Tawi-Tawi in the southern most part of the country also boasts of the sleek and rare "labuyo" or wild rooster and different variety of exotic and wild birds.
Seagulls, known to the natives as “tallah-tallah,” have settled by the thousands at Gusong Reef in Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi to lay their eggs there. Gusong Reef is a top producer of the delicious turtle eggs, ranking second to the Turtle Islands.
Tawi-Tawi can easily transport one to a whole other world. Eye-catching Sitangkai Island is considered the “Venice of Tawi-Tawi.” The Royal "Kupunga" rises straight out of an Arabian setting. The Malay influences as well as tribal arts and crafts are very much visible in the province. Here, it is not uncommon to see folks dressed in colorful malongs, the women adorned in beads and brass and gold trinkets, according to the Department of Tourism.
The province is the southernmost of the country sharing sea borders with North Borneo and the Indonesian Kalimantan province. It covers several beautiful islands in the Sulu Sea to the northwest, the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island and the Turtle Islands, just 20 kilometers away North Borneo. It can be reached either by boat or plane from Zamboanga City or Sulu province and North Borneo.
Agriculture, fishing, and agar-agar farming are the leading source of livelihood of the people of Tawi-Tawi, with quite a number engaged in the barter trade business. Copra is the top agricultural produce, followed by root crops, fruits, and vegetables.
Tawi-Tawi is also one of the safest and peaceful provinces in the southern Philippines and has recently embarked in a tourism campaign aimed at attracting visitors and traders to the province.
Governor Sadikul Sahali has been largely credited for the development of Tawi-Tawi.
Good governance and the dedication of provincial and local government officials are also a major factor in the transformation of Tawi-Tawi from one of the poorest province in the country in past to what it is now.
Last year, President Gloria Arroyo led the launching of the Tawi-Tawi Modified Mariculture Development Project (TTMMDP). It was a national government intervention for livelihood enhancement that would benefit the locals in coastal areas.
It provides the basic infrastructure support such as communal storm-resistant mooring system and boundary markers in a carefully selected area of the seas where farming activities are systematically undertaken.
This year, another multi-billion Euro project adds to the list. The project which is called the Simunul Industrial and Oil Tank Park will help the Municipality of Simunul and nearby islands in creating loads of job opportunities; Improvisation of education and health services; strengthening of spiritual and cultural identities; protection and development of natural resources; conservation and preservation of a balance eco-system and tourism development.
Mayor Benzar Nur Tambut, of Simunul town, said that the project will cover the total development of the Municipality of Simunul, its main island and the island of Manok Mankaw, with its virgin peach beaches.
The project is expected to create more jobs and improve the quality of education and health services and will strengthen Tawi-Tawi’s spiritual and cultural identities. It would protect and develop natural resources, including the conservation and preservation of a balance eco-system and tourism development.
Simunul Island, one of the smallest inhabited islands in the country, is set to be the next "Dubai" in Southeast Asia, officials said. Though slight in land mass, the people are well-off in natural resources and the island was the cradle of Islam in the Philippines.
The most significant piece of architecture in the island is the Sheik Makdum Mosque built in 1380. The mosque in Simunul is the oldest found in the Philippines and host of pilgrims from neighboring Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia and even from neighboring localities in Mindanao.
Although it has been worn by the ravages of time, its pillars still stand to this day. Simunul is a zero crime rate municipality. (Amilbahar Mawallil and Dayang Babylyn Kano-Omar)