Napantao: Paradise in the South

Whale shark abound the area and we were lucky during our hunt before leaving the Expedition!

The CCC Expedition required me to stay for a whole month in the base camp located in one of the most diverse coast along Sogod Bay. Napantao is one of the 22 barangays of San Francisco, a lowly coastal town in Southern Leyte.  Remote and unheard of, out of the tourism radar even for diving.

My stay was brief but long enough to observe and experience the diverse marine life on its front waters.  It was however, for my eyes only since photo shoots were not allowed or never part  during the training and survey dives.  In some way, it was a good opportunity to focus on the existing marine life in the surrounding reefs. Actually, a volunteer should be mindful and must stay focused, accuracy is necessary. In many instances, I was too engrossed on the lessons and actual exams underwater and so unconsciously ignored species in one way or another.  Like, if the agenda was Invertebrates & Impacts I will easily ignore the fishes and other marine life; or if our aim was for the Substrates, my eyes will search for the corals, sponges, rocks, mud, so on. My eyes were out for the day’s mission – no more, no less.

Yet, I could not undermine the richness of the surrounding waters which has been my training ground and the scenery at the end of each day. I caught glimpse of them every time after our second dive for the day. If we have more time, we swam back slowly over the reefs, wiggled among the big boulders and watch the colorful corals and variety of fishes. The surgeons, a group of damsels over there, a pair of trumpet fish darting from behind, brown and yellow box fish, a swarm of blue fusiliers and the different chromis in colors.  Then I encountered a giant hump head wrasse, it was unbelievably huge, it was roaming around perhaps looking for prey. I was just watching at a distance, it’s unethical to go near and disturb them.  Indeed, one should have a tremendous respect even for the marine animals.  Those giant spadefish that swam coyly every exit or approach in the channel, reminding me to relax and to take easy on a daily basis.

One morning, we woke up wondering that a luxury boat anchored in the front waters, only to find out it was a dive cruise spending whole day for the dives. And regularly, dive boats from Padre Burgos cruised to Napantao for diving bringing their guests, which for me brought home that surrounding waters is tremendously rich with marine life.

I will always think and believe that this coastal barangay is a legendary dive site and marine habitat. The soft waves riveting the blue waters and the golden hues of sunset at the end of each day were great reminders of God’s wondrous works. And there was much beyond the surface, the fish sanctuary and surrounding reef were filled with colorful marine life keeping in balance its marine ecosystem and sustaining the valuable resources of its community.

NB. Above photo was courtesy of FBM Gareth Turner

Finding Triton Trumpet!

This is exactly similar to what we found in the reef.
Photo courtesy of http://www.oceana.org

My dives during the CCC expedition led me to surprising encounters with marine critters, especially that their field base is nestled within Sogod Bay which is just one of the richest marine environment in the Philippines. We were having our second survey dive of the day doing outward for the fish survey, it was in pretty normal conditions, no current and animals were contentedly calm. I was scouring my side for the target species and unexpectedly this large shell came into view, I tried to come near but getting conscious that invertebrates was not our aim for the descent, time is always precious during survey dives! But the sighting was too rare to ignore, I tried to get Manon’s (our Project Scientist) attention – she was too absorbed as she was leading our mission. I pointed it out and she was surprised too! The intricate pattern of the its shell was just beautiful. We both came nearer and she signaled to record the sighting. That was my first encounter of a giant Triton in its habitat surrounded with other animals and I was wondering of its contribution to the marine ecosystem.

Here are are few facts I found at www.oceana.org about the specie:

  1. This invertebrate is an active predator and is known to aggressively chase its prey, which it detects through its excellent sense of smell.
  2. The giant Triton is known for relatively high speeds, especially for a snail.
  3. They feed on other snails and sea stars, most notably the crown of thorns starfish (COTS), Triton is the only natural predators of this destructive starfish.
  4. The specie was considered extremely important to reef health and is given legal protection particularly in Australia.
  5. The giant Triton reproduces through internal fertilization, and the female lays her sticky eggs on the sand, where they quickly become covered with sand and other material, protecting them from potential predators.

Unfortunately, because of its valuable and attractive shell it is collected at many places around the world, they are often sold in shops or markets in popular tourism destinations in the tropics such here in Philippines.  Gladly, that night during dinner as we were discussing the day’s activities, the giant Triton was nominated as critter of the day and was voted by majority!

NB.    The giant Triton was sighted in Nueva Estrella Norte, a fishing community in Pintuyan, Southern Leyte where a marine protected area (MPA) was just established.

The CCC Expedition

Check out dive at CCC house reef with my roommate Jemimah who hailed from Queensland, Australia.

Coral Cay Conservation is an internationally renowned and accredited conservation specialist dedicated to providing the resources to help protect coral reefs and tropical rainforests throughout the developing world. 

Since 1986 CCC have run over 20 successful conservation projects in more than 10 different countries around the world involving more than 10,000 volunteers, training several hundred scholars and publishing more than 300 key scientific research papers.

Across the world, CCC have had several internationally notable accomplishments such as the introduction of several Marine Protected Areas including the creation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belize; The Danjugan Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary for Negros, Philippines in 2000; The Limasawa Community Managed Marine Protected Area for Southern Leyte, Philippines in 2008.

http://www.coralcay.org

Marine conservation and protection is undoubtedly becomes a passion for many,   everyone is becoming conscious of the environment and for people who loves the ocean, always believe that it needs necessary care not only for the present but more importantly for the future generation. Inside me, I felt and thought that my effort for these issues was only a minuscule of what was necessary of the vast waters around us. The seventy percent water that comprises the Earth is unimaginable and sustaining this important resource from all forms of risks including global climate change is very challenging and gargantuan for that matter.  The Earth is in dire need right now of human intervention.

It was in September 2017 that I stumbled from the internet after curiously searching on marine volunteer works, about Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) based in London, UK with a field base in San Francisco, Southern Leyte.  So, I carefully browse the information from their website believing that their target participants were foreign nationals only, consequently inquired if they accept local residents for the programme. The reply was good news, scholarships are offered to local residents with matching screening and qualified divers were very welcome. The rest was history. I was accepted as a CCC Expedition scholar in October 2017!

It was only in November 2018 that I finally traveled to Southern Leyte for my engagement, the year was filled with challenging tasks and I was only available in the last few weeks of the year.  Such a long wait, yet the excitement was coupled with apprehension as I would be working with total strangers in an obscure remote town I was not familiar with.  I chose the long trip by land which was an adventure by itself, cruising to Visayas through Lipata and San Ricardo route was one of the routes I was searching on and wanted to do, long before.

I found it an advantage choosing the last batch team for the year, it was lean period and so it wasn’t crowded. The pace was fitting for me as I need to absorb the lessons deeply, the follow-up exams were not easy, both underwater and on computer.  The lessons were to prepare the volunteers for the survey works, identifying the substrates, invertebrates and target fish species correctly so that only accurate data were provided for the study in establishment of marine protected area.  The community were involved also and participated in  gathering data and raising awareness for marine conservation understanding.

The four-week stay in Barangay Napantao was full – household chores, lessons, exams, dives – Sundays however, serves as off-gassing day as a rule. Our meals were venues for stories, accusations, confessions, jokes, or the critter for the day’s dive nomination, and laughter… 🙂  Seriously, it was hard work and definitely not for the faint-hearted, diving have standards and protocols, whether boat or shore dives. I gained thirty five (35) dives during the expedition including one night shore dive at the house reef, again I would say it was hard work. Yet, I was grateful I was given the chance to work for a cause for the marine world. Perhaps my contribution was too trivial, yet I learned so much more about marine life and environment, most importantly gained scientific skills. The encounters were memorable and truly enriching. Indeed, we can only protect what we love. Obviously, the CCC team and other volunteers made my stint possible and a rewarding one.

The bruises, stings, scratches and scars I got during the expedition will soon disappear and  forgotten but the memories and gained insights will surely linger on.  Surely, we can only have good intentions for what we love and for what we need to protect. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am one proud CCC scholar!

NB. Photo credits to Mr. Gareth Turner, Field Base Manager during the period. The expedition base is located in Napantao, San Francisco, Southern Leyte within Sogod Bay.

HINATUAN ENCHANTED RIVER CAVE EXPEDITION V

Enchanted River in Hinatuan, Surigao Sur is one wonder of nature that have captivated my curiosity. Beautiful and mysterious – there is something beyond that blue waters.  The increasing “load” of the river due to influx of tourists and visitors have endangered its delicate state.  I hope that the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Hinatuan will seriously consider the recommendations from this report.  This gift of nature will surely become “a victim of its own success” if no concrete sustainability plan is in place. Kudos to Filipino Cave Divers!

Filipino Cave Divers

The following is my official report to the Municipality of Hinatuan on Enchanted River Underwater Cave Expedition V (August 18-19, 2013):

HINATUAN ENCHANTED RIVER UNDERWATER CAVE EXPEDITION V

AUGUST 18-19

A Report by Alfonso Y. Amores, MD

Members:

  1. Doc Amores
  2. Jaime Lapac
  3. Larry Williams
  4. Rio Lapac

 Introduction

 In June of 2012, Expedition III was stopped dead on its track by a then unexplained blockage of the cave entrance by a pile of limestone. It now appears that this was caused by a cave-in based on further interview of the Enchanted River maintenance crew. Furthermore, review of our video footage of Expedition IV (June 20-21, 2013) reveals irregularities and cavitation of the cave ceiling right in the vicinity of the cave entrance and the forward half of Mayor’s Chamber. This expedition is intended to explore this particular area and document the possible cave in site.  Additionally, a brainstorming with Mayor…

View original post 1,253 more words

Thrills of Tubbataha Trails (Part II)

Ananas sea cucumber

For when God possesses the dreamer, He will mold the dream and it will be right…   Verdell Davis

Like a Bootcamp

During the four-day expedition with maximum of four dives in a day, life become like a series of order – time to wake up and eat, specific time for dives, surface intervals and personal time for rest. Time management is still necessary, you don’t want everybody waiting for you when the chase boat is ready leaving.  Weather is unpredictable, in a matter of minutes the waters become choppy.  The departure of the three speed boats from HCA is in sequence as scheduled.

For safety, all divers in each chase boat shall descend and ascend together – so when we got into the waters on a roll-back entry, with our masks ready and regulators on, DM Wally always said, “On my count – one, two, three!” Splash! And I heard that in all my thirteen dives. 😛  Other buzzwords we had are as pleasing like, “Food is ready!” from the kitchen staff and a sumptuous buffet is before us. Or when the divers got back from the waters, you could almost hear everybody asking, “What did you see?” and what followed are passionate descriptions of the sightings.

While Venusians have explored diving and many have excelled, the Martians still dominated it. It’s not for the faint-hearted as they say.  So it wasn’t strange that there were only six (Memey & Pia from Manila; Natisha from Canada; Ma’am Nana, Doc Candy and me from Mindanao) of us out of 25 diver guests.  I was thrilled with the thought of being one of these special and adventurous people.

Diving is never a place for an “ooops”, definitely no errors allowed so following basic rules is purely no-nonsense.  Any untoward incident may lead to end the trip, without doubt a total disaster for all of us!

Eat, Dive, Sleep, Pray & Love

We eat at least five times a day, there was such abundance of food complete with dessert – like what about ice cream in the middle of the sea?  🙂 I still have to limit my food intake though. And the dives were such like a buffet – it was my first time to have four descents in a day, really wet!  And sleep is almost instant after long day of dives, no such sleeping late like when back home. Rest is all about sleep during the cruise.

I believe there’s one thing common to all of us in the boat – pray – everyone was praying for a good weather every day.  Because the weather in the area can be so unpredictable, the rains and the waves may come any time.  Nobody would want the cruise to be aborted due to bad weather. And we were privileged to have three priests right in our group – Fr. John, Fr. Aldrin and Monsignor Nene – so we didn’t miss the Sunday mass which was being officiated by Fr. John.  It was such a deep and solemn celebration.  Somehow, with three diving priests with us, there was such an assurance of daily prayers for all our safety.

The excitement of getting into the waters and breathing deep down or discovering the unknown are just coating of this incessant aquatic adventures.  It’s more about passion of the marine world, the life beyond the depths – just pure love for these creatures, wondering and watching in awe all these wondrous forms of life.  I know I’ll never grow tired of my dive quests, the God of the sea never seems to exhaust incredible sights in his kingdom.  And as a water person, I promised myself I’ll go on diving until I grow old when my gnarled fingers could still hold and operate gadgets or my wobbly legs could still kick for my fins.

We had the opportunity to sit down in dinner with one of our co-diver guest during the cruise – one of the three “father & son” team. He chattered about all the incredible sightings we had in the reefs full of passion and have felt same sentiment with him and as if to close his little speech, he declared he loves diving. Angel and I watching him, without batting an eyelash almost in unison declared solemnly, “We too!”

One Great Dream

Two brave souls dared for this great Tubbataha dream, I know now nothing is ever extreme with one’s aspirations.  All I needed was an ardent spirit, determined heart and one good friend who shared same deep passion for the great marine world.  It was another living proof that God is ever faithful to His promises!

We waited enough for this mission, our ultimate trip away to a paradise not everyone has the opportunity to savor its grandeur.  A world away, apart from the maze of crowded cityscape to a place of tranquility.  A place where there are no structures but water everywhere, aquatic nature in all its purity.

Tubbataha – where a brave and passionate diver’s dreams come true!