Divin’ in Sablayan

Francis and I traveled from Manila to Occidental Mindoro on May 14th. The original plan was to divide our four days in Mindoro into two: mountains and sea. The mountain excursion had to be cancelled to due unforeseen conditions. Francis told me that meant we would have four days on the beach. I don’t think I had any complaints about that! Our destination in Mindoro was Sablayan, a community rich in fishing and eco-tourism. There are numerous islands and reefs in the Mindoro Strait West of Occidental Mindoro.

At this point, I think y’all are going to need a map. Click the zoom out a couple times and you’ll see Mindoro island. “Burgos Street” is where we loaded the boat and set sail for Apo reef. It takes about two hours to sail 23 nautical miles to the reef and it is lovely.

Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we could go to Apo Reef, we needed to get me certified in Open Water SCUBA. That meant that we had to stick close to the coast and get me some practice diving, handling emergencies underwater, and the most difficult – understanding buoyancy.

I think I just put on my wetsuit for the first time. Endoy is a fantastic instructor. I would recommend him to anyone interested in diving in the Philippines.
Open surface means we had dives no more than 25 meters. I had to know how to clean and check all the equipment I dove with.
Francis joined me for the second day of diving. I don’t think he ever wore a wetsuit.
“I just took off my mask” hair. I was very tired at the end of each day.

So after the preliminary practical and book training Endoy said it was time that we had a few more dives at the Reef so I could complete my certification. We set out in the morning and had a British couple join us. Turns out, they were a day late and we could only do one night on the reef. This means that the trip to Apo Reef was possible! Without those two accidents the trip would not have happened. Also, the couple had a GoPro camera which allowed us to take video, with they generously shared with me. I’ll have a few clips down below.

Trip to Apo Reef

The trip to the reef gave us time to enjoy the salty air, flying fish, and sporadic fishing vessels.

We passed a school of fish going crazy near the surface of the water.
Fried caramelized bananas for a delicious snack. The galley on our modest boat put together some really good meals.
Coming up on Apo Reef Natural Park. The tall white building on the right is a lighthouse.
Finally, Apo Reef Natural Park!
Flashing the OK sign. I was ready for our first dive in Apo Reef.
Thanks again to our videographers, Graham and Katie! This is a whitetip reef shark that was resting on the reef for a bit.
Puffer fish are so cute. If you see one, don’t try to get it to puff up, it’s very rude.
These barracuda were focused on some prey. I didn’t know that they hunted in packs.

After two dives I was officially a certified diver! It was an intense couple days of learning how to breath and move underwater. There is one important side effect from being a diver: an appreciation of our oceans and waters. The plastic problem is real. Endoy and I found trash every time we were under the waves. Francis and I found spots here and there where the coral was dying or already dead. I know it’s worse on other reefs. Apo Reef is relatively healthy and soon it will be the largest continuous reef in the world. This isn’t because it’s getting larger, but because the Great Barrier Reef is getting smaller.

A week after this trip to the reef I visited the National Museum of Natural History in Manila. There I learned that the world’s reefs contain the greatest variety of species anywhere in the world. If we destroy these reefs or allow them to die out due to warming oceans then we lose our most bountiful natural resource. Diving is fun, but it is important to remember that the beautiful and unique life I am privileged to observe needs protection.

Done diving for the day.

That night we camped on the beach and feasted on some of the best food I had in the three weeks I was traveling. It was all homemade Filipino food cooked up by Endoy’s wife. Every meal had freshly sliced mango, rice, and something salty (usually fresh fish). I don’t think I gained a single pound – we burned a lot of calories diving! We set up our tents and soon it was the sand fleas turn to feast. Poor Francis was covered in bites. I only had a few on my legs.

I could get used to this!
Our boat at anchor.
It’s not often I get to see a sunset then a sunrise the very next morning.

Second Day at Apo Reef

Graham sees a shark and points it out with the universal sign.
We see a shark and some detailed shots of coral. Also, here’s me trying to stay still! I promise it’s not as easy as my dive buddies make it look.
Katie had a good clip here of several species of fish.
Fantastic shot of a school of bumphead parrot fish!
We spent about half the third dive along this shelf. The floor below was over 30m down. The current here was very strong and it was difficult staying together. We saw a lot of life here! It was a completely different dive from the shallows.
For the last underwater video, I had to include this photo bomb!

End of the YSEALI Program

We finished up our dives and filled out our dive logs. I was a little sad when I realized that my ICMA/YSEALI fellowship was over. More than that, I was proud of my certification and ability to spread the gospel of ocean stewardship. My last dive was my best dive. I was able to look and feel like a real diver. I swam, descended and ascended confidently. I’m thankful for my dive buddies and instructor!

I managed to even look like a diver.

Bonus pictures – My vacation

The program was over, but I stayed in Southeast Asia for another week. I was able to take some pretty cool pictures and meet some great people. So as a bonus, I would like to share a few of my experiences here.

Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia

Bangkok, Thailand

I was fortunate to meet up with another ICMA fellow, Nuttapol. I hosted him at my place when he visited Sugar Land, TX this past Fall.

Nacpan Beach, Palawan, Philippines

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