IF you are mesmerized by how beautiful and promising tourist sites in Davao Oriental are, wait until you witness a gem hidden underwater.

The province has been known for its white pristine beaches, cascading falls, clear rivers, biodiversity-rich mountains, and preserved culture and traditions, but only a few knew the gem that awaits underneath its blue and turquoise waters.

To position Davao Oriental as an emerging diving destination in the Philippines, the Department of Tourism-Davao (DOT-Davao) in partnership with the City of Mati, Province of Davao Oriental, and the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD) staged the first-ever government-led freediving festival called, “Bay Deep Mati: Freediving at one of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World” on September 23-26, 2022 in Pujada Bay, Mati City.

The festival gathered a total of 65 certified freed divers from around the country particularly Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Manila, and Davao City. Powered by Davao Region-based free dive shops, Glide and Ocean Blue x, the festival features Underwater Photo & Video Workshop on September 23-24; two-day Fun Diving on September 25-26; and Kick-off and Fellowship Activities on September 24 and 26 respectively.

DOT 11 Regional Director Tanya Rabat Tan said while freediving is a relatively new watersport activity in the region, like scuba, it can also be a magnet for tourists who enjoy this form of diving that relies solely on one's ability to hold breath without the help of any breathing apparatus.

“We have long recognized the potential of freediving and we continue to support initiatives that highlight and promote this emerging recreational watersport. Not only does freediving bring tourists and livelihood to our communities, but it also advocates for a sustainable lifestyle by not taking more than the environment can supply and renew,” she said.

The City of Mati is now promoting five freediving sites in Pujada and Mayo Bay. These are in Waniban Island, Bluebless Resort, Pujada Island Oak Island, and Michelle’s Garden.

Some of the notable personalities in the freediving world who joined the festival are former national record holder and freediving influencer Gert Laroy; Asia’s Freediving Godfather and Freediving Planet founder Jean-Pol Francois; and Philippine National Record Holder in Freediving and Sama tribe leader Eldio “Imam” Gulisan.

“Underwater there are a lot of beautiful colors and I’ve been very surprised by the quality that you have here. Everywhere you look there are a lot of beautiful colors and the corals are intact. I will be back next year for sure,” Francois shared.

With the success of the festival, City of Mati Mayor Michelle Nakpil Rabat announced that the freediving event will now become an annual festival in the city to be incorporated in the celebration of Pujada Bay Festival every June.

Davao Oriental governor Corazon Nuñez Malanyaon, for her part, said the event has strengthened the unparalleled natural wonders of the province.

“This also opens more doors to highlighting our tourism sites across all districts and municipalities of Davao Oriental. We want to position oriental as a premier tourist destination in the whole country,” she said.

Freediving is one of the world's fastest-growing sports. According to Future Market Insights, the global diving tourism market - which includes recreational diving, cave diving, freediving, etc. - is poised to reach a valuation of US$2.9 billion in 2022 alone.

The same report also mentioned that the demand in South Asia for the dive tourism market will grow at 8.3% compound annual growth owing to the increasing influx of diving tourists in the Philippines. ASP