DIVING IN DAVAO
By Carlos R. Munda, Jr.
Few places in the world support as much marine life diversity in a very small area as the Davao Gulf. With just173 kilometers of coastline stretching from point San Agustin in Davao Oriental to the north to Don Marcelino in Davao del Sur on the South, the Davao Gulf is home to numerous marine mammals, sea turtles, pelagic fishes, coral reefs and countless other denizens of the deep.
But even with this heavy concentration of marine life, it is quite surprising that the Davao Gulf has remained one of the best-kept secrets of scuba diving in the Philippines. Instead of becoming a magnet for divers from many parts of the country, most have never gone beyond the more popular dive sites in Luzon and the Visayas.
Still, despite this general lack of awareness among the countryâ€™s diving community, Davaoâ€™s dive industry continues to survive â€“ and in a way even thrive â€“ with the active help of the locals. Weekend trips to Samal Island is a regular activity, with upwards of 20 divers going out in a single day. Several diversâ€™ clubs also help maintain a vibrant atmosphere among the sportâ€™s enthusiasts through regular activities such as coastal clean-ups, other similar environmental projects.
For the tourist hoping to dive in Davao, the experience begins with a visit to the local dive shop in order to book a trip in the regular weekend day-tours. Sadly, despite the number of divers in the area, there is only one Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) accredited dive center in the entire city. As the leading dive certification agency, PADI divers make up the bulk of all recreational scuba divers in the world and PADI accredited dive centers are often the first stop in any underwater excursion. This lack of more PADI dive centers undoubtedly plays a major role in the Davaoâ€™s struggle to be recognized as a prime Philippine dive destination.
I recently spoke to PADI executive Tony Cook during the diver forum in Boracay and he said that the as of the moment the travel bans in effect in Mindanao are hampering their ability to hold activities in Davao. â€œWeâ€™re not allowed to go there,â€ was his matter-of-fact reply when I asked when we could expect a similar diver forum to be held in our neck of the woods. But he did offer to help promote Davao diving in other ways, â€œjust send us pictures of stories of your diving activities and weâ€™ll include them in the newsletter.â€
Well I guess until PADI and the rest of the world wise up to the fact that Davao is one of the safest dive destinations around, we locals will have to enjoy the great diving on our own. I could think of worse fates.
But for those intrepid souls who wish to defy the all-mighty â€œTravel Advisoryâ€ diving in Davao is as simple as A-B-C. Once the trip is booked and the equipment rented, it is merely a matter of arriving at the dive shop early on Saturday (or Sunday) for the trip to Samal. The dive boats often leave the Sta. Ana Pier at around 8:30 am for the 45-minute trip to the dive site. During the ride, divers can have breakfast on the boat or soak up the rays at the sundeck. They can also enjoy the sights along the coast and maybe even catch a glimpse of bottlenose or spinner dolphins or sailfishes. But for those that are really lucky, its good to remember that whales have been spotted in the gulf several times and bringing home a video or a photograph of one of these behemoths is always a possibility.
As for dive sites, the most popular ones are at Mansuod Wall, Coral Garden and Angelâ€™s Cove in Talikud Island, Marissa Reef near the famed Pearl Farm Beach Resort, Mushroom Rock at the northern tip of Samal, the walls and artificial coral reefs of the Ligid Islands, and the fish sanctuaries of Balet and Aundanao.
All of these places offer the same diverse marine environment coupled with great visibility and easy diving conditions. Typical dives last anywhere from 30-minutes to one hour and could range from a depth of 40-feet to 120-feet. Among the creatures one might meet during the dive include everything from the ever-present â€˜nemoâ€™ (aka clown or anemone fishes), bat and lion fishes, gobies, wrasses, and puffers, to the more exotic sea turtles, sharks, tuna, barracuda and even the occasional dugong or sea cow. This wide selection of possible undersea encounters fills every dive with exciting possibilities and always one worth looking forward to.
But more than just the marine life, diving in Davao also offers a fine variety of wreck environments to enjoy. For those into maritime history, the shipwrecks in the gulf provide diving challenges for every level of certification.
For the novice wreck diver, the World War 2-era Japanese cargo ships a few meters from the shores of Pearl Farm are a great starting point. Located in 100-feet of calm, clear water, the wrecks are all relatively intact and teeming with marine life. The ships, which were sunk towards the latter end of the war â€“ purportedly by the same US naval task force that sank the wrecks now at the bottom of Coron Bay, in Palawan â€“ still carry the visible bomb scars that sent them to the bottom.
Diving from Pearl Farm is one of the great experiences divers can bring home with them after a vacation to Davao. Located in a secluded cove off the coast of the city of Samal, the resort is an idyllic location for relaxing under the tanning rays of the sun, or swimming on the clear, calm waters of the Davao Gulf. As one of the countryâ€™s premier resorts, Pearl Farm has witnessed the arrivals of beauty queens and dignitaries, celebrities and world leaders on its pristine shores. And recreational divers will find it the perfect jump off point for endless days of diving adventures.
Technical divers will also have a field day exploring the remains of the Sagami Maru in Talomo Bay on the Southeast side of the gulf. The ill-fated submarine USS Seawolf sank the ship, once the pride of the NYK Line, in 270-feet of water on November 2, 1942. Today the Sagami lies at the bottom, her cargo holds full of Japanese trucks and motorcycles and tons of undelivered war supplies, just waiting to be explored.
And just like the Sagami Maru, the Davao Gulf lies in wait with its untouched underwater treasures, ready to share its bounty to all those willing to make the effort. And it is truly an effort worth making, one that is sure to be filled with unexpected surprises and unforgettable memories.