THE Department of Tourism (DOT)-Northern Mindanao has recently launched its 3rd NorthMin Dive Festival with the opening of the Dive NorthMin Photo Exhibit at the ground floor of SM CDO Downtown.

The photo exhibit features the aquatic treasures and underwater sites captured by photographers who participated in the previous Dive Festival's underwater photo contest.

The Underwater Photography Shootout is the festival's highlight event which brings together accomplished underwater photographers from across the country.

According to DOT-Northern Mindanao Director Marie Elaine Salvana-Unchuan, this year's photo contest will be participated by around 40 photographers coming from different areas in the country. Among them were also some international buddies participating in the dive fest.

The Underwater Photography Shootout has four categories, namely: wide angle, macro/super macro, nudibranch, and marine life behavior.

The participating photographers are also divided into two classes: the open class and compact class.

Among the judges who will determine the winners of the photo contest are the award-winning marine cinematographer Bo Mancao, award-winning underwater photographer and Director for Marketing and Media Affairs of the Discovery Fleet Yvette Lee, and multi-published underwater photographer Ram Yoro, Magnus Nielsen of Bongo Bongo Divers, a PADI 5 star IDC center in Negros Oriental, and marine biologist and PADI dive instructor Fra-and Timothy Quimpo.

The winners of the photo contest will receive cash prizes. The first placer will get P15,000; P10,000 for the second placer; and P5,000 for the third placer.

Underwater Escapades in Northern Mindanao

According to the data from DOT-Northern Mindanao, the region has two dive resorts (Duka Bay Resort and Mantangale Albuag Dive Resort), 39 dive sites and seven accredited dive operators.

Asked which of the dive sites is the best in Misamis Oriental, Unchuan said each of the areas has their own uniqueness.

"Our sites are quite unique. Duka Bay in Medina has the only spot with underwater fresh water springs, wala may lain ana, and they have very vibrant soft corals. Sa Balingoan pud its unique. For macro photography, there are also sites like Talisayan, Medina and the star of the show the Gingoog Pier, but pwede pud sya for wide," Unchuan said.

"There's no one particular best site. There's actually a lot of the offerings in different categories. But for us, all of the sites that we have in Misamis Oriental are the best," she added.

The NorthMin Dive Festival does not only have its photo contest, it also promotes marine conservation as it will also conduct coastal clean-up and underwater clean-up activities. These are part of the tourism department's efforts to promote sustainable tourism and preservation of marine resources.