FOLLOWING the easing of travel restrictions, tourism has started to get back on its feet.

From May 28 to 29, 2022, the Samal Dive Festival Fun Diving was organized by the Department of Tourism in Davao Region (DOT-Davao) and the Island Garden City of Samal (Igacos) in a bid to uplift the local tourism of Samal Island.

The two-day scuba diving activity was participated by several scuba diving enthusiasts from Pro Dive, Carabao Dive Center, other dive shop owners, representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Philippine Commission on Sports and Scuba Diving (PCSSD), Davao City Tourism, Philippine Navy, DOT-Davao, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and even beginner divers.

“When the pandemic struck us, it was really a big blow especially to the tourism industry because, as you know, the lockdowns, airports were closed, flights were canceled, borders were closed eventually. We have zero arrival, tourist arrival, that caused a very very huge impact to our tourism sector, especially to the establishments since many of them had to close down, some of them had to let go most of their employees,” Tanya Rabat-Tan, DOT-Davao regional director, said.

Rabat-Tan said Davao City and the Island Garden City of Samal have been the most affected by this pandemic when it comes to tourism.

“Kasi it is among all the LGUs within the region, [that] has the most number of tourism establishments, especially that Davao City is the gateway (Of all the local government units (LGUs) in Davao Region, Davao City has the most tourism establishments because it is the gateway). So, when it was lockdown, everyone wasn’t allowed to go out especially [for] leisure, that’s the first activity that has been stopped. So, walang bisita ‘yong mga establishments (No one is visiting the establishments),” Rabat-Tan said.

But Rabat-Tan said that 2021 has shown promising data for tourist arrivals and steady growth in the first quarter of 2022 despite the current situation.

“Hopefully we’ll get to the numbers we used to enjoy during pre-pandemic time and even surpass that,” Rabat-Tan said.

DOT is promoting scuba diving as among the recreational activities to do in Davao City.

“Scuba diving is a recreational sport that is meant for enjoyment,” Dr. Alfred Medina, Philippine Commission on Sports-Scuba Diving Davao Region Head, said.

But scuba diving is more than just a recreational activity, it is also an opportunity to understand the marine ecosystem.

“It presents an opportunity to people to make them understand why we need to protect the environment, we always say we need to protect the environment underwater but we don’t actually see what’s down there,” Medina said.

He added, “They will learn to appreciate why we need to protect the corals, why we need to stop collecting ornamental fishes or those exotic fishes, why we need to stop killing big fishes which are on their reproductive stage, all of these becomes theoretical only if you don't have the opportunity down there, but once you see it, you will understand.”

Medina said while scuba diving is fun, divers are encouraged to strictly follow safety protocols when diving.

“There must be regulation of scuba diving because it has to be safe, yes you can enjoy the sport but it requires the training, you cannot dive anytime you want if you are not certified... because one fatal mistake, it will cost your life, or it could make you disabled, it has to be regulated so that nobody can abuse it,” Medina said.

He also said highlighted the need for those who want to dive to get proper training.

“If people will just go diving, rent tanks, and everything, even though they are not properly trained, then we will have a lot of people ending up in the hospital, and that’s why just like in any sports it has some dangerous effect if you don’t properly train the one who’s using the equipment,” Medina said.

To get trained, aspiring divers are expected to enroll in any accredited diving establishments that offer the course of open water basic training so that they can progress in open water advance certification.

“There are so many different certifying agencies around the world and even here in our country, you can just approach any one of them,” Medina said.

But Medina said if you want to try it once or for a short period of time like 20 to 30 minutes, you can just dive without having these certificates as scuba diving centers offer an introduction to diving.

Diving for beginners

For beginners, there are some dive centers that offer a training package worth P2,500 – this includes dive equipment, a dive boat, a guide, and underwater photos to capture your underwater escapade. You can join a group tour every Saturday or Sunday.

“When you talk about beginners, those people nga wala gyu’y experience about scuba diving, they will be taught how to use the equipment, they will be dalahon sa ilalom sa tubig for 30 minutes (Those people who don’t have any experience about scuba diving... they will dive for 30 minutes),” John Neri, Carabao Dive Center Manager, said.

Those who start diving may feel nervous on their first try but Neri said they have to “trust your master diver guide.”

Neri said they orient divers on the use of diving equipment and underwater safety protocols like how to avoid drinking seawater, how to breathe, and the hand signals.

Diving sites

Samal Island has 25 diving sites – Ligid Caves, Pinnacle Point, Pindawon Wall, Mushroom Rock, Marissa 1, 2 & 3, Malipano Japanese Wrecks, Linosutan Coral Gardens, Angels Cove, Talikud Island, Mansud Wall, Dapia Reef, Babu Santa Minwall, Isla Reta, and Captains One Way.

A pro-diver and the Chief of Coastal Resources and Foreshore Management of the DENR Gil Bigcas said when they dived at Captains One Way, the diving site remains clean and clear.

“Siguro posible because ang location is open, and the underwater condition dili kaayo daghan og coral colony (Maybe because the location is open and the underwater condition has less coral colony),” Bigcas said.

Bigcas said garbage is common in some of the coves sites.

“Ang location man gud niya is luok siya, gamay siya nga cove, so mapundo ang basura, and then daghan pud syag corals, masangit gyud didto ang basura,” Bigcas said.

But Bigcas said that the DENR has been doing clean-up drives and educating people on proper waste disposal.

“Wala man nagkulang ang gobyerno nato, labi na ang local government units (LGUs) nato, kay naa man gyud na sa balaod nga responsibility nila nga mag-amping sa ilang basura but mubalik man gud na sa tao, attitude sa tao kanang magpataka og labay og basura, biskan kita mismo, magdisiplina ta sa sarili nga di ta patakag labay basin unsa pa gamay ang basura ang impact ana dako na (The government did not fall short when it comes to ordinances and policy, especially the LGUs, it is there responsibility to manage the garbage, But at the end of the day, the attitude of people towards waste disposal will still matter. That’s why we need to discipline ourselves and always remember the impact of loitering)” Bigcas said.