CAMIGUIN DIVE FESTIVAL. Department of Tourism Region 10 Director. Marie Elaine Unchuan (right). joins a diving expedition to a marine sanctuary near the White Island during the kick-off activity of the 1st Camiguin Dive Festival in Mambajao, Camiguin on Sunday (June 23, 2019). The Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving has accredited six dive shops in Camiguin, owing to the increasing number of divers who visit the province. (Photo by Jigger J. Jerusalem)
MAMBAJAO, Camiguin – To preserve the flourishing marine flora and fauna here, the provincial government of this island is urging divers and tourists to help them in preventing the destruction of its coral reefs.
Outgoing Governor Maria Luisa Romualdo said visitors to the province, especially sea divers, also play a role in the protection and preservation of Camiguin’s marine life.
“We hope we can get more divers, responsible tourists, like you who would help us in the maintenance, in the preservation of our dive spots,” Romualdo told the crowd of divers, tourists and locals during the opening ceremony of the 1st Camiguin Dive Festival held at the Lagundi Beach in this town on June 23.
The two-month festival runs from June 23 to August 31 and will showcase various activities such as the "Scubasurero", fun dive, dive classes, and underwater photography contest, among others.
She said they are taking care of their marine-protected areas, even organizing the residents and fisherfolk to safeguard the dive sites and fish sanctuaries around the island.
“So anything you see in the marine-protected areas, in the dive spots, which you think can destroy our coral reefs, our fish, please feel free to remove it. I will give you that authority,” the governor added, referring to fish traps that are placed on corals and have proven to be destructive.
Camiguin has around 30 dive sites scattered throughout the island’s provincial waters.
According to Department of Tourism-10 (DOT-10) Regional Director Marie Elaine Unchuan, the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving has already accredited six dive shops in Camiguin, owing to the increasing number of divers who visit the province.
Unchuan noted that operators are investing in dive shops, which would mean more local and international divers are coming over to Camiguin.
“We’ve talked to the stakeholders to really up their game to develop dive facilities and dive shops that are DOT-accredited and worthy of international visitors,” she said, adding that more foreigners are visiting the island’s dive spots.
“You can see we have a good percentage of foreigners. We’re tapping the European market,” the regional director added, referring to the influx of divers.
Veteran diver and underwater photographer and videographer Bo Mancao, who documented the festival, said Camiguin has always been unique because it’s one of the volcanic reef islands in the country.
“I keep coming back here and I keep finding new stuff, be it coral, be it fish, be it invertebrate. There’s always something new in Camiguin,” Mancao said.
He said he was impressed by how clean the coral reefs are. “I think this goes to show how the leadership in Camiguin works. They are very good in organizing their trash management. Even if there are wastes that float from the mainland to Camiguin, they have a way of collecting and disposing it.”
Diver and blogger Gian Carlo Jubela said he was surprised that Black Forest, a part of the coral reef near the White Island, is free of garbage considering that the sand bar is one of most visited tourist destinations in Camiguin.
“We do hope that it can be maintained; the ocean is life, and if the oceans die, the planet dies, we all perish,” Jubela said.
Mambajao Mayor and governor-elect Jurdin Jesus Romualdo said he could not understand why people still throw their trash in the sea despite the existence of laws and ordinances prohibiting it.
Romualdo said they want to preserve the reputation of Camiguin’s coral reefs as pristine and dive-worthy, with the help of divers.
“I’m really banking on the dive resorts and all the divers that come here. Help me preserve this beautiful island. I cannot do this alone,” he said.
What makes Camiguin’s corals and other underwater life still intact after the occurrence of volcanic eruptions in the past is in itself a cause for wonder and amazement, he said.
“Divers have been telling that it’s more beautiful under the water than on top,” Romualdo said.
Camiguin provincial tourism officer Candice Naome Dael said they expect the volume of tourists to further increase because of the Dive Festival and other regular annual activities in the island, which include the Lanzones Festival and the Panaad, a yearly activity involving Roman Catholic devotees who walk around the island as a form of penance during the Holy Week.
The Manila-Camiguin flights recently offered by an airline company would also help boost the number of foreign and local visitors to visit the province, she said.
“We are projecting a million or more tourists for this year,” Dael said, adding that the establishment of new multi-room hotels and resorts will help address the growing number of vacationers to the island. (PNA)