BY EUDEN VALDEZ
BO MANCAO is not just a diver by heart but also by blood—if there’s such a thing. After all, he was born into and raised by a family of divers from Cebu, one of the most renowned dive destinations in the Philippines.
The country being an archipelago teeming with marine treasures, Mancao naturally ventured out of his hometown, discovering other sites in nearby and faraway island provinces. Camiguin was one of them. He was still young when he first discovered and explored the waters of Camiguin together with his father back in the 90s.
Today, he has over 30s years of experience diving and has always returned in the island province, which is located off the coast of Mindanao’s Region 10. In his many visits, Mancao got to meet the local divers of Camiguin, one who would become the region’s tourism director in the future.
From one diver to another
Marie Elaine Unchuan was a late bloomer in diving, despite the fact that her grandparents were among the first scuba divers and instructors, and owners of the first dive shop in Camiguin.
She would, however, always be attracted to diving, and divers for that matter. She even married a dive instructor. There was no turning back until she eventually gave in to the ocean’s calling.
Aside from being a diver, Unchuan also became Department of Tourism director to all of Mindanao’s Region 10. After years of understanding and developing tourism in Camiguin, combined with years of exploring and diving its waters, she saw the province’s newest potential.
“I’ve been with people who have already dived here and ang dami nilang sinabi sa akin,” Unchuan recalled.
Mancao is one of them. Together with Mancao, her husband and other diver friends, she finally decided to see for herself what Camiguin’s waters had to offer. “Sabi ko maganda. We really liked what we saw,” Unchuan said.
This marked the beginning of Camiguin Dive Festival.
With the vision of Unchuan and the push of the local government for sustainable ecotourism, the first-ever Camiguin Dive Festival was launched on June 23 at the Lagundi Beach in capital town of Mambajao.
A new dive tourism is born
The two-month Camiguin dive fest features fun dives, dive classes, fora on ecotourism sustainability, and underwater photography competition.
Present at the launch were both Unchuan and Mancao, who served as consultant to the festival. Together with personality divers and diver-bloggers from around the Philippines, Unchuan and Mancao led the inaugural dive of the festival.
“When they started thinking about promoting dive tourism not a lot of them were divers so I was very lucky to be asked to come in and help,” Mancao told Manila reporters and bloggers. “I think the diving industry in the Philippines is coming to a second golden age. It’s getting a lot stronger now, we can see it in a lot of dive destinations and I think Camiguin would be the next best dive destination in the Philippines.”
Asked why, Mancao answered, “It has a great muck diving wherein you can look for rare creatures. It also has awesome reefs and good drop-offs and in the right season, super clear water. These make a good mix of a great diving holiday.”
Mancao, who is also a renowned underwater photographer and videographer, has seen and captured the underwater beauty surrounding all of Camiguin.
As such, he encourages his fellow divers to join the festival’s highlight, the underwater photography competition with two categories: macro/super-macro and wide angle. Entries must be taken during the duration of the festival.
Also giving support to the festival are the province’s accredited dive resorts: Ajis Camiguin Adventures, Black Beach Divers, Camiguin Soul Divers, Camiguin Volcan Beach Eco Retreat and Dive Resort, Johnny’s Dive ‘N Fun, Kurma Eco Beach Lodge and Scuba de Oro.
The importance of sustainability
Running until August 31, the festival brings to new depths Camiguin’s dive tourism programs. It aims to put the island in the country’s prime dive circuits.
Divers already introduced to the island’s various dive sites have seen an underwater paradise of expansive coral gardens, shoals and canyons, all teeming with rich marine life. The island is also defined by its unique diving environments such as black coral forests, lava-formed pinnacles, cold freshwater springs bubbling from sea bed and even a sunken cemetery, among others.
For first-time Camiguin divers at the festival, they noted not only the underwater seascapes and marine life but also the cleanliness. What really struck them was something they didn’t see: Plastic wastes.
Unchuan underscored the importance of sustaining Camiguin’s dive tourism more than just putting it on the map. DOT-Region 10 is already conducting research on determining the maximum carrying capacity of the island in terms of tourist visits including divers.
“Divers are the ones who are always looking for new spots even if it’s off the beaten track, even if it’s not yet popular. The divers are always the ones to go there first. . . And then the other tourists follow,” Mancao noted.
He continued, “I do hope this is just the start of sustainable dive tourism in Camiguin. Tourism is both a curse and a blessing, it does bring income to the people of the island but of course, it also ruins the island. I hope that we can find the balance when we attract a lot of tourists.”
Through the local government, Unchuan also wishes to regulate dive resorts by institutionalizing laws. An example would be the province’s ordinance banning single-use plastics. She challenged, “We want dive operators to observe guidelines or we will revoke their business permits.”
“When diving, you experience a certain peace. You will never know what you will see because everything’s moving. One moment, there may be a turtle, or a shark, or nothing. If you have too many divers on one spot, you lose this experience,” Unchuan concluded.
Underwater photos courtesy of Bo Mancao. Event photos courtesy of DOT-Region 10.
Traveling Journo Ph attended the opening of the Camiguin Dive Festival care of the Department of Tourism and DOT-Region 10.