2011 Portfolio: Blue World

My Blue World

I have convinced my self it’s not yet too late to  scribble my last year’s journey in the underwater realm, something I could come anytime in the future to feel and reminisce the joys and wonders as I go through this quest. Much has happened but on a nutshell, here it goes:

  • Had a total of 38 dives making it to 109 accumulated dives and accumulated 86:46 hours  as of year-end
  • Revisited sites  such as Moalboal, Mantangale, Agutayan Island & Coron both special for me and my favorite dive buddy
  • The great Tubbataha Dream finally – I had thirteen dives in this underwater paradise!
  • Discovered great sites aside from the wonders of Sulu seas  such as Apo Reefs, Mactan & Puerto Galera – the experience was magical and captivating. I had a long write-up in these trips
  • Never missed the International Clean-Up Day and joined the diving community with my dive buddy in a coastal town here in Misamis Oriental
  • Took up  lessons using enriched air with my dive buddy and now certified EANx diver
  • My 100th dive in Balicasag Island, right where I catch the spell of the blue world – another milestone!
  • Having back a camera after a lull of fourteen months, though I’m still getting to know her I’m learning more on underwater photography
  • More controlled bouyancy, thus more more efficient air consumption, never had an air lower than 500psi or 50 bars
  • Technically, there was much improvement – I can dive comfortably sans DM but still with dive guide; night dive is now sans angst; and wreck diving  give me that kick that rose my adrenaline – penetrated five wrecks with my dive buddy, not to mention other minor hulks we discovered in PG and Tubba

I will never forget the challenges, struggles but more on the joys, victories and graces attached to all of these tales. My blue world – my passion, my dream, my life…

NB.  Photo by Angel taken while  diving Irako Maru in Coron, Palawan.

Seizing Tubbataha Dream!


Measuring 99,600 hectares in size, the Tubbattaha Reef National Marine Park (TRNMP) is made up of 2 atolls rising in the middle of the Sulu Sea. A Study by Conservation International has confirmed what Scientists long theorized, that it is the nursery for fish and coral larvae that populates the Sulu-Sulawesi Triangle  – an area that not only covers the most important and productive fishing grounds of the Philippines but extends as far south as Malaysia and Indonesia.

So important is this submerged structure in the balance of the underwater eco- system that UNESCO declared it a world heritage site as far back as 1993. In 1998, Former Philippine President Fidel Ramos, a keen diver himself, created Task Force Tubbataha and a station equipped with radar and manned by zealous rangers was established and now guards the park 24/7.

Several factors are responsible for the almost virgin conditions of this underwater jewel. The convergence of currents constantly brings in a barrage of the nutrients and clean water a healthy reef and its inhabitants demand. Being the largest and almost lone structure in the middle of a vast expanse of ocean guarantees a healthy influx of pelagic visitors looking for a meal and other services an underwater community provides.

Being almost a hundred nautical miles from the nearest port, access is only through Live-aboard vessels and voyages to the park are determined by the weather. A small window-from late March to early June when calm seas and clear skies are the best and only times for divers to visit. The strong winds and rough swells the rest of the year deters both authorized and un-authorized incursions into the park and permits the reef to settle back into its natural state of regeneration. *

December 2008.  The idea came to invade the mysterious depths of Sulu seas, when Angel and I planned and pledged ourselves for Dive Tubbataha 2010.  They said it’s the holy grail for divers in the country and you can never be an accomplished one unless you explored its depths.  But more than proving to ourselves and counting sites visited, we wanted desperately to experience and catch sight of the glorious beauty of this elusive paradise – an epitome of the exquisiteness of creation!

Our plans were put in order:  dive as often our schedules and pockets can allow, earn course necessary to increase our capacity, acquire necessary gears, learn lessons from every dive we had, and more.  Enjoying every bit of the journey towards this dream.  The banner of  “Dive Tubbataha 2010” brandishing Angel’s travel log since early 2009.

But things didn’t turn out as planned and visiting the reefs last year was cancelled and deferred indefinitely. It didn’t dampen our spirits though and I always believed there is always a time for everything, a perfect time.  And trusting that the Lord always knows what’s best, that waiting is part of his answers to prayers.  And so we wait…

December 2010.    Two years exactly when Angel and I both pledged ourselves to this promise like a covenant.  The message came unexpectedly, without any hint through a priest.  I was diving one quiet Sunday for my last dive of the year, just six days before Christmas.  Fr. John Young, SJ whom I just met, simply asked if I want to join them in their Tubba trip – I was caught off guarded – surprises always come in unlikely situations.  That was my greatest gift last Christmas, indeed real gifts don’t come on packages and bows!

I have to relay the news to Angel, as always I had the last word for our dive trips – he simply threw it back to me to decide. I waited for about two weeks to listen if we’d really go. It is expensive and it would mean some preparations to be put in order in just four months – it meant stretching budget in the next months when we have other scheduled trips already.

Now, just barely seven weeks before our cruise on first week of May I can’t help being excited for the journey, though I don’t want to spill any hint of excitement!  😛  I’m writing this note to set a milestone,  the wait wasn’t really long and I thank the Lord for  granting this favor and for always working out things for me in countless times – in His own terms.

A passion burning incessantly in my inner core.  Dear Tubbataha, here we come!

*Quoted from www.tubbatahareef.org

The Little Mermaid in 2010

the Depths - my second home!

Prologue: An excerpt  from my journal The Year that Was…

It was amazing that even with chaotic work schedule, I had lot of personal trips labeled as my de-stressing strategy.  I had almost 30 dives, of which 25 sites entirely new; explored 8 new places including the famous El Nido; and have finally experienced coral transplantation at NRM site in Linamon.

Though our ultimate dive trip for 2010 was indefinitely postponed, I was thrilled with new discoveries not only with underwater world but also in the highlands.  I was able to scale two mountain peaks in two successive months – Mt. Pulag in the Cordilleras and Mt. Kitanglad in our very own Bukidnon – third and fourth highest peak in the country.  And finally, I set foot In Sagada after 8 long years of waiting.

Arranging trips and itineraries have become an art.  One time, I changed return flight last minute and become absent on a Monday, I have to call and delegate for an opening message on a morning convocation! It was a feat to arrange for leaves carefully considering work trip, meetings and deadlines.  I have exhausted my special leaves, force leave and took vacation leave which I don’t normally do in previous years.

Year 2010 has been a blissful year for my diving pursuit and indeed I was immensely enriched as I go through my journey. Looking back I can always recount the events with much delight and gratefulness for all the blessings poured down for me to grasp.  So here’s my ten for 2010:

  • My greatest lesson – ascending alone after I was lost from my DM in the murky waters.  The principle I use was stop, relax, think & act which I think very basic for every diver.
  • My 29 dives of which 25 are totally new sites having an accumulated underwater time of 56:53 as of 30 December  were more than decent enough considering schedules and monetary issues.
  • My greatest disaster – my cam which was barely 10 months old went flooded!  My heart sank…
  • My greatest disappointment – Missing the Coron monsters, I want to visit this fave site once a year.
  • Now sporting my dive computer – an important gear I can’t imagine diving now without it!
  • My advocacy for marine protection & preservation being reinforced by joining the coral transplantation in a marine protected area in one of the coastal town in the region.
  • My personal goal to dive at least once a month was almost prefect except in May and October when I was in mourning and on a retreat respectively.  I had seven in September.
  • My new learning – diving with enriched air and I love it.  Now, I wanted my EANx certification soon!
  • After more than three years I was able to revisit the spot where I had my first rigors in open water diving, coming back to the resort felt nostalgic…
  • My passion for marine quests is now on the next level, working for the underwater world has been an enriching experience for me.  A call to make a difference in the marine world!

And I am blessed I have friends to support me,  they have great influence as I went through in my journey:

  • Mario – I was diving with him when I was lost in the murky waters, being my OWC and AOWC professor, it   was the perfect workshop! He was deathly worried and when I surfaced, he was still on the waters obviously waiting for me to show up. I can not forget the look in his eyes.  He invited me and I was part again of his International Cleanup Dive activities in a marine sanctuary in one coastal town in the region.
  • Lemuel & Mar Brandy – marine biologists, their work in marine preservation & coral transplantation has inspired and enriched me.  They facilitated and work out things so I could join them for the underwater work.
  • Angel – my good friend and favorite dive buddy, an important person in my dive trips.  Without him, probably I wont be able to visit all those sites.  Seventy percent of my last year’s dives were with him – perhaps our diver’s itch is on the same degree and our passion for marine life has gotten to the same level.  We shared many lessons, memories and graces in our travels, and what a joy! He was so encouraging and resourceful in planning our trips.  Our visits to El Nido, Malapascua, Kalanggaman, Apo Island were few of the trips tinted with extravagance and I was feeling spoiled again!

Indeed, it was a plethora of wonderful and inspiring experience, the mermaid in me has always been on its fins wanting to immerse deeply in the wonderful water world.  This is my journey, this is my life….

Blowing Bubbles in December!

picturesque horizon from the diveshop... 🙂
I went for my last dive of the year as I promised myself,  to brace for the upcoming year ending & year beginning tasks, it was also my way of capping this year’s  adventure trips.  Mantangale would be kinda perfect – not so far, warm staff, amazing marine life and idyllic place.  Sometimes when you want something you always find ways to accommodate your whims,  and that’s what really happened last Sunday.  I squeezed my weekend – skipping laundry & community party and had my Sunday free.  I was up early to catch the 6am aircon bus but when I got to the terminal, it was brimming with passengers.  Squeezing with other travellers to get unto the bus for a seat is not my fare, but have to do it – I am expected at the dive shop at 830am!  The weather was downcast and it was drizzling when I arrived at the resort earlier than appointed time, I was able to have breakfast while observing OWC students having exercises at the pool.
Just as I thought there wasn’t much divers for the day, and I was up for some surprise when Sir Dodong announced after a call from SSB radio  that Fr. Young is joining us.  I’ve been hearing about him  as a  diver, and being the current president of my alma mater I was looking forward to finally meet him.  He arrived just as I getting dressed while talking with Sir Dodong on my latest dive trips.  So, some kind of exclusive dive for the day.
mantangale alibuag dive resort

After some preliminaries, we speed off for our first descent  at the house reef, one of my favourites.  Banaug Shoal always excite me, it’s abundant  marine biodiversity is probably one of the richest of my many encounters.  The sergeants, damsels and  snappers, which always come in throngs as you touched down on shoal’s top.  They come near you as if wanting to be feed 🙂 , so near as you stretch your hands and sometimes so near your face! But I got a lot of whistles from Sir Dodong warning me not to go far away!  The black corals, gorgonians, crinoids, colorful sponges decorated the shoal – being there felt like I was carousing in a colorlful garden.  I tried to search the walls for some critters, spotted tiny nudis and hunt for unusual specie. I went around a little bit to search for critters – groupers, variety of anemonefish, trumpet, surgeons, anthias & more.  Two big snappers keeps darting on us.  I was surrounded with colourful reefs and then found a small alibuag.  Indeed, it’s a paradise!

We got back to the bouy line, I waited and searched for the moray eel and there it was!  🙂 Hidden under a reef, a white moray showing its head and gawking at me. 🙂  As if challenging me to come nearer… While watching in awe, Sir Dodong signalled for ascent – I still wanted to stay but pointing to my SPG, my air was down to 500psi.  So slowly I ascend still watching the view below, our deepest was 32.9m for 43 minutes underwater.

all in nitrox!

We went back to the diveshop for our surface interval, MSU-IIT students who were having their OWC was preparing for their exercises.  We left with them for our second dive to Sipaka Point on a speed boat and transferred to Seareyna for the cruise.  Our second descent was a shallow one, as it was purposely for the students for their exercises.  We explored sandy, wide coral gardens decorated with colourful crinoids, sponges and gorgonians.  Spotted variety of nemos, sandperch, wrasses, fusiliers, small puffer, goatfish,  triggers and long thin sea cucumber that looks like a snake!  We found too crown of sea thorns, which I learned Fr. Young has personal hatred as he was been stung once.  I was left with him while Sir Dodong were taking documentaries for the students.

We covered a large area just going around, somewhere on a slope we stumbled a fishing line entangled among the reef, so we carefully untangled it and gather almost a 10 meter nylon line.  I took delight in touching those critters on reefs that immediately hid and disappear from view.  I remembered my diving lessons then. I picked up some trash and finally ascend after 64 mins with 17.5m as our deepest, far from the boat.

Our lunch served as our surface interval for the last dive, we joined the students again on the dive boat.  After a brief rest after lunch, we boarded the speed boat and separated from them heading for lowly Lapinig Island.  It was almost 2pm and the surface was bit choppy, we descend on a sandy slope getting deeper.  In awhile, Fr Young pointed out something which we barely got a glance from the elusive manta ray.   I spotted a big puffer which I tried to follow but keep on wiggling away from me.  🙂  There were batfish, damsels, anthias, sweetlips and a variety of anemone fish. There were colourful crinoids – black and green feather star.  There were sea fans too, I was most attracted to a lavender gorgonian!  We searched for critters on sea fans, crevices and on corals.

beautiful camiguin!

Lapining is a paradise beyond the surface, I remembered I had wonderful sightings when I had my lessons more than three years ago.  This lowly island which is hardly ever noticed by people cruising to Camiguin, has treasures beneath not everyone got the opportunity to view.  We ascend after 56 minutes with 32.5m as our deepest.  When I surfaced, the sight of the glorious Island Born of Fire right in front of me!

It has been a wonderful sojourn, three deep dives all in nitrox, a perfect way to end my diving pursuits for the year.  The mermaid in me is rejoicing, really it’s all about passion…  I’m looking forward for next year’s dive escapades with my favourite dive buddy.  No doubt 2011 is a promising year for more adventures!  🙂

CY 2011: Quo vadis, Mermaid?

There's life beyond the depths!

Our Tubbataha 2010 is indefinitely postponed so my soul will wait silently for the right time, I know it will be worth the wait. Despite shelving my coveted dive trip for this year, I’m on again for more adventures for 2011 planning equally amazing and off beaten dive sites… I promised myself before venturing sites outside my dear country, I need to explore more and exhaust all the rich marine biodiversity in our waters.

Together with my favorite dive buddy Angel, we are more than bullish to explore these exciting sites:

  • Apo Reef – one of the most diverse marine life comparable to the Great Barrier Reef.  My tickets for San Jose – Manila – San Jose is ready. Angel encouraged me to buy this as early as May , it was on sale!
  • Coron (again!) – for the mysterious wreck diving. I’ll never get enough of all the challenging WWII wrecks in its waters.  Admittedly, I am smitten by the rich marine life and laid back environment in Calamianes.
  • Batanes – I never knew that there is diving in this northern most islands, so when Angel told me, I was thrilled! I slapped my forehead why I haven’t thought to search diving in the islands.  I have been wanting to visit this town, but keep postponing. Now, it’s like hitting two birds with one stone – stunning landscape and mysterious unspoiled depths!  Got our tickets already, it was on seat sale!
  • Manta Bowl – A new discovery, incidentally a dive master mentioned this site to us. Our diver’s itch is pestering us again!
  • Tawi-Tawi waters – one of the red flag areas in Mindanao, this is challenging!  We planned to conquer the place this year, but failed.  So, we will finally explore it next year as my birthday trip.  We got tickets already!
  • Malapascua (again!) – we missed the treshers last summer, so we need to go there again!  Hopefully, the sharks would cooperate this time. I love the laid back life of this northernmost Cebu island. 🙂
  • Others – there are other sites to explore more, those that are less expensive and accessible to get away with leaves at work.  Like Panglao Island, Camiguin Island, Moalboal, Siquijor or even Mis Or waters.

There will be more discoveries  next year aside from our surface adventures.  And always, yes always, I’m grateful with my favorite dive buddy who’s ever resourceful and very encouraging in planning our trips.  I’m  looking  forward for all these, but  shhhhhhh – these are still secret.  Ahhh, the mermaid in me is rejoicing!