Thursday, September 18, 2014

Diving around Apo Island

Sans Rival Restaurant, Dumaguete
Dumaguete's bayside boulevard
Somewhere between Malatapay, Zamboangita and Apo Island
Wondering what's in stored in the depths of Apo Island?
Where's the boatman?
I saw at least one pawikan in each of my nine (9) dives. They are all over the place and unafraid of the divers.
Bumphead parrotfish, another critically endangered species found in Apo Island
. . . and another impressive dive . . . (nine dives in all during our stay at Apo Island)
Is this guy fat, dumb and happy or what?
Did you know that one of the oldest operating aquariums in the world (the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, built in 1930) has a Philippine coral reef exhibit (alongside exhibits of other aquatic environments ranging from the Pacific Northwest to the Amazon River to the Great Lakes) simply called the Wild Reef Exhibit, which opened in 2003 at a cost US$45 million?

The Shedd Aquarium has 2 million annual visitors. It was the most visited aquarium in the U.S. in 2005 and in 2007. It surpassed the Field Museum as the most popular cultural attraction in Chicago. Incidentally, the Wild Reef Exhibit is modeled after Apo Island--not to be confused with Apo Reef, west of Occidental Mindoro.

Apo Island Dive Map. My favorites include Coconut, Cogon and Rock Point East.
Yes! We can see the real thing right here in our own backyard . . . and what a sight to see! Although I am not the most traveled scuba diver, I have been to enough diving sites in the Philippines to assess and compare the ones I have visited. To date, I would rank Apo Island as my number 1 pick, followed by Balicasag, then Anilao at 3rd place. I have gone scuba diving in El Nido but it was "plankton season" according to the locals (Jan to Feb), which results in poor visibility underwater. Hence, I reserve my judgement on El Nido until I have returned under better diving conditions. Next on my target list of dive sites are Puerto Galera, Verde Island, Apo Reef (Occidental Mindoro), Coron, Siargao and Tubataha Reef.

Sites we've gone diving . . . Hitting Apo Reef and Puerto Galera soon!

Apo Island's eco-tourism industry is an excellent success story that can be emulated by many coastal communities in the Philippines. In spite of the catastrophic damage to the marine sanctuary of the island brought about by the super typhoons over the past few years, it's coral reefs around the other parts of the island are still in great shape--better than those I have encountered in Anilao and comparable, if not better, than those in Balicasag. In addition to the marine sanctuary, the local community appears to have a genuine appreciation for the marine life--allowing them to grow to impressive sizes for conservation, eco-tourism and, ultimately, additional livelihood.

In Apo Island, I am reminded of the unspoiled coral reef of Casabangan Bay, Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. That was over 30 years ago. I also see its future, if the town's Sangguniang Bayan (SB) quits dribbling and delaying the passage of the ordinance of the proposed marine protected area (MPA) at Casabangan Bay. Inexcusable, unacceptable and an extraordinary waste of government in so far as government is already a waste in most every respect. A bunch of self-important over-entitled morons who expect extra-ordinary reward and recognition for what they ought to be doing in the first place. 

If the Mansalay SB continues to putter around the proposed MPA, it may be time to get the Environmental Ombudsman involved for gross negligence at the very least and, more appropriately, for "bureaucratic terrorism"--a common phenomenon in weak and/or corrupt government institutions in which officials withhold or "hold hostage" a permit, approval and/or endorsement on a whim (just because they feel like it), without rationale basis and/or beyond their realm of authority in order to reinforce their over-inflated sense of self-importance and/or to extort a bribe in cash or kind.

Many thanks to our hosts, Mario and Mila Pascobello, Mac Mac (our fun, capable and knowledgeable dive master), Teresa, Helen and Archer (plays a mean guitar), who shared their home and a slice of their marine paradise with us. See you again next year!

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