Underwater oases of Southern Leyte

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Thursday, May 8, 2014


THE atmosphere is very tense. With people hurling questions all at the same time, the resource person finds it hard to decide which question to answer first. But the questions have one thing in common -- they want to know why they should be prevented from fishing anywhere they like.

It was not too long ago that people from Son-ok, Pintuyan, Southern Leyte, attended a seminar on the establishment of a fish sanctuary in their area. By the end of the day, however, they were finally convinced of the idea and even participated actively the next day in the installation of marker buoys that will define what is now the Son-ok Fish Sanctuary.

Son-ok's is one of the better managed fish sanctuaries in Southern Leyte. What is noticeable after a couple of years since its establishment is the increased catch of marginal fishermen fishing outside the sanctuary, probably the same people who may have voiced their opposition to the project at the start.

The reefs are alive with a huge variety of fish that includes trumpet fish, colorful butterfly fish, batfish, puffers, lionfish, snappers, groupers, cuttlefish, and various species of damselfish. Huge schools of jacks and surgeons and black tip sharks have been sighted.

Other marine organisms such as nudibranches and sea cucumbers, as well as giant clams and other mollusks are also common in the area.

The underwater terrain is quite unique, in a sense, because it is actually a terrace in which distinct corals inhabit each step till you reach 90 to 100 feet.

Southern Leyte still has enough remaining "virgin" reefs, at par, or even better, than some of the more popular dive sites in the country. Among them is the Napantao Fish Sanctuary in San Francisco, where an amazing wall of corals in excellent condition awaits the visiting diver. Schools of fish ply the wall as the tide changes, producing currents that will take the diver into an almost effortless glide through the wall. Whale sharks, sea turtles and reef sharks have been recently sighted too.

Located in Ilijan Point, the sanctuary was once a traditional fishing ground because the main reef, which locals call "Batterya," teems with commercially important reef fishes and pelagics.

With the establishment of a sanctuary, a very remarkable explosion of fish population inspires awe and amazement to underwater excursionists. The Napantaw Fish Sanctuary also has the most preserved and diverse corals in the province from hard corals, branching and table corals to sea fans to soft corals and black corals in 30-meter drop-offs and walls.

The twin walls of Napantao (Rio's Wall and Toshi's Wall) easily qualify as one of the best wall dives in the Philippines. Today, diving in Napantao is a must for divers have made their way to Southern Leyte.

Whale sharks find refuge in Sogod Bay where children swim with them in Panaon Island. These gentle giants graze on plankton and small fish in Tabugon Fish Sanctuary in Liloan mostly from November to part of May. More recently, whale sharks have been congregating in Pintuyan and San Ricardo. Whale shark watching is now becoming a popular activity for those who want to see these gentle marine animals in their natural environment.

Sogod Bay in Southern Leyte beckons divers and sea lovers to explore and enjoy a view that is fast disappearing in other places in the Philippines.

The sanctuaries of Sogod Bay in Southern Leyte have become one of those places where nature takes its course the way they are made to be. These places of underwater life have sustained the fish population and preserved the very delicate and productive marine ecosystem.

A few non-government organizations have thrown their support to help educate the constituents about the need to protect the marine ecosystem.

But more recent developments and experiences on the scarcity of fish and other marine resources should lead the modern man to modify their ideas about the sea.

To enjoy more of its bounty, enhancement measures should be initiated -- in this case, the establishment of fish reserves and the vigilant monitoring of their immediate vicinity, because the sea, "for all its immensity, its depth, its seeming invulnerability, and its wealth, (it) appears to us to be inexhaustible. But we have now discovered that, far from being proof against any and all depredations, the sea is surprisingly limited and astoundingly fragile."

About the author:

Rio Cahambing was the former information editor of the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist. He resigned in 2003 to pursue a private enterprise. He is currently the government’s adviser on Marine Tourism and Coastal Resource Management. For more than 10 years, he was involved in coastal resource management activities, which include the establishment of fish sanctuaries in his home province. You may email him at diverio_2000@yahoo.com for more details about Southern Leyte.

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