Giving the Beach a Break: Enjoying Sun, Sand, Surf (and Environment)

20191027_101839.jpgBy Jessie Militar, Jr. , 27 October 2019, Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, La Union.  A typical outing turns into an experience more than bargained for for this average tourist. Jessie Militar shares his experience about his excursion during the La Union Surfbreak Festival 2019.

72811825_1532686216907401_2757047341046300672_n.jpgMy social media feed was abuzz with posts about the ongoing Surfbreak Festival happening in San Juan, La Union. The festivities were filled by sun, sand, and surf during the daytime; and concerts and parties by night. I was then entertaining the idea of attending, but the knowledge of how hectic it could get during peak season kept my feet at bay. A friend who had gone there the previous day confirmed my apprehensions when he returned home that very same night. The crowd in San Juan can grow such that one’s energies can quickly be sapped just navigating through it.

I recalled when I first came to San Juan,  before its boom as the “Surfing Capital of the North.” I arrived on a quiet Saturday night, following the invite of a cousin. The road was quiet and almost everyone had already retired to their homes. This was typical of most rural beachside towns.  Although San Juan had already been being recognized as a surfing spot, it was still in its infancy stages back then. This was only six years ago, just before the opening of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX).

That said, I resumed browsing through my media feed.

Weekly Beach CleanupsIt may have been fate or analytics that made me come across conservation activities scheduled along Surfbreak’s usual beach events. Beach cleanup was already done, but there were still mangrove planting and coral propagation sessions that were happening the very next day. Tomorrow was when many tourists were set to flock back home and I thought that this was my perfect compromise to visit. I was not going to miss Surfbreak after all.

I arrived at the venue (Urbiz Garden) the next day where I was introduced to Anne-Marie Mananquil Bakker, a local resident and a founder of Fostering Education and Environment for Development (FEED), Inc and Tina Antonio, running her family bed & breakfast at Urbiz Garden, and also founder of La Union Soul (LU Soul). Together with other volunteers (the youngest being 8 years old), we gathered and discussed the significance that mangroves played not just in the ecosystem, but also in protecting human communities.

Underneath the cool shelter of a nipa shed, we learned about how mangroves served as habitat for fishes and crustaceans, how they prevented the erosion of soil into the sea, and how they helped against climate change.

BotongWe also learned about the botong tree, a type of mangrove endemic to the beaches of Northern Luzon. The mangrove is also known as the “sea poison tree”. As its name implies, a poison can be extracted from its seeds and be used to stun and capture fish more easily. Avid beachgoers often mistake the seeds as small coconuts as that is precisely how they look like. The botong propagates around the Philippine archipelago when the seeds fall into the sea and float off to other beaches.

After the short discussion, we were presented with the botong saplings. Planting mangroves turned out to be easier than expected as we only had to dig a few inches into the soft sand before depositing the saplings into the ground. The sun was out then, but we were sheltered by the canopies of the nearby full-grown botong and umbrella trees.

GPS Images & Coordinates Per Botong Tree Planted

Use any GPS (Global Positioning System) software / applications to input the latitude and longitude coordinates to be able to remotely see the location of your trees planted. Some examples include:

Aside from the FEED team capturing the GPS coordinates of each tree planted, I too kept a mental note of where I planted. How rewarding it must be to be watch these trees grow over the years, I thought to myself.  I then had another reason to be returning to San Juan aside from the beach.

The coral propagation session was scheduled in the afternoon so the group dispersed for lunch. It was great as it allowed us time to enjoy the surf as well as try the offerings of nearby establishments. Still halfway through the day, I was already convinced that my weekend was proceeding perfectly.

The group reconvened in the afternoon and was then introduced to Laura Riavitz, an Austrian marine biologist and team member of Ocean Quest Global – one of FEED’s Living Legacy partners – who had called La Union home for the last 9 years to date. She discussed to us the role that coral reefs played in the environment and what threats are being presented to this underwater ecosystem.

I only learned then that corals, together with plankton and algae, are also capable of performing photosynthesis, similar to what our land-borne plants do. In the process, they gather carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. With 72% of the Earth being covered by water, I was amazed to learn that most of the oxygen we breathe is actually being produced underneath our oceans.

LU-coral-wall.jpgLa Union province has a natural coral wall all along its coastline. Depending on classification source, the Philippines is recognized as the 5th or 6th longest coastline in the world with  a total seaside of 36,289km; Canada (202,080 km), Norway (58,133 km)
Indonesia (54,720 km), Greenland (44,087 km) and Russia (37,653 km) being the other top coastline lengths. (Source:

Laura proceeded to collect coral buds from the sea to demonstrate to us how we could effectively propagate them. She started by placing a coral bud onto a broken-off reef and securing it with super glue. She then sprayed a catalyst made up of calcium carbonate and iodine to speed up the adhering process. When she was done with her demonstration, it was then our turn to try it out ourselves.

I was actually surprised about us having to use super glue. To that, Laura explained that super glue is compatible with organic tissue since it was developed as a surgical glue during the Vietnam War. Aha! Not only were our activities preserving the environment, it was turning out to be uniquely fun and very educational too!



LUSC-CoralProp-6June2019LUSC-CoralProp-6June2019-17LUSC-CoralProp-6June2019-15After all the corals were planted, Laura and Anne swam out to sea and planted the propagated corals in their nursery, a small alcove about 5 feet underwater protected by the existing skeletons of dead coral walls.  I bet that not many are aware that a coral nursery is located within a stone’s throw of Urbiztondo’s surfing area, watched over by the 45 trained La Union Surf Club, Inc (LUSC) – also FEED Living Legacy partner – certified surf instructors who were all trained by Laura earlier this year. I guess that is proof of how tourism and environmental preservation can and really should effectively work hand in hand.

When we were done, I took leave from the group to walk along the beach. It was 5pm and beachgoers were starting to gather to watch the sun set. I sat by a vacant spot and also looked out towards the horizon. I felt the sand wrap its heat around my feet and the Habagat blow its cool breeze against my cheeks. What a contrasting yet relaxing feeling that was. The waves gently crashing against the shoreline and the laughter of children playing nearby added some music.

I sigh. What an eventful day it was – filled with roadtripping, mangrove and coral planting, surfing, swimming, and food tripping. I only learned of the event too soon, unfortunately. Otherwise, I would have surely invited my friends and family. But what great consolation it still was to know how we could make our next trips even more enjoyable and rewarding.

Besides, I am sure that San Juan would still be enjoyable when we return. It is because of these parallel conservation efforts by locals and tourists alike that ensure that the experience would still available for those who have yet and are again to come.

Photo Journal

P.S. Aside from FEED, the activities were also organized by La Union Soul, a locally-based movement committed to making San Juan’s tourism industry sustainable through environmental conservation and educational campaigns.

Jessie Militar, Jr.jpgAbout the Author: Jessie Militar, Jr. works as an engineer for an aerospace company. He enjoys traveling to different places and learning about its history, culture, sights, and cuisine. It was his first experience at planting mangroves and coral propagation.

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Introduction to Coral Propagation

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This video is a brief introduction to the Ocean Quest Global system of coral propagation. This system is accepted worldwide as the most comprehensive, effective and low impact coral reef rehabilitation program. Join the Ocean Quest Global / Sea Shepherd Dive – Coral Propagation Team. Video by Anuar Abdullah, Founder, Ocean Quest Global (Source:

About Ocean Quest Global

ocean-quest-global-logo.pngFounded in Malaysia in August 2010, Ocean Quest is the only Malaysian-based marine conservation organization that is functional internationally. Since it’s founding, Ocean Quest rapidly expanded from SE Asia to becoming global in 2017. Through thorough research Ocean Quest created its own techniques, methodology and material for coral reef rehabilitation. The Ocean Quest techniques are taught through a simplified education system that allows the public to take part in coral reef rehabilitation. Advocacy and awareness are also integrated in the education system. The most visible role of Ocean Quest in coral conservation is its ability to take direct action without delay. One important factor to achieve its goals is to engage the local community on any site coral reef rehabilitation is active. Registered as a social enterprise the outcome of the efforts of Ocean Quest are shown in how much it is able to give back to the community and the environment.

More here:

About La Union Soul

LU SOUL LOGO2La Union Soul is a community-driven ecotourism movement that promotes sustainability in the 5th longest shoreline of the world– the La Union coastline.

We are a young and active group of residents, researchers, students, educators, artists, and business owners working together to empower different La Union communities with opportunities to ensure the preservation of marine life and the improvement of livelihoods in our local regions.

It is our mission to protect the local economy and all of its stakeholders by spreading awareness and action on the importance of clean, safe, and secure waters for all living creatures.

We are based in Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, the Surfing Capital of the North.

More here:

About Karpos Multimedia

KMI_NEW_BLUE.pngWe, at Karpos, are composed of young, dynamic millennials from different fields of art and multimedia determined to deliver technologically innovative ideas and solutions for your content marketing, concerts, and concept festival needs.

Backed up by fruitful collaborations and a strong passion for the industry, we bring no less than topnotch service that builds brands and their communities.

More here:

Contact FEED

In 2015, the Philippine government submitted to the United Nations the country’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The country committed to reduce its carbon emissions by 70 percent by 2030. The carbon dioxide reductions will come from the sectors of energy, transport, waste, forestry and industry. Join us!

FEED runs a number of Students and Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE); Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – such as mangrove planting for coastal protection or ridge reforestation plantings; One Child, One Tree; Bio-Intensive Gardens (BIG) for nutrition in public elementary schools and other spaces; Climate Change Survival 101 and other LIVING LEGACY programs – customised environmental engagement activities for individuals and organisations interested in contributing to climate change adaptation efforts and greening critical areas such as watersheds, ridges, and reefs that all require rehabilitation.

Tree-Planting with FEED

Check out the video journey by Clueless Commuter to get a good idea of how FEED plantings go:


Contact us at FEED for more details, to join our regular activities or to design your own tree-nurturing or call/text +63 (0)917 552 4722.

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