A visit to Juag Fish Sanctuary while beach-hopping at the nearby islands off the coast of Matnog, Sorsogon is a worthwhile side trip for kids and the young at heart. Just half an hour away or less from the ferry terminal, visitors can indulge in feeding schools of colorful fish and see exotic marine collections mostly bred for export by the owners. It’s also a pleasant nook to unwind on a weekend if you don’t mind hanging out in a native shanty on bamboo stilts in the middle of a lagoon fringed by verdant hills.
Snorkelling in the sanctuary
I wasn’t expecting much when I first learned that we were going to drop by at Juag Lagoon to check out our boatman’s fish sanctuary before heading to Subic Beach. I wondered what could be so special about an improvised enclosure for breeding fish and other marine life, which aren’t that uncommon around the country? But I figured we had the whole day to enjoy the beach so we might as well take our time and see what else this side of Matnog has to offer.
One of Kuya Alex’s expensive collections
After successfully negotiating the hair-raising swells towards the sanctuary, it was rather a different scene when we were cruising into the calm and clear water inside Juag Lagoon. Our boatman’s small native hut and fish pen welcomed us as we cruised through its entrance. We all got off at his other hut on stilts, a rundown shack made of nipa and bamboo, which he and his family use during daytime to look after their fish pen and to welcome visitors who would like to see their teeming collection of marine life.
I was surprised to find that it wasn’t just popular among locals after seeing our boatman’s logbook of guests. Visitors from France, Germany, Australia and other countires had graced this unassuming spot in Matnog, a town described by one guide book as “a place to catch a boat to somewhere else”. Perhaps these were visitors from Donsol Sorsogon, which is known worldwide for its whale-shark interaction, who were just exploring further around Sorsogon; or maybe these were tourist en route to the Visayas looking for a quick side trip while in town.
But our visit here was probably the highlight of my trip to Matnog although Subic Beach and Tikling Island were nothing less than beautiful. Getting cozy with the resident turtle, feeding a variety of fish, holding a humongous sea cucumber, clam and lobster and seeing our boatman’s slimy collection of abalone were a delightful diversion from a week of lazing on the beach. The sanctuary itself was a nice place to swim, like a man-made pool with crystal-clear blue green water – that is if you don’t mind sharing it with a bunch of plump and well-fed fish, which swarm around you with lightning speed if you throw in some of the food pellets sold for 10 pesos at the shanty.
Our group decided to forego our planned stopover at Bulusan Lake the next day and just spend more time at the sanctuary. We had a feast of seafood here for lunch- fried dried fish and canned tuna only, because Kuya Alex’s teeming supply of fish weren’t really for local consumption and probably out of our budget range anyway. After more feeding and swimming with the fish, another round of instant coffee sold at the shanty, and small talk with Kuya Alex’s wife, off we went to our next destination pleased and contented with the unexpected side trip that turned out to be a major highlight of our trip.
Juag Fish Sanctuary
No Entrance Fee – (Donation is highly encouraged)
Boatman – Alex Genablazo (0918-3045437)