Jan Acosta and I guested on ANC Mornings to talk about the fast growing underwater photography club in Manila. NUDI or the Network of Underwater Digital Imagers (check us out on Facebook and yep, here’s the link to our site) is an underwater photography club that was formed to get diver-photographers together to share techniques and experiences in shooting underwater.
The Philippines is a biodiversity hotspot and the things we find down there are simply amazing. We talked about diving as a viable hobby in the Philippines, conservation, our gallery exhibits and the SNUPS competition that we’re co-organizing this year.
This article first appeared UNO Magazine’s December-January ’11 issue
Pygmy seahorse by Jan Acosta
What does it really take to shoot underwater photos?
â€œAre the pygmies still there?â€
The spotter nods, implying something that Jan and the rest of the group already know. At about 80 ft deep, there is a white fan coral about 1 meter high in full plumage. Thereâ€™s a pygmy seahorse somewhere there. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re looking for today.
Take a grain of rice, split it in two, and then throw one half into the ocean. That grain, split, is roughly the size of one of natureâ€™s smallest creatures. In all irony, theyâ€™re also one of the more territorial, with their tails clasping on to the veins of fan coral, their natural habitat. To add to the frustration, pygmies take on the color and texture of the host corals. Jan, the groupâ€™s fearless leader checks his buoyancy control device, fins, straps, and tank, making sure everythingâ€™s in place.
Procured from parts found all over, I finally completed my first professional housing set up. I’d like to send out thanks to Wowie Wong, Jan Acosta and Jovic Santos for giving really good buying advice (and in Wowie and Jovic’s case … parts!).
Total Dives: 43
Total Time Underwater: 32 hours 30 minutes
Maximum Depth: 117 feet
Wrecks Penetrated: 6
Freshwater Dives: 1
Night Dives: 2
To my friends who follow my endeavors and bear with my underwater stories, this post is as expected. Easily, the highlight of my 2009 was literally beneath the surface. For me, and many others, diving isn’t just a hobby. It’s more of an epiphany that humbles your eyes to things which we aren’t accustomed to seeing.
I finished my open water course in April, advanced course in June and have fallen into the fever of dive addiction, apparent to many who have undergone similar experiences. I completed my gear, logged 43 dives invested in trips around the country, and most importantly opened up to a new circle of dive friends.
Diving in Coron
Paradise exists, and it is in the Philippines. Coron was my first major dive trip of 2009. Straight after completing my AOW course, wreck diving seemed more and more enticing as a break from the underwater flora. Coron’s beauty is ironic. Above the surface, the bay of Coron is a blue carpet that taints itself in a bloody sunset crescendo. Beneath, the remnants of the Japanese occupation remain preserved in the sand. Oil tankers, gunships and frigates are the biggest fish in the sea.
Diving in Puerto Galera
I did two trips to Puerto Galera this year and they’ve both been captured in the two videos that follow. My two trips to The Canyons were the hardest dives of the year as we’d literally be crawling on the ocean floor so as not to be swept away by the current. Puerto Galera is alive with big fish.
Clam Seeding in Anvaya Cove
Just like any endeavor, there comes a point when you want to put add a little more depth and meaning to your actions. The volunteer Clam seeding activity for UN Volunteers Day achieved precisely this — a free dive and directly helping the environment by planting clams around the Anvaya Cove reef. Think of these giant clams as the big oaks of the forest. A few of these will directly tip the point of the reef’s biodiversity, bringing in more fish and more corals. We brought in 79 of these and created a spawning network along the reef.
For 2010 I plan to invest more in quality dives rather than quantity. Hopefully I can find a group that will be doing Palau, Apo Reef, and Tubbataha (tough luck here as you’d have to plan this a year in advance). If you’re a diver (or want to learn how to dive), let’s go!
A short word of thanks
I’d like to extend a special thanks to the guys from Sony Philippines for lending me two Marine Packs and three cameras throughout the year — a T series and two W series for shooting my dives. All the videos above were taken using these two cameras.
I celebrated my 6th month of diving over the long weekend. Since April, I finished both my open water and advanced courses, logged 31 dives, six of which were wrecks, one a freshwater lake, and conquered the Canyons in Puerto Galera. I’ve made new friends and we put up our very own underwater travel blog titled Let’s Dive. Apparently this niche has not yet been taken and it’s quite easy to understand why — the amount of time and gear you invest is tremendous. The site is open to all divers from the Philippines who wish to contribute their stories, photos and reviews.
Others: My asthma and breathing have improved. My skin is smoother. My tan is nicer. And I will never run out of stories for my friends. Diving the reefs can really add a bit of depth (haha!) to how we see the country. There’s so much beauty hidden beneath the surface that foreigners really save money to come here to dive. In the same way that we always dream to go to Europe and the States to see the sights, Westerners love to come here to explore the reefs. We have paradise in our backyard — let’s take advantage of it! Case in point: over the weekend, Jan introduced me to Verde Island in Puerto Galera, which is apparently the “center of the center” of marine biodiversity in the world:
“This area can be considered the marine counterpart to the Amazon River basin,” said Kent Carpenter of the World Conservation Union, co-author of the study which put the passage at the peak of the “Coral Triangle” that spans the Sulawesi and the Sulu Seas in the southern Philippines and nearby Indonesia.
I say it now — this is a good time to learn to dive. Gear and lessons are cheaper, the reefs are beautiful, and conservation efforts are finally paying off (just look at Anilao!). Sharing the same passion with like-minded individuals opens up wider circles and helps build a nation through tourism. I kid not.
I’d also like to thank Sony Philippines for being really cool about lending me four of their cameras to use for my trips. Photography and videography adds a whole new dimension to dives and my Facebook page just got more interesting whenever I’d upload my underwater videos.