Why Philippines will never be the best diving destination

Phtoographer Jun Lao, PaparazSea
a huge eagle ray was just one of hundreds of rays being sold...

I've just ended a short diving trip to Moalboal and was supposedly going to drop by Dumaguete to wish well a friend who invited me over for some diving, but decided to just head out to Cebu ...

City and enjoy the local scenery. Met up with some local acquaintances and was granted lodging for a few days. We had a few drinks that night  which led one of them who got hungry to decide we go to Barangay Pasil for some fresh seafood eats.

Pasil was apparently Visayas' biggest fish market, located 30 minutes from Cebu City, that was in the early morning without the jams.After getting slightly lost from traversing the narrow dark alleys, me and the locals finally found some parking right in front of the Barangay Pasil Police Station. It was 2 am and the streets were busy. It reminded me much of the Aurora market in Cubao during the late 80s where I used to accompany my mom every weekend. We saw that the original Pasil market in the corner closed, apparently it was damaged during the Oct Earthquake which claimed 4 lives but just a short walk to a narrow alley yielded our shabby street side eatery, several steps away was an ice factory where a lot of giant blocks were on standby ready to be made into crushed ice and a few meters more, the relocated fish traders of Pasil.  On the streets, I was greeted by thousands of sweetlips, groupers, blue spotted rays, giant trevally, several great barracudas, and this was but the tip of the iceberg.

Jun Lao, Jun V Lao, PaparazSea
My heart sank to a new low as I trudged along the market aisles, where one seller  sold a battery of chevron barracuda, thousands of small rays, giant marble rays and several eagle rays. At the far left corner of the market from the entrance was where the sharks were sold...thats when I took out my cam phone and just snapped away, oblivious to the silly vengeful looks given by the fish traders. 

PaparazSeaAfter a few minutes of going around, we finally settled at the suggested street eatery. The locals shared the market operates 24 hours a day, usually does two main drop offs and pick ups, where the best are already reserved for the Hong Kong and Singapore market, and what we saw were just the left overs, on sale for local public consumption. The guys shared sometimes, the locals inject the fish with formalin, a way to keep the fish looking fresh in case sales were torpid. I did the simple math that day and I saw around 100 sharks, multiplied by 30 days, x trading done two times daily, so thats around 6,000 sharks sold every month at Pasil.. and those were just the left overs.
Jun Lao, Jun V Lao, PaparazSea

Jun Lao, Jun V Lao, PsparazSea Many thoughts were running through my mind as I was walking around Pasil... Were they legitimate? Where do they get so many of the supposed close to endangered species? Who were buying?  I've seen many of these markets during all my travels from province to province but this market is to date the most shocking sight for me in terms of volume of fish being traded. As the Cebuano divers shared, it's an open secret. The market was 50 paces to the nearest police station so its probably legitimate? In a way, I reached a jaded state, when I was quite new to diving, I would passionately try to make a difference. Despite all the new marine park fees being charged around the Philippines, with local government units knowing the potential of tourism money, this open secret trading area validates the fact that supposed stewards funded by marine park fees may be sleeping on the job or simply may not have enough muscle to do anything vs deep pocketed traders.

PaparazSea
How to feed a nation of 90 million, and exporting fish stock to other Asian countries daily by the thousands? millions? The title of my blog was quite confined to the Philippines which in reality is quite unfair... this is happening across all neighboring countries with supposedly good diving. Friend divers around Asia share how their respective governments in their own countries also abuse the income generated from 'marine park fees', all are so ready to collect but there are no echoes of a post report which should be readily available for public consumption.

With what I have collectively seen so far, I may be wrong to assume we might not see sharks & rays in the  next decade... the next generation of divers may watch old videos on youtube, scratching their heads, wishing there was a time machine nearby, just flick a switch and go back to the good old days when you can see sharks in any coastline of the Philippines...



passion photographer, cafe racer fanatic

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23 Komentar
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bai jun,can i share your article?

Balas
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Thank you so much for sharing- I am all torn up here and you are right that something more needs to be done in terms of local governance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and collection of dive fees. We are dealing with a much bigger issue here, including the regulation of fish catch, type of fish (e.g, keystone species such as sharks), and the pressure from large powerful buyers influencing basic livelihoods. As a Cebuana finishing up my doctorate at Colorado State, I sometimes feel so helpless as I navigate through academia and try to make a difference. Your blogs evokes dialogue, emotion, and hopefully collaborative action. Let me know what your or our next steps are...

Balas
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Thank you so much for sharing- I am all torn up here and you are right that something more needs to be done in terms of local governance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and collection of dive fees. We are dealing with a much bigger issue here, including the regulation of fish catch, type of fish (e.g, keystone species such as sharks), and the pressure from large powerful buyers influencing basic livelihoods. As a Cebuana finishing up my doctorate at Colorado State, I sometimes feel so helpless as I navigate through academia and try to make a difference. Your blogs evokes dialogue, emotion, and hopefully collaborative action. Let me know what your or our next steps are...

11 February 2014 19:59

Balas
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no worries bai, that will be cool

Balas
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sincerely... it was a painful sight, we are all but spectators with this...

Balas
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This is plain bull****!!!! Where's BFAR and the local government there????

Balas
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i think if this gets more exposure in the traditional and online media, maybe we could stop this. its obviously a rape to our resources which is unsustainable. we will suffer in the long term.

thanks for sharing.

Balas
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hi sir Angel, seen, been through many similar incidents to this, as shared we can only watch and maybe book in advance to see big fish outside the country like maldives... btw, i loved this http://www.lakwatsero.com/info/travel-notes-solo-backpacking-in-maldives-itinerary-expenses-tips/ it makes me think twice doing a livaboard costing usd2000... USD100 may be too pricey but 6 dives is all i need and dont need to do 16 dives where usually half are wateful sites... thanks for this

Balas
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hi Lakbay Diva, it wont do any good, it will be a Vhong-Cedric like circus with no resolution and the traders will win ultimately in the end and just find another location to do their transactions... just emphasized the fact while we may be proud of being at the heart of the coral triangle, about our marine resources, we may never claim the fact we are the best diving destination in asia due to factors we can never control. we still have those small tiny macro wonders to shoot...but oh god, imagine having sharks in every coastline... but we live in a real world, and we can only watch

Balas
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right, it could be a vhong-cedric like circus with no resolution given the government is inutile, but i disagree that it won't do any good. exposure would make people aware that these are prohibited fish to capture. i was just surprised that it's not common knowledge that this is actually illegal. and that raping our resources will have a negative impact on us on the long run. the youth especially, who will succeed our generation will know that this is a DO NOT and hopefully would act accordingly. for their own sake.

Balas
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Commenting from California. I came across this site while searching for places to dive in the Philippines during my vacation... this is unbelievable. Breaks my heart. What does one do in this situation? Will raising awareness be of any use?

Thanks for sharing.

Balas
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This is sick and painful to see. Next thing we know they're all gone. I hope there's something we can do . :(

Balas
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Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I dove in the PI a few years ago and it was one of the most beautiful dive destinations we've seen. I was saddened by a lack of concern in the environment. I saw firsthand how a beautiful brain coral was torn by just dropping anchor - very sad. The Philippines needs better stewardship of the environment - one way to pay it forward to our kids. Think long-term and not immediate gratification.

Balas
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Hi Jun! Pia Ranada of Rappler here. May I quote your article and use photos from it in my article? Also trying to get DENR's statement on the issue.

Balas
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Pia, kindly go ahead... and I hope it makes a difference...thanks

Balas
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yes , was a heartbreaker Rachel, as of now, as shared, we can only watch

Balas
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whats painful here is we could have been the no. 1 destination, we could have had all the big fish and need not fly out and spend our money elsewhere..sigh..we cannot combat poverty thoough, and we cant keep giving handouts, delicate situation

Balas
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agree its a do not..if theres anyone wants to champion this cause, someone with power and influence... can, i've just seen so many things and was so helpless to do anything about it

Balas
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agree sir, as of now, we can only watch

Balas
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I don't think these are in the endangered list, unless this issuance has been superceded:

http://www.bfar.da.gov.ph/pages/legislation/FAO/fao208.html

Balas
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Very informative and helpful blog dear! My uncle is going to bus tour Miami and he is confused about his tour. He wants to enjoy diving too during his tour. Let him about the best diving spot in Miami to enjoy safe diving. I think you can suggest him better because you have great knowledge about diving.

Balas
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This is sick and painful to see. Next thing we know they're all gone. I hope there's something we can do . :(

Balas