first stop is the Davao City Overland Transport Terminal (DCTTO). From there, take a bus bound for Butuan. Fares range from P380 to P750.

There are several entry points to Agusan Marsh, including the municipalities of Bunawan and Loreto, located along the National Highway connecting Butuan and Davao.

To reach the Panlabuhan Floating Village in Barangay Poblacion, Loreto, tourists can take a motorized canoe for an estimated four-hour travel time from Bunawan via the Bunawan River. Boat rates are typically P3,500 for a boat accommodating five passengers and P5,000 for a larger 10-passenger boat.


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Where to stay

The Panlabuhan Floating Village offers overnight accommodation for P2,200 per person, which includes meals, entrance and environmental fees, and canoe rental. An additional night costs P1,400 per person.


How to contact Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary Protected Area Management Office

IPAS Complex, Mambalili 8506 Bunawan, Philippines
Mobile no.: 0930 804 4113
Email: pasuamws@gmail.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amwspasu/

Or contact any of these community leaders:
Boyet: 09072324307
Maritess: 09305287194
Ruben: 09262053052