Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scuba Diving in Casabangan Beach, Mansalay

I spent the week of December 10, 2012 in Mansalay. My objective was to continue my underwater survey of Casabangan Beach. On my previous snorkeling surveys up to about 50 meters from the shoreline (reaching depths of about 20 feet), I simply confirmed what was disclosed to me by one of the former vice mayors of Mansalay. That is, based on a scientific survey of the same area conducted by a Japanese group around the year 2000, about 85% of the corals have been destroyed. It doesn't take a genius to reach the same conclusion by way of ocular underwater surveys, such as the ones I have and continue to undertake at increasing depths.

I completed six scuba dives reaching depths just over 100 feet. Based on the knowledge of local fishermen, I confirmed that there are at least two interesting groups of coral structures between 200 to 300 meters from the shoreline of Casabangan Beach. One is located on the northern part of Casabangan Beach (I have named this "Pedring's Rock" after Ka Pedring, who has been my boat man) and the other is located on the southern part of Casabangan Beach, just past the property line of Mangal Estate (I have named this "Gerald's Playground" after Ka Pedring's eldest son, who has been my "virtual" diving buddy). I say "virtual" diving buddy because, to date, I have scuba equipment for myself only; hence, Gerald snorkels at the surface as I descend to the depths. He keeps track of my position to the extent I remain visible, so that he and Ka Pedring (Gerald's dad and my boat man) are not far from my position. My diving instructor will definitely frown when he reads this!

On my second scuba dive at Casabangan Beach, I noticed a leak at the bottom of my pressure gauge. I was very disappointed as my regulator (Poseidon Cyklon) was brand new and this was just its fourth dive. Although I quickly surmised that it was probably just a defective o-ring, the closest possible shop that could repair it was in . . . Puerto Galera--at least a 3-hour drive from Mansalay. And so I proceeded to drive to Puerto Galera that afternoon to repair the leak. I ended up where most of the dive resorts were located in Puerto Galera, which is in Sabang. I was first referred to Aquaventure but the store was closed the whole week. I was informed that the entire Aquaventure team was on some kind of company off-site in Boracay. Then, I was directed to one end of Sabang, where I met a helpful Brit by the name of Andy, who quickly plugged the leak by replacing a tiny o-ring at the base of the pressure gauge. No charge. He just asked me to convey his regards to Alex, the founder of Philtech Divers, where I purchased my regulator.

An important note on the Poseidon Cyklon pressure gauge. Do NOT turn the pressure gauge when it is pressurized as this will grate or scratch the o-ring, which will quickly result in a leak. You may turn and adjust the orientation of the pressure gauge (in a manner that it is easy to read when you are diving) when it is NOT pressurized, prior to your dive.

In conclusion, while the two groups of coral structures at Casabangan Beach (60 to 100 feet deep) were interesting and promising, they were nonetheless as devastated as the corals found at shallower depths closer to shore. I understand that at the height of "compressor" fishing, even corals at depths of 100 feet were subjected to poison. Another compelling reason to proceed with a marine sanctuary fronting Mangal Estate.

A glimmer of hope. A local fisherman by the name of Benazir claims there is a sizeable sea turtle or pawikan (more than 1 meter long) that resides at a coral cave about 50 meters from the "Lalawigan" shore of Mangal Estate. This will be the subject of my next underwater survey, which will probably be undertaken during the summer months of April and May, when this area is particularly calm and clear. If such a resident pawikan has managed to survive in Mansalay, then that would indicate the local community's basic understanding of the value of preserving and conserving marine resources . . . and, therefore, all is not yet lost.

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