“I get excited about the concept that we can do for the ocean what’s been done for the land in terms of protecting areas of national parks.” ~Dr. Sylvia Earle~
Ecotourism is becoming fast popular due to the growing awareness and concerns on environmental issues, the advocacy to manage tourism in an ecological sustainable way. Many divers, dive operators and resorts lead in protecting marine ecosystems but as reefs attract increasing numbers of tourists and more resorts, greater controls became necessary to prevent the reefs from being damaged. Many people are also concerned on damage that can be done by divers. Keeping the areas of marine environment ecologically sustainable depends as much on divers as well as dive operators and resorts.
Divers have great responsibility in protecting marine world much that no other can defend the ecosystems than those who first love the seas and oceans. Here are few reminders for responsible divers who are keen on sustainable ecotourism management:
Master good buoyancy control, coral is killed by divers touching it while adjusting their buoyancy
Be properly weighted and have all equipment tucked in to avoid touching marine organisms
Do not use deep fin-strokes next to the reef – the surge of the water stresses delicate organisms
Do not wear gloves to avoid the temptation to hold onto live corals
Reef hooks will be used only when necessary and on dead part of the reef
Do not move marine organisms around to photograph them or hitch ride on turtles, manta rays or whale sharks – it causes considerable stress
Avoid several people crowding in underwater caverns or caves and do not stay long as diver’s exhausted air suffocates the resident creatures
Do not participate in spear-fishing for sport – selective killing of the larger fish upsets the reproductive chain
Do not collect or purchase marine souvenirs
Before booking on a resort, check the company’s environment policy
Donate to group or organization to offset the carbon emissions of flights
Every dive is a clean-up dive, your hands is not too full to pick any trash during the dive
Support every marine conservation activities and programs in your area
Divers are ambassadors of the ocean, the tiny minority who witnessed the wonders of the marine world and understand the importance to the health of planet. Divers would be more evangelical about the seas, without doubt divers had a special role in broadcasting the message that our ocean are in trouble. The health of the oceans is an indicator of the health and future of our whole world. We have great responsibility!
My recent stop-over at Zamboanga on our way to Bongao, Tawi-tawi gave me an opportunity to rediscover this historic city and I had my share of surprises. Since our time was limited, we just planned for a quick hop at Sta. Cruz island, the famed islet with the pink beach.
Angel and I was in awe, the island is more than just a glimmering white beach or pink beach for that matter, its depths is teeming with marine life. And right there in the beach front nestled are turtle eggs waiting to be hatched, about more than thirty days later! The nearby Pequeño Sta. Cruz is MPA, that explains why going to the island is forbidden. The tourism officer (who happened to be a diver) informed us later that diving is allowed in certain parts of the sanctuary – hallelujah!
Getting a dip and swim at Sta. Cruz was irresistible , I gave in and joined Angel in the refreshing waters under the cheery sun – as if it was summer! It is always an advantage to be at the beach on weekdays, the little paradise was all to ourselves!
Zamboanga – yo quiero la mar y la playa! Soon, you will be our diving destination…
“We will be back after five years.” – it was a promise to ourselves…
My first visit to El Nido three years back was with two reasons – to nurse my broken spirit after my mum’s demise and to fill the gap of our aborted Tubbataha 2010 plan. Discovering and diving in this quaint town was more than good enough, I came home with my light tan and twinkling eyes, that trip with my favorite dive buddy gave comfort somehow. And as if to console our selves as we left, he promised we will be back in five years and I was thinking if I would still be around after such time. Gladly, we were back not after five years but shortly, my buddy just gave in to my whims for a return this June, exactly three years from the first visit and what a joy! I was anticipating for a relaxing long weekend in this quiet town with sights like karst cliffs, mountains, greeneries, underwater life, beach and sunsets.
The trip was challenged again – confusing changes of my airline tickets, the rains and my buddy’s late arrival in PP but we made it though. Last evening flight from CdeO, overnight in Cebu, flight to Puerto, five hours wait, six hours bus ride, then I finally hit my bed almost midnight in El Nido. It was like more than 24 hours on the road! Indeed, I was wishing for an unhurried pace during the get-away.
We woke up the next morning with heavy downpour, the rains pounding the roof creating ground pools. Eager for our day’s dives I was hoping it would stop but refused to be bothered, I always considered rains as blessings. The downcast skies and showers did not prevent us in reporting to Palawan Divers at 8am as agreed. Accordingly the day’s dives were cancelled by management for safety reasons, inarguably it was logical and we trusted their judgment.
Wish granted! So our day one was all about relaxing and food galore, yes literally we hopped in three restos for all our day meals. So as a start we had breakfast at The Art Café (tuna pesto, bruschetta, fruit shakes), lingered for sometime in their breezy second floor terrace, leisurely playing sungka while having our meals. For lunch, we chose The Alternative Resto and tried mixed veggies soup and fish steak with mashed potatoes. The place is at the waterfront overlooking Bacuit Bay and so we had a good view of the overcast horizons, it was an opportunity to sit by the seascape with such gloomy mode, and it was surprising that the surrounding waters was so calm. No sign whatsoever of disturbance. We got chance to walk around town on our way home, many changes were evident – lot of lodges, inns or hotels sprouted and so with restos, cafés, spas, bistros even new dive shops now lining the street. The down town is getting a bit crowded compared three years ago, though the bucolic atmosphere is still there. Funny was, we were in our wetsuits getting around – talking of properly dressed! Our afternoon nap compensated for the previous day long trip, and we had few hours to rest and unwind until evening.
The gorgeous sunset that I wanted to view again by the bay was nowhere, downcast skies was all the way to the evening. But it didn’t stop us to walk the dark path to have our dinner at Bacuit Grill. Hadefe Cottages is in Brgy Masagana at the far end of the shoreline quiet accessible to the resto. Angel and I both loved the place, it has lovely view of sunset and night lights lining the coast in the evening. Most importantly, the food is great – we both loved the creamy shrimp spaghetti! I was imagining I was in St. Tropez (again) sitting there watching the night lights under a canopy of stars. But there were no stars this time, and the rain started to pour again after we ordered our food – and yes, we had shrimp spaghetti again with veggies salad! Bacuit Grill I think is iconic in El Nido, it was filled with diners especially evenings foreigners or local tourists alike.
Sometimes a simple wish is granted inscrutably, the poor weather turned the day as purely relaxing – easygoing and comfortably indulging us with good rest and good food.
Bacuit Depths Once More
The next morning promised bright skies despite the light morning rain, we found already other divers when we got at the dive shop and again all were foreigners – all four of them: a couple doing intro diving, one doing confine dives for OW course and one with high-tech cam doing some documentary who was joined to us with DM Doy. It was a bunch and it felt good to be back. I was glad to see DM Yoshi again and reminded him of our dives with them three years ago – amazing three long dives one sunny day which he described as crazy!
We cruised about 10 minutes to Cadlao Island – the largest island in Bacuit Bay and dropped off Ms. Abby with the OW student at Paradise Beach. We got back to the nearby Natnat Beach for our first descent unto a sandy slope decorated alternately with soft corals, crinoids and tropical fishes. Mysteriously the viz was not bad despite the previous day rains. There were rabbit fishes, sergeants, clownfish, trumpetfish, trigger fish and a herd of striped eel fish. I tried to follow a giant bat fish that came near but was so elusive. There were several specie of nudis and found some bristle worms too. We ascend after 56 mins with my air still at 100 bars.
The sun was generous enough and brightened the skies for our dives. We proceed to Entalula Island as our next site and had our surface interval there. Our next descent was at the western side, DM Doy briefed us to go south bound halfway then swam back in same route for the boat. Rolling back for our entry we descend to a drop-off and drifted with the mild current. Tropical fishes hovered over soft and hard corals, there were damsels, puffer, triggers, trumpets and variety of anemone fishes. Then a blue spotted ribbontail ray resting on under sand crevice surprised us, but quickly hid from view disturbed by our quick movements. Our first time to spot such colorful ray, its radiant numerous blue spots and its flattened long tail with blue lines looked interesting. We found also a gray stingray resting on sand, quickly hopped nearby after our DM gently poked him. The stingrays for me were great find, absolutely. Our return to the boat meant swimming against the current which become stronger, such conditions made me cringe – swims against current are tiring! We hovered over a coral area for our safety stop, where a curious remora swam near us perhaps inspecting for a possible abode! We ascend after 50 minutes with my air at 100 bars.
Our surface interval was spent on a patch of white beach of West Entalula for our late lunch, obviously everyone was starving, it was past 1pm already! It was a perfect setting – turquoise waters, white beach, karst and blue sunny skies. We lingered a little while until we all piled up on the boat for our next site. The DMs were aiming for Pinaglugaban Rock but as we cruised, the waters went choppy so they decided last minute for Twin Rocks which is located at the north side of Miniloc Island. It was better I thought as it would be something new to explore than the Pinaglugaban. The water was
indeed calm and the afternoon waters welcomed us as we back rolled for our entry. We ascend unto a reef slope with variety of tropical fishes, decorated with table corals, whips and sponges. We found two blue dotted stingray both resting on sands, it was surprising that they were not threatened of our presence, as they keep their grounds. There were yellow scadfish, sweetlips, anemone fish, pipefish and puffers. We passed by a school of transparent barracudas – another great find! At first I thought they were different specie of jacks. One more great find was a crocodile flathead, as bottom dweller it was camouflaging on the sands, I thought it was a stonefish. We ascend after 52 minutes with my air at 90 bars.
Well, we finished off the day with pasta dinner in Bacuit Grill – I guess Angel just love the place and their great food. Again, it was pouring hard while we dine but the aura of the bistro was cheerful – it was filled with tourists again. As if everyone was oblivious of the dark night and rains….
The next morning greeted us with bright skies which what we just wanted, one more day to relax and discover the twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang! No rushing, we wanted our last day in our unhurried pace so we left the town by mid-morning taking Tolit’s motorcab. The first-half of the roads were paved and the rest were bumpy and pot-holed, there were ongoing road works leading to next town of New Ibajay. Just like back home, I think these on-going road works are all over the country. Watching the bukid sceneries is pure joy to me, the mountains, the fields – so serene and pure. The rice fields which I believe are rain-fed in different states – few were left from last harvest, some started to plow, few had seedlings sprouted already, few are ready to plant and some have started to plant already. And I am always amused of herons gathering near the carabao in the middle of the field, some even would hop on the carabao picking its back – two contrasting colors yet in harmony – white heron on black carabao’s back! We arrived Nacpan beach after an hour, the long stretch of long beach was almost deserted and the clear blue waters decorated with waves – like beckoning us! Such luxury when all those beaches out there are crowded and filled with man-made structures.
The mild sun was a blessing though the sky wasn’t blue enough for the photos, the subdued sky over the horizon created an unobtrusive milieu. Angel and I found a new friend, a local dog just came over us while we’re taking refuge under the coconut trees, she lingered with us and even joined us as we tried to walk the long beach but have to get back when it started to drizzle. I remembered the pup that joined us in Daku Island.
We started to walk the westward stretch, you can never miss the colossal resthouse on the beach which appeared ominous and hollow – a sharp contrast from the simple and ordinary abodes of the locals! We climbed the hill for a vantage of the two beaches – taking the higher grounds is the best way to get a good view of this extraordinary works of nature. We spotted few tourists taking photos on our way to the hill top, bit arduous and filled with tall grasses, I was wary of bee and insect stings. It was somewhat slippery due to rains. We got it to the top with the breathtaking view – extraordinaire indeed! The 360 degrees view of this little paradise was indeed soul-filling.
The scorching heat got us, we hastily got down with our guide Tolit, passing again the wide cogon grass area and almost run for the beach. We needed a quick swim, the heat and my itches were getting over me. It was all to ourselves as we swam, enjoying the turquoise waters like kids. Another luxury…
We were starving already, so we walked back again to the other end straight to Catian Beach. A quiet place with few beach huts under the coco trees, we had our late lunch while waiting for the fresh buko which Angel wanted. The buko was costly but undoubtedly good. 😛 One more luxury – dining at the beach front with the sounds of the crashing waves. The skies have cleared but still not blue enough for my photos. Anyway, after a relaxing lunch we had another swim at the front. The clear waters and the crashing big waves was irresistible. We swam and swam like kids and played with the big waves! I haven’t done it for a long time, I can’t remember when was the last.
We finally left at 3pm passing again all the greeneries and fields, and got back to town in 45 minutes. Surprisingly shorter than going there, I think Tolits drove faster going home. We have enough time for some good rest before our long bus trip back to Puerto Princesa. For the second time, coming to El Nido is an affair for relaxing and for new discoveries. And again I am always grateful of Angel’s company during these exclusive trips.
Perhaps I will never get a chance to experience El Nido staying in Miniloc Island Resort, Lagen Island Resort or the latest addition and most luxurious, Pangulasian Island Resort but many would miss or often neglect the ordinary and simple things as opulent because it is not expensive and ostentatious. For me, the greatness of God always reveals itself in simple things, not rearranged by human hands.
I may not be back to this quaint town again but I’m taking all these beautiful memories to heart. Yes, it’s another affair to remember.
1. There are lot of dive shops now in El Nido but I prefer Palawan Divers, we paid P 3,600.00 per head for three boat dives, including DM, BCD & reg, lunch and marine conservation fee. Enriched air would cost P 300.00/tank, certification is necessary.
2. Aside from vans, El Nido can be reached also by Roro aircon bus at P 425.00/pax; reservation is needed to get a sure seat especially if you have a flight to catch in Puerto Princesa.
3. Skin care essentials – sunscreen, tapis or hat. If you head for Nacpan, don’t forget insect repellent to protect from sand flies. I’m still suffering from bites allergies after four weeks!
I sank gently to the sand. I breathed sweet, effortless air. The sand sloped down into a clear blue infinity. The sun struck so brightly I had to squint. My arms hanging at my sides, I kicked the fins languidly and travelled down, gaining speed, watching the beach reeling past. ~Jacques Yves Cousteau~
I will never forget the feeling. A sense of excitement, mystery, apprehension, awe and unbelievable reality came upon me as I got into the diving gears for the first time. The sunny blue skies and the blue waters in Balingoan is a witness as she engulfed me in the depths. That was five years ago when I came alone for my open water diver course. Since then, it has been a journey and I’m still on the road. Now, I want to pause and step back a while for some reflections as I reached my fifth year enjoying one of my greatest love and exploring the amazing underwater world.
As Professor Trevor Norton said, “Once you have a taste of the ocean, the intoxication lasts a lifetime.” Indeed, I never felt such sense of equilibrium after I got into diving, it’s something deeper – it brings a sense of privilege seeing a magnificent display of nature in the raw – in an amazingly separate world – underwater. Diving has changed me in many ways, life wasn’t the same after I became a diver.
Two years later after I got utterly fascinated floating in the deep blue, I took my open water diver course in 2007. It took me that long to decide as I know I need to dive often, no doubt it is necessary and that would be too expensive, I thought. But the desire was so great, I took the plunge. Then another two years (2009) later when I took my advance open water course – alone again! The desire was great to acquire more skills and I found it necessary as I need to gain more confidence as I explore more of the depths.
Every Filipino diver’s dream without doubt is to explore Tubbataha – an underwater paradise and a marine world heritage site. I shared such same dream with my favorite dive buddy carefully planning things, sure we did it! But again, this dream was answered exactly two years later when we committed for the plan. And with the principle of continuing education and the concept of PADI learning system, I need to level up my certification so as not to limit my diving adventures. Few months back, I got certified to use enriched air (EANx) two years later after my advance open water course. Now, aiming for Rescue Diver certification with the objective to acquire the ability and skills for rescue and therefore be useful in such situation, I can only hope I got certified before the two year period would lapse!
Since diving is generally and strictly adopting the buddy system, I need a buddy whom I could be comfortable with and have aligned that same rhythm and vibrations when we go underwater, more so on the surface. I have been traveling and diving with my favorite dive buddy for more than three years now, hoping for more dives together in the days to come.
Looking back I am most thankful to two people who have been with me, two important people who inspired and gave me courage to go on and hope for the best in my diving pursuits. My mentor, who got that enabling flair for his students in acquiring the necessary skills and confidence to make most in every dive. As a newbie, my dives was always with him – then one day, he said I must go and experience diving somewhere else – like a father telling a daughter to spread wings. I did and now exploring and learning many new things just as he said. He’s always there for my concerns and needs even until now, he’s just an SMS away – just few weeks back, he made arrangements instantly when I told him I want to dive in Mantigue Island. And surely, my favorite dive buddy who is my companion in most of my diving trips including the Tubbataha Dive Cruise. I shared wonderful memories with him in my underwater escapades. I traveled with him often and in some ways spoiled me with all those getaways, I love it though! I felt blessed and honored to have these two noble men who shared their time with me, cared for me and extended a hand in any way they can.
Reasons or Lessons?
I have both – they said supposedly mature adults must do things with objectivity and that sounds logical. At first, it was quite personal – I was bitten in that one magical moment in the deep blue. My sub-conscious kept nagging me to discover and experience such amazing underwater realm, which I could only do by strapping a tank on my back and go deep down. I had no regrets, I’m enjoying every bit of the journey, and more importantly it gave me a new sense of balance. On a deeper sense, I realize that this amazing marine world is in great peril as a result of man’s greed and exploitation, the whole mankind needs to save the degrading resources entrusted to us. We are just stewards, we failed and we have sinned against the Creator. Now I know better, I have obligation to protect, preserve and enhance this last important ecosystem on earth. It pained me to see all the atrocities of marine life done by humans who are supposedly civilized and educated as they claimed to be.
I have much to say about lessons and my journals was filled with many accounts, indeed I have learned so much in many aspects. There is always something in every dive trips – new friends to meet underwater, new sites to see, variety of sea creatures and new learning of characteristics and behaviors. I learn to manage schedules and arrange trips with much flexibility without sacrificing my work obligations. I meet people in the diving community, all of them as far as I could remember are kind, friendly and helpful – perhaps, divers belong to such breed! I become more compassionate, undoubtedly more humbled and felt more privileged to be exploring the depths, when not all has the opportunity for such favor.
There’s no denying the fact that traveling is part of diving, I would say I was seeing more places in the country for the last four years in quest for dive sites. It’s more than just counting sites for my dive log but I believe diving gave one that itch in search for something new and unfamiliar or unknown. My dive buddy and I found it exciting to uncover and unravel new sites, especially those off-beaten ones. We learn more and bring home with us treasured lessons and cherished memories.
I have favorite sites which I visited often, to name a few: Coron in Palawan for the World War II shipwrecks, Moalboal in Southern Cebu for the sardines run and Banaug Shoal in Balingoan for its diverse marine life. And I will forever treasure my first thirteen dives in Tubbataha Reefs – it was a dream come true. I love Apo Island, Apo Reefs, El Nido, Mantigue Island, Malapascua Island and Puerto Galera. But there are still more depths to dive right in our country, there are more to see than what I have seen.
Like a miracle unfolding, graces and blessings abound. Indeed, finances is necessary for the trips but everything was provided, the Great Accountant was too generous. Surprisingly, arranging schedules become manageable even sometimes tough decision have to be made, prioritization becomes an art. Undeniably, unforeseen circumstances intervene but I learned to be tough and knew that there’s always good reasons for all events that happened along the journey. The Lord has always lavished me with these gifts, and many times I felt spoiled with His generosity and kindness. Five years wasn’t very long but I gained so much treasures from this journey. Cheers to the next five years!
As your diving season arrives, it might be a good time to remind everyone about eating for diving. Over my many years of diving, I have had the occasion to learn through trial and (mostly) error, as well as watching others, what it takes to have a pleasant day of diving. What you eat just might make the difference between a good, safe dive and what might be a ‘bummer’, a trip to the chamber. What follows is my ‘fool-proof’ list of things to eat or drink in preparation for your long-awaited dive trip.
Six to three days before
This is the time to build your water and carbohydrate stores. Note the order of importance. It is a must to drink enough water so that your urine is ‘copious and clear’ the last few days before a dive. Being well-hydrated is thought by many to be vital to the prevention of decompression sickness. Excessive alcohol intake or a bout of local “Montezuma’s Revenge” will dehydrate one rapidly, and it might take a day or two to recover from becoming dehydrated.
Be sure to choose a good portion of your foods from the bread/starch and fruit categories. Roughly one-half to two-thirds of your calories should be from complex carbohydrates (whole grains, pasta, veggies, fruit, etc.) depending on the intensity of yourdiving. If you’re doing a full week of repetitive dives, stay closer to the two-thirds calories from carbs and eat plenty of calories. Also, make sure you get enough protein by taking in low-fat dairy products, beans, nuts (use for salads and cooking) soy products, and lean meat and fish.
Two days before
This is the day to be sure you have plenty of water in your system and plenty of calories. It’s here that some people get into trouble on long airplane trips by ingesting too much alcohol containing beverages. The alcohol acts as a diuretic, directly causing dehydration. In addition, the dry atmosphere of the airplane cabin can cause significant fluid loss.
Most people do well to eat a little more than usual on this day, sticking to high carbohydrate foods and evenly spaced meals. Some people prefer to get the extra calories from food while others like sports drinks or milk. Also, work on getting a few good nights sleep here, because it can be difficult to sleep restfully on a plane trip to the dive site.
Here is where most divers get into trouble–overeating during the trip to the dive site. Avoid bad eating habits you may slip into if you have to travel to the dive. Eating a little less than usual today will make you a little lighter tomorrow on your dive day, so drop your intake by about 500 calories. One of the worst things you can do is raid the pre-dive pasta bash. Lots of oil-laced pasta, buttered bread, and high-fat salad dressing will only give you plenty of “ammo” for the boat head in the morning. At this point, it’s too late to make up for poor eating earlier in the week. Diarrhea on a diveboat is not a good thing! Stick with broth-based soup, Jello, cereal, low-fat pudding, fruit, vegetables, carnation instant breakfast, and sports drinks on this day. Be sure to drink a little extra water.
Stay away from unusual foods. Eat a small breakfast if you suffer from heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux). Be sure to eat at least two hours before the dive and avoid high-fat muffins, doughnuts, and honey buns. If the dive is in the afternoon, keep the portions small and choose high-carbohydrate foods and sports drinks or water for lunch. You should be drinking water up to one-half hour before the dive. About 10 or 15 minutes before the have a water bottle handy and take in two-four ounces of water. Water consumed this close to the dive start will help counteract the obligatory diuresis of your initial water immersion.
During the dive
Depending on the number of dives, drinking water is usually best. Most dive boats have a supply of cold water available with plenty of cups. If it’s a long way to and from dive sites with a long off-gassing between dive period, consider a sports drink or try easy to eat, high-carbohydrate foods (fig bars, bananas, sports bars/gels, low-fat cookies, etc.) and plenty of liquids. Most divers bring their own sources of energy (lemon drops, hard candy, oranges). I’ve not seen any divers using any of the ’sports gels’ that runners use. One word of caution–on some dive sites in distant, ethnic spots, the food served for the between dive lunches is indigestible if not inedible.
After the dive
Scarf down high-carbohydrate foods after a dive as soon as possible (this doesn’t include beer if you’re diving the next day). Try to eat something every couple of hours all day long if you’re diving again and at least for four-six hours after short dives. Avoid alcohol as long as possible the few hours after a dive as it will dehydrate you as well as slow the restoration process of your liver and exercising muscles.
While following these tips may not allow you to dive any deeper or use less air, it can make a big difference how you feel during and after the dives. It is just possible that you might ward off getting bent and ruining a good vacation or even having permanent neurological damage. In addition, your slim physique also might also save a few bucks by you being able to get into last years wet suit and BC.
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