Mostly Everything

The Blog Post I Promised Carlo Ople

“Oh no there goes Jayvee talking about diving again.” I know, I know.

In another circumstance, the alternate title would be “The Reasons Why I Dive” but it probably wouldn’t inspire much readership. I think diving is one of those things that you really need to experience to believe further how great this country is. If you are reading this and you are a Filipino, look around you — I sincerely believe that we’ve reached a turning point in how we define love for country. Gang Badoy once told me that nation building is all about conversation, so hopefully in this post I can inspire conversation — the receiver of this dialogue being, first, Carlo Ople, who wanted me to write down everything I told him during Butch and Noemi’s wedding anniversary party last week.

Fronting the red light district of Sabang are two fascinating wreck dives: the Alma Jane, scuttled as a classroom for nitrox training, and the Sabang Wreck, a series of small boats scuttled to form a small ship graveyard that house lionfish, frog fish, crabs and other reef life. Strong currents and the nutrient filled shore of Sablayan (there is no sewage in Puerto Galera!) allow the thriving of these interesting creatures.

Gee. Where to start. I know — Biodiversity.
I think one needs to understand that there are three areas in our Earth considered as “centers of biodiversity” (in layman’s terms, the most cosmopolitan areas for flora and fauna): the first is the Amazon River that flows to the Amazon Basin, the second is the Congo Basin and finally, the Coral Triangle. The first two are familiar to everyone because of the proper nouns attached to their location and mass media box office hits like ‘Congo’ and ‘Anaconda.’ The Coral Triangle is less familiar as it stretches across the following countries: Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste.

The thing with the Coral Triangle is that although it is considered to be the MOST DIVERSE of the three centers of biodiversity, it is the hardest to access as everything there is well, underwater. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it allows the Triangle to thrive almost without any intervention from human beings.

This was my second time to return to San Agapito Reef, third and fourth time to dive it. Accentuated by strong currents and the apex of a small island jutting out of the ocean, we made our way down to the wall, hugging it, drifting along with the current. I intentionally used a more serene soundtrack to contrast the very strong currents to give a contrasting “calming yet furious” effect.

It is a good day to dive
And guess what? The Philippines is blessed to be at the center of it all due to two particular reefs: Tubbataha and Apo Reef. There is also a third wonder, which is San Agapito Reef in Verde Island. This place — Verde Island was declared as the Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity in the World. And nobody knows about this? There’s something wrong with the way we’ve been marketing this country.

The chart below should explain things a bit better. This was taken from Science Mag’s report on biodiversity (2002). Click on the image to make it bigger.

We’re spoiled with the best diversity of corals, reef fish, and two of the most interesting (and non-predatory) big blue gems: Mantas and Whale Sharks, both found in abundance in plankton rich waters of Donsol (sometimes even in Anilao, Batangas). By human intervention, we’re also home to the historical wrecks of Coron Bay — 11 World War II Japanese boats that were sunk during the war.

My only regret was that we could only stay here for a day. I dove Apo Reef as part of a WWF Philippines and Cebu Pacific initiative for the Bright Skies Program. Since the airline flies more frequently due to their ever-so-affordable rates, there is increased CO2 emitted into the atmosphere thus accelerating global warming. If you purchased an e-ticket recently, there is an additional option to donate to this cause (I think it is around PHP 60.00 per flight). The Bright Skies program allows you to donate to the WWF for the preservation of Apo Reef and for projects within Sablayan, Mindoro.

It’s really that. It’s a bit parallel if you think about it. The real beauty of these islands is all about what lies beneath us. And I guess that’s why I dive. And that’s why I encourage people to do so. It changes your perspective about who we are as a people and what we’re safeguarding.

By Jayvee Fernandez

Jayvee Fernandez is a tech enthusiast, EAN certified SCUBA Diver and underwater photographer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. His photos and videos have appeared in various international and local publications including Random House Germany, Discovery Channel Canada, and CNN.

27 replies on “The Blog Post I Promised Carlo Ople”

This reminds me also of Boracay and how the dive center owners and instructors are obliged to dive and clean the beach shores every morning at 5am. Most foreigners would say Filipino tourists would mess throwing trash and bottles in the beach and foreigners would always bring a plastic bag to keep their trash. I was told of the term for that beach cleaning diving..What was that again? They also do that in other beaches in the Philippines to conserve our precious corals and reefs.

Ooops. I placed my comment on the wrong post. Here it goes again:
I do my share in that I segregate our garbage, use environmentally-friendly bags when grocery shopping, and conserve water and electricity as best as I can. But I feel like I can do more. And I’d like to know how to do that. I’m also a teacher and have been trying to enlighten my students about this global issue. To have the opportunity to go to this event (Al Gore’s talk) would allow me to understand the issue better (statistics-wise) and know about practical ways that I can help the environment — something that I can also impart to my students!

As for diving, it is definitely on my bucket list. That is, as soon as I get over my fear of deep water! 😉 The Philippines is truly a beautiful place above AND under water! 😉

As one of the people who talked to you about diving before you started diving, I feel compelled to react to this. I also feel very embarrassed since my last dive was almost x months ago.

One of my first non-Anilao dives was Verde Island and I did this right after I got my diver’s license (as a young boy in May 21 of 2000). Come to think of it, my license is 10 years old this week!

The appreciation of nature is even a lot more interesting and awe-inspiring when you take into consideration the intricate yet resilient interconnections and other relationships that animals, plants and other organisms have to employ to assure their survival and improve their chances. Once you factor in how these processes took thousands and millions of years to hone and perfect, you’ll realize just how small your are in the world and in the history of time.

Man has only been around for quite a short amount of time – if the entire history of the earth were to be scrunched into 24 hours, man wouldn’t appear until the last second before the clock strikes midnight. Yet as it stands, it seems like the brief stretch of time that man has threatens the very existence and future of many organisms that came way before man. It’s a sad reality.

It is only through looking this humble perspective and this lens does one understand how minuscule he or she is as far as the world is concerned and how important it is to not harm anything in the eighty or so years that he’ll spend as a living organism on the planet. We are but a drop in the bucket – in an existential sense, it may sound very drab and somewhat depressing but that’s what it is and we have to take it for what it is. It’s calming to be part of a collective and to consider yourself as something that is one with nature and one with the only certain truth – the earth allowed millions of years of processes and evolution and for some reason, fate has allowed you to be you – at this time and at this moment.

Once you think about it that way, everything seems to feel a lot different.

Call me pessimistic, but part of me is glad that not many people know about the Philippines being in the center of this biodiversity.

Jayvee, I’ve spent months admiring your photographs and personal documentaries of these spectacular reefs. Sure, it would be wonderful if we market the Tubbataha, Apo Reef, and San Agapito Reef, but doesn’t it make you shudder to think about what would become of these spots when mainstream tourism hits in?

Look at what it did to Boracay, Puerto Gallera, and all those once pristine spots? I’m not just talking about the masses who now flock to these places; I’m also referring to the smug foreigners and clueless locals who contribute to the desecration of our beloved natural resources. I reiterate–look at what happened to Boracay.

We should also consider that along with proper marketing, we should also give proper EDUCATION. Before branching out to promote and market the reefs, the local micro governments should educate their people about global warming and proper waste disposal.

Hey, why not distribute copies of “An Inconvenient Truth” (with Tagalog dubbed versions, perhaps?) to the towns where these wonderful reefs are located? I’m pretty sure that when they realize what’s really going on with our planet, they’d think about “carbon footprints” before “profit.”

When I read this post I remember shells, birds, and Leo Tolstoy

Did you know that shells were once used as money? And the Shell company started out as a Shell Trading Company. And that the Philippines has one of the most beautiful shells in the world the Cypraea aurantium or Golden Cowrie Shell is probably the most prized and most endangered. And like anything that is part of nature sea shells reflect the state of things. In fact a study of sea shells can be very revealing: You learn how poisonous the waters and grounds have become, and it also reveals the impact of man on the ecology of a particular area.

One of the things I look forward to everymorning is to listen the songs of the different birds that visit the Tree in front of my room. It is amazing what a tree can bring out in the environment. At night you see fruit bats dancing their nocturnal dance in and out of that particular Tree. And its just a few steps away.

We are Nature. We are part of it. We are connected. We have our role to play in it. We , like all organism, all have and occupy a niche. The things we collectively do from the most mundane to the profound has an effect on it – On the ecology, On the ecosystem : On Mother Nature.

Another thing I enjoy is reading. And one of the best places to read is underneath the shade of a Banyan Tree.

And here we come to Leo Tolstoy.

Leo Tolstoy wrote a story called Three Questions. It tells the tale of a King seeking the answer to three questions:

(i) What is the best time to do each thing?
(ii) Who are the most important people to work with?
(iii) What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Do you know what the King found out?

(i) The most important time is now. The present is the only time over which we have power.
(ii) The most important person is whomever you are with.
(iii) The most important thing is to do good to the person you are with

@kate – actually a lot of foreigners have already built roots in the philippines because of the different sites. to say that all tourists are irresponsible would be a bad generalization. i know that a lot of these non-filipinos are even more concerned about the environment — take Apo Reef resort for instance. it’s run by two guys I met in one of my trips. their concern is the mining operation that’s being done in mindoro because the residue kills off the coral life near the shore. they’re also the prime movers of adopting solar energy to power their resorts.

for those who live along the ocean, anilao would be the best example. in the beginning, the area was not suitable for great dives but ever since the education program, the means of livelihood from fishing to tourism GREW. end of day, it’s all about “how much money can i make per day.” if you show locals that a thresher shark can yield more money per day from diving fees than per kilo, they will be convinced. i think anilao’s “pay to dive” conservation fees are working. it just should be replicated.

in mamburao, the new tuna capital of the philippines, fishing tuna using hand to line methods merit an international accreditation. where the “usual” method of non-sustainable fishing would get you 40 pesos / kilo of tuna, the accredited EU method gives you 170 pesos / kilo. thats how it should translate.

the whole “mamburao tuna” success story is here:

re: replikate’s comment

Yes, I’m with you on this sentiment. I definitely don’t want Tubbataha to be listed on the list of natural wonders for two reasons:

1) there is no need for such a list. nature is nature and it is an insult to rank natural wonders.
2) the increased tourism will certainly threated the dive sites.

Let’s be selfish for once.

One of the more effective conservation projects done, although, this was outside the Philippines used the community approach. Before one educates one must first understand the community its culture and its society. The community was encouraged to re-seed giant clams and protect each area. The people believed and associated the reef as the home of their ancestors an spirit and guarding it was part of their duty.

Its more effective to convert and educate at the same time.

i think anilao did this too, juned? the twin rocks dive site near balai and dive and trek’s house reef were all seeded with giant clams! =)

I think I understand what you’re trying to say–the Philippines’ beautiful diving sites are a bit underrated, considering that it’s relatively better (if not the best) compared to other diving locations. It is a bit frustrating too that we Filipinos don’t know this fact for ourselves. Even I have to admit that I wouldn’t have known that our country has the cooler “diving features” than other spots out there until I’ve stumbled upon your blog.

It’s cool that you’re endorsing our very own diving spots in your blog. Believe it or not, I want to try diving myself too. It just sucks that I’m a bit queasy when it comes to the ocean. If it really weren’t for that, I would have witnessed the wonder of the Tubbataha reef for myself.

I believe there is nothing wrong in Philippines’ attempt to showcase its world-class dive sites to entice tourists – both local and foreign. Its marketing shots, albeit mediocre relative to its fellow Coral Triangle members, have specific, defined and viable potential. However, the absence of sustainable ecotourism program poses danger, or at worst destruction, to fragile natural marine ecosystem.
The real challenge is the formulation of specific programs and the effective methodology to ensure long term viability or sustainability of ecotourism. Marketing development and Return of Investment of Ecotourism should be put under microscopic lens to fully identify its enveloping intricate feasibility and responsibility.
Excessive and rapid development of coastal tourism (as the case of Puerto Galera, Boracay, etc) without consideration for sustainable ecotourism is approaching its breaking point that would lead to its serious decline of its surrounding water quality or may lead to further ecological problems like beach erosion retreat, runoff water to seas that affects balance of marine ecosystem and extending polluted sea area.
Ecotourism can be an important growth point of national economy (like that of Maldives, Phuket etc.) BUT we need a solid program that carries out effective sustainable ecotourism. We should have established guidelines to reduce ecotourism’s environmental impacts (if not totally eliminate) using measurable parameters. We need to take series of measures to promote ecotourism whilst effectively protecting marine ecosystem. This should not exclude grassroot level approach in educating about the sustainable strategies to those living along the coastlines, who are the actual stakeholders in the equation. It is through vigorous training and education of these stakeholders, real and absolute results can be achieved.

The one at twin rocks was an individual effort which is good. I am referring to a project done in the South Pacific where communities were engaged to re-seed and protect the reef. Linking it with their culture allowed a more cohesive and lasting approach to conservation.
I strongly feel that before one educate one must also be in the community. In this aspect it is evangelization and missionary work. To atep in without respect and understanding of the culture is foolish I think.

Hi Jayvee. I really admire people who dive and not just dive BUT do their share in protecting out marine environment. I tried diving once but my fear of deep see water & other sea creatures (maybe due to trauma when I was bitten by a jellyfish when I was a kid!) kept me from doing it again. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that people like me cannot do something for our environment, right? And thanks to people like you – we need to EDUCATE more and more people how to protect our environment. I am looking forward to see more education campaigns on this.

One of the things on my to-do-list-before-I-die is to do something meaningful for the environment (aside from being a mother to my 2 kids)… something for the future generations…something for our country…in my own little ways. I don’t know if that will happen but ever since I fell in love with our very own Philippine handmade papers, I began to see the path to my dream. I hope through my work, I am doing something for the environment and our country. It is my dream to be in this event but I have 2 kids to send to school next month so the budget for the ticket went to tuition fees & books 🙁 Nevertheless, I am happy that more and more people are going GREEN! More power to your blog…(i’m an avid reader 🙂 ) Sorry for the long post…na-carried away lang po. 🙂

for someone with asthma, diving can be tad boring. btw, they call this thing “coral bleaching” did you notice it?

and i have this feeling your eyes (first pic) are about to protrude. sorry, didnt mean to be rude and all.

KILL NOTHING BUT TIME” AND “REUSE,RECYCLE,REDUCE” these are the words I live by.I am a strong promoter of protecting our environment.

Hi Marvin! I got asthma since childhood (read: with ventolin & bricanyl meds) but this did not stop me from enjoying diving moreso find it boring. There’s so much beauty underwater that it makes me feel sad that diving is not as easily accessible to everyone. However, snorkeling is. You may shoot Jayvee an email (please check his About page) and we’d be glad to share with you the beauty underneath.

And on the coral bleaching, yes there were some spots we saw in Coron and Tubbataha when we dove last March and April (respectively) but these are sporadic and far in between (for now). The richness of colors of corals and all forms of marine life remain overwhelming. I say ‘for now’, because if the causes of this occurrence worsen: el Niño and la Niña, climate change (due to GHG emission) and pollution via river run-off and drain pipes, WWF’s prediction of immense damage to reefs isn’t far from bring a reality.

Of these 3 mentioned causes, the last two are prompted by human activities. The question now is, what are we really – one who inconsiderately contributes to the problem – litters, wouldn’t walk a block or so and prefers driving or taking cabs, remains a plastic bag user etc – or the one who in his little own way tries to do something to be the solution. Which actually I think is the case in point of Jayvee’s posting: appreciation of the underwater beauty and safeguarding it as best as we can.

Hi Bangigay,

Thanks for posting the dive blog, although I am no Captain Planet groupie, it helps to know that there are people out there: “aware and concerned” with things like the coral reefs and stuff.

I have to admit that I was pretty cynical about your endeavors, I mean with limited time, I have more important things to do (read: work, bills, relationships, etc) and being aware of my surroundings is far from my mind, parang let DENR and Greenpeace take charge.

but then this blog came along and i realized that at twenty five years old, I am missing a lot of important things, diving under the sea including. thanks to you guys, i became curious and started to read stuff about diving and taking it the extra mile like making use of decommissioned cars as substitute corals and yeah meron palang under the sea basura scavengers (akalain mo) but i wont be doing that yet, certainly not alone and not to soon. but for the meantime i will lessen my yosi intake from four sticks to five, that way i lessen my carbon footprint and that means, less chances of coral bleaching and more happy Nemos and Dyesebel out there.

p.s. make it three sticks out of five. freaking cable t.v. is showing this docu about cancer of the lungs. epic fail.

oo nga ano, parang pa

I’m so proud that we have the most diverse marine ecosystem based on the latest statistics and I’m equally thankful that all throughout these years those places remained unspoiled despite the prevailing environmental changes affecting all parts of the globe. Our waters are much luckier than that of Tasmania and Australia which have been severely affected by climate change. But awareness alone of these natural wonders would not be enough and we must intensify efforts to protect our waters and beaches. Just the sight of those cool pristine waters relieves our nerves and we have to preserve this for the future generation. I envy those who dive. It must have been so exhilarating staring face to face with all the sea creatures down there.

That’s why whenever I go outing on a beach I make sure I don’t eat or drink while walking on the shore and if ever i have trash I keep it in my hand to throw it away later. I once went to Marinduque on a trip and the house is just a few meters from the beach. Every morning, I go out in the shore before breakfast and I see the locals passing by and picking up pieces of bottles, plastic, etc. that the water drove to the shore. I loved that scene. The people there cared for their place a lot. No wonder at least four feet from the shore fishes are frolicking and I see a lot of fisherman fishing not to far away from it. I grew up in Manila and I never see that in Manila Bay. Ha!ha!ha! Poor me. Anyways, I enjoyed seeing clear waters a lot and i hope our inland waters someday would improve more. Something like the revival of Ilog Pasig. I don’t think it’s impossible because in Korea they revived a dead river there through the initiative of their local officials and it was a success story that was published in Time Magazine. I hope that we can accomplish something like that too here in the Philippines.

Great post Jayvee!
Sean here – blogger and SEO specialist of Expedition Fleet blog. Thank you for linking back to us man! I’m now a fan of your blog! Kudos on being an excellent Filipino blogger!

Yeap! I’m based in Manila! Yes! I want to go to the clean-up eco dive in Nasugbu but I don’t have my own dive gear yet 🙁

And I’m also speaking about blogging on that day so I can’t! But I really hope I can get to dive with you soon!

[…] Anyway, we’ve been working on a huge event — it’s basically Year II of SNUPS, the biggest underwater photo competition in the Philippines. Now, you don’t need to be a professional photographer to join. There are categories suited for beginners as long as you can bring a camera down 2 feet with tupperware (you’ll be amazed with the things you can find — after all it’s the Philippines!). […]

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