Ubay Island

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In October 2013, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the province of Bohol, Philippines, causing the land to sink by around 1 metre. Combined with a hundred years’ worth of sea level rise, the earthquake had catastrophic consequences for the islands of Batasan, Pangapasan, Ubay and Bilangbilangan, which have experienced partial or complete flooding ever since.

ubay map

Ubay’s story is as uplifting as it is tragic. Far from being cowed by the rising water levels around them, the islanders simply get on with their daily lives – sometimes waist deep in water.

Ubay Island is tiny. Even without flooding, its land mass would measure just 1.5 hectares. The island is inhabited by a population of little over two hundred people living in fifty households. Of these, roughly three quarters live below the poverty threshold.

I first learned about Ubay Island through a documentary film about all four of the Bohol islands. Called Racing the King Tide, the film focuses on a series of people – teacher, fisherman, mother, auntie, health worker and captain – whose stories and experiences convey just how complex and challenging it must be to live in such conditions …

In reconstructing Ubay I have tried to capture both its spirit and beauty. Although the houses and streets of the island are strewn with floating trash – even the school goes on daily with the children surrounded by it – there is also much that pleases the eye and lifts the spirit, such as the flags that hang over every street, the play areas, the communal spaces, and the surrounding sea with its countless fishing and pleasure boats …

From viewing the film, it seems that the buildings on the island consist mainly of shacks, much in the style of shanty towns one finds in cities such as Manila. I have included a church and school – both of which exist on the real Ubay Island – as well as an outside bar where one might imagine some of the islanders gathering to enjoy something that many Filipinos are apparently passionate about … Karaoke!

Ubay Island has one ‘signature’ structure, a ruined building in the middle of the sea that’s used as a jumping and diving platform by the island’s children …

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Once again, I have relied on the skills of Harry Cover – ‘Impossibleisnotfrench’ – to mesh this structure, and he has done a brilliant job. Harry also made some of the boats you’ll see on the sim, such as the beautiful ‘tourist boat’ on the eastern side …

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ubay tourist boat

I’ve also added some touches of my own, such as the graffiti in the submerged basketball court – ‘THIS IS WHERE WE PLAY’ – that one can see in the movie behind the waving boy …

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Close by the real Ubay Island – as can be seen in arial photographs – is a swamp area with a solitary building on its edge. My Second Life version of this is a shack that features another aspect of the local culture that may well be unknown to visitors to the sim: Filipino folk magic, known as Kulam or ‘Pagkukulam’.

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Putting this sim together was both humbling and inspiring. Although we cannot know for certain what will become of these islands, it seems likely that they will eventually disappear completely as sea levels continue to rise. Far more permanent, one hopes, is the spirit and resilience of these incredible people. It is in tribute to them that I created the sim …