The sudden roar of the engines brought the speedboat to life as it skimmed through the mild current. I marveled at the boundless ocean in the horizon. I felt jittery during the boat ride as a mixture of anxiety and excitement swept me. After a few minutes, we arrived at the dive site. Final reminders were given by the dive master. I readily wore the BCD jacket attached to my tank. Mask? Check. Fins? Check. Weight belt? Check. BCD inflated? Check. I sat at the edge of the boat and entered the water through a back roll entry. As I descended into the ocean floor and the sunlight slowly disappeared, along with it went my inhibitions and anxieties. My tensed muscles relaxed. I felt the waters embracing me with its warm and gentle current. My mind cleared and I focused on my surroundings. The sights were breathtaking – the family of curious clownfish hiding in the anemone, the coral fans dancing to the waves, huge batfishes feeding, and miniscule technicolor fishes darting here and there… I felt at home.
My love affair with the water
My love affair with the water traces back to my toddler years. I was a water baby. My grandparents had a quaint resort in Laguna and almost every weekend, my family would go there to swim. My love for the water extended into the seas as vacations for as long as I can remember were spent going around the various island provinces of the country. At the age of 8, I completed the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certification for children, and upon surfacing, I was sold to getting married to the ocean. The marriage happened in the year 2006. I was able to acquire my PADI certification as an Open Water Diver, and then and a week after progressed to an Advanced Open Water Diver level – allowing me to dive up to a depth of a hundred feet.
More blue than green
Oceans cover about seventy percent of the planet’s surface and about eighty-percent of all life on Earth are found in the seas. Unknown to many, the Philippines has the highest concentration of marine biodiversity in the world. Just last year, a team of local and international scientists discovered more than 300 new species in our waters, including an inflatable shark and over fifty colorful nudibranchs (sea slugs). Among other things, our oceans are also home to over twenty-seven species of whales. Five out of seven sea turtle species can be found in our waters. The megamouth shark, with only about forty recorded sightings, can also be found in our seas. Economically speaking, the Philippines has authority to fish in 2.2 million square kilometers of territorial waters.
Center of marine adversity
While the Philippines has been regarded as the center of marine biodiversity
, it has also been identified as the “center of marine conservation adversity
”. The underwater world’s beauty is not the only thing I have seen and experienced first-hand, I have also become an eyewitness to its degradation. Coral bleaching. Poaching of sea turtles, manta rays and other endangered and protected marine wildlife are reported left and right. Anthropogenic causes have exacerbated effects of climate change leaving less than four percent or only about one thousand square kilometers of reefs in good condition.
Not just about having “more fun in the Philippines”
Ensuring healthy reefs and oceans isn’t just about making the diving community happy or making certain that tourism thrives. More importantly, it is about food security and the livelihood of artisanal fisher folk. During the experts consultation meeting on overfishing organized by Greenpeace last June 25, Stuart Green of Rare Conservation asserted that fish are the last hunted global resource and while it is biologically renewable, it needs to be given a chance – especially by commercial fishing industries. Isn’t it ridiculous that our waters are home to over 3,000 species of fish and yet markets are full of bangus, tilapia, Thailand dory and other non-marine species? Prices of canned tuna are going up at unprecedented rates as it is in danger of being overfished
For an archipelagic country identified as the center of the center of marine biodiversity, the Philippines does poorly in maintaining and conserving its aquatic resources. According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the country imported 860,000 metric tons of fish and fish products to sustain local demand last year. In addition, its national stock assessment program reports, “ten of out of the thirteen fishing grounds were very heavily exploited.” Land reform has been given much attention but what about fisheries reform?
Responsibility and sustainability
One doesn’t need to grow gills, fins and scales to be able to experience the grandiose of Philippine waters. It takes only a spark of curiosity and a sense of adventure to plunge into the deep. Coupled with this chance, however, is the responsibility to help sustain it. Scuba diving has now led me to advocate for the voiceless underwater realm that is heavily exploited and yet highly depended upon. When you love something, you will fight to protect it. Saving Philippine seas ultimately is about saving ourselves.
Jenica Dizon is President at Ateneo Environmental Science Society and Creative Director at Save Philippine Seas. You can follow her updates via her Twitter account, @jenicadizon.
For us at Greenpeace, we believe you can help.
- Demand that your supermarket and tuna brand source sustainable tuna. Look for tuna cans with “Pole and Line” or “Hand-Caught.”
- Ask your politicians and business leaders to support the creation of marine reserves. Add your voice here to tell governments to support marine reserves!
- Learn about where your fish is from- is it from far away? How many of this fish is left? Knowing what you're eating and making the right decisions is important.
- Tweet for the oceans, too!