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.
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.
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.
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.
Second Day at Apo Reef
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!
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
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.