SAWOM, a Bisaya word for dive - a simple word for many but for some, like scuba divers, this word carries a weight of meaning on appreciation and protection.

To grow the number of divers who can experience, witness, and appreciate the wonders underneath the sea – this is the dream of every concern scuba diver. Just like Dr. Fred Medina, a long-time professional scuba diver and newly-installed commissioner of Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD), who envisions to grow the community of divers to strengthen the campaign on preserving and protecting the Philippines’ rich marine resources.

“My dream is to have more scuba divers to witness what is down there (sea), so more people will understand and appreciate what we are talking about. And if that happens, we will have more advocates for the protection of the environment, especially marine life,” he said underscoring there are only a few divers presently active in the diving community.

Dive tourism

However, dive tourism is growing and gaining attention for the past years, a result of continued efforts of tourism players promoting the country’s unquestionable rich marine biodiversity as the Philippines is within the so-called “coral triangle”.

One is Sawom Dabaw: Davao Oriental Dive Festival, a marine biodiversity festival activity on June 14 to 15, 2019 which highlights sustainability of ecological sites enabling the province as the next diving capital of Davao Region.

The two-day festival initiated by provincial government of Davao Oriental, Department of Tourism 11, Visit Davao Summer Festival (VDSF), local Government of Governor Generoso, PCSSD in partnership with Air Asia, Cebu Pacific, and El Don Resort, was participated by over 20 foreign and Filipino divers.

“This is just a kick start of what will become a popular dive destination. We will continue on doing this to promote dive tourism and DOT will always be here for projects like this,” DOT 11 Regional Director Tanya Rabat-Tan said.

The festival brought divers to three dive spots in Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental - Sigaboy Island, The Wall in Barangay Tagabebe, and Cape San Agustin.

Ekaa Gomez, a Manila-based diver and influencer, shared how mesmerized she was after exploring the dive spots here.

“The sea is very crystal clear, I love how clean the spot is,” she said.

While award-wining Dabawenyo macro photographer and dive master East Pardillo shared how unique Governor Generoso as a dive sanctuary as he spotted Melibe colemani, a ghostly sea slug or commonly known for divers as “Holy Grail” during his dive in Sigaboy Island. This translucent nudibranch is highly sought-after by underwater photographers.

Following the successful event, VDSF executive director Tessa Piansay said they are eyeing to create a dive tourism package for divers who want to experience a one-of-a-kind dive in the waters of Davao Region. Other validated dive spots in the region are Samal Island in Davao del Norte, Hagonoy, Davao del Sur, and San Isidro, Davao Oriental, among others.

Dive sports validation

Medina said as they position Davao Region as one of the country’s top diving destinations, the tourism department with its partners is identifying more viable dive spots in the region.

“We will explore potential dive sites in other areas of Davao Oriental particularly Mati City and the municipality of Tarragona, and if we find these sites to be good for recreation divers including photographers, then we will validate and promote it as a dive destination,” he said.

Medina explained that for a spot to be validated, it needs to be accessible, secure and safe, and above all, rich in marine biodiversity.

“If there is anything to see there at all - how rich are the corals, how healthy is the environment there, what particular indigenous species that can be found there,” he said.

The validation process, he said, also looks into how disturbed the area to know necessary preservation and protection measures. The outcome of the validation will be shared to the local government unit.

Sustainable dive tourism

Medina also emphasized that while drumming dive tourism, regulation and best practices must still be observed to ensure a sustainable tourism.

“We want to make that whatever activity that happens in the diving industry related to tourism, it must be within the bounds of sustainable tourism,” he said.

The PCSSD commissioner underscored that common violations that must be immediately corrected among divers are stepping on corals; touching/disturbing fishes; poaching, and throwing of wastes to the sea.

“As photographer and diver, you will only dive to that specific area because you know there is something to see below, so you need to protect the place because if there is nothing underneath to wonder, there will be no reason for us to dive anymore,” he said.

In pushing dive tourism – tourism players and divers have one common goal – develop tourism to enable economic activities while protecting the rich marine biodiversity.

“I wish there will be more recreational divers but of course doing best practices. People need to appreciate our rich environment and the only way for them to appreciate it is to see it themselves,” Medina added.

Philippines especially Mindanao has a great potential in becoming a dive destination in the world but in the process of taking this direction – putting the interest of the environment must not be less of a priority.

For those who are interested to witness Governor Generoso’s marine treasures, contact their Municipal Tourism Office thru (0912) 315 1195 or thru the Sawom Dabaw partner Carabao Dive Center (082) 3001092 or pm @carabaodivecenter or any DOT-accredited Dive Shop in Davao City. You may also contact FB @dotdavaoregion or FB and IG @visitdavaosummerfestival.