Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text:
I miss salt water, so I'm diving back these days with a sense of nostalgia in my last underwater pictures from the Philippines... It was a year ago, in early 2020. Before the health crisis and the closing of the borders.
Yes, I was really lucky: I was able to fly out to the Philippines at the end of February 2020, and come back without a hitch a fortnight later. On the eve of the first lockdown in France and at Manila.
I spent there two weeks diving and exploring underwater sites of several islands of the archipelago: South Leyte (Sogod Bay), the southwestern part of Cebu (Moalboal), and Northeast Palawan (Pangatalan).
To see and see again... I confess, I was not disappointed. I even found Sogod Bay more beautiful than I remembered. The region has remained authentic. The dives were wonderful. This is the kind of place that really boosts your spirits.
To occupy my days in Sogod Bay, I have planned some activities:
Diving, of course, but perhaps also being able to watch a whale shark, this time! (I totally ruin the suspense with the picture above... 😉 )
Learn about environmental initiatives in the bay, which has several small marine protected areas (MPAs), including the hunting of the acanthaster, the dreaded coral-eating starfish, with the Sogod Bay Scuba Resort ; and a coral nursery, with the local association Green Inc.
Meeting up with my friend Carol, who organizes eco-friendly diving trips with her agency Equilibre, and has planned to travel there at the same time to accompany a young French diving couple.
I will detail all this in several posts in the coming weeks... 😉
When I arrived at Manila Airport on February 29, 2020, there are information panels on coronavirus for travellers, but no special measures, except for an information form to fill out and a temperature check.
A lot of people wear the mask, which doesn't surprise me and doesn't worry me. It's a habit that is already well established in Asia since previous SARS outbreaks. But when I disembark, the mask is not yet mandatory, and there are no health restrictions on travel in the Philippine archipelago either.
So I begin the holidays with a certain amount of carefree enthusiasm... Little did I know then that the Covid-19 epidemic would take on such a scale and last so long.
The domestic Manila-Tacloban flight that takes me to the island of Leyte is not very long (1 hour 20 minutes), but there are still several hours on the road afterwards to reach Lungsodaan, a village in the municipality of Padre Burgos, in the very south of the island. Twelve years ago, I came by sea, by night ferry from Cebu. And at the end of this new stay, it is also by ferry that I plan to leave again, to return to the island of Cebu.
In Padre Burgos, I am pleased to rediscover the Sogod Bay Scuba Resort (SBSR), where I had already been in 2008. This small diving centre, with adjoining restaurant and rooms overlooking a beach of dead corals, has remained simple and welcoming. I celebrate my return with a well deserved mango juice, in front of the bay.
It's an Australian-Filipino couple, Phil and Darlene McGuire, who run the shop, with a very nice young Filipino team (the Englishman Ron Sparkes, co-founder of the resort with Phil, and with whom I had dived in 2008, passed away in 2014.)
At the SBSR, the atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and without fuss. Diving trips are done in small groups on a large bankga (Filipino traditional double-outrigger boat). And in Leyte especially, we are far from the tourist hordes which rage elsewhere, on other islands of the archipelago much more popular...
In other words, we're just fine. 😎 🌴 👌 🐠
There's quite a bit of wind in the south of Leyte at this time of year, but that doesn't stop us from sailing across the bay or diving. The best preserved and most beautiful sites are the reefs in the marine sanctuary of Napantao (Island of Panaon) located on the east side of the bay, just across from Padre Burgos, and those on the island of Limasawa located south at the entrance to the bay.
About 10 kilometres long, Limasawa is also a place of historical and religious significance. This is where the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan has reportedly made the first lasting contact with the indigenous population on 28 March 1521, just before Easter, and where the first Roman Catholic Mass was celebrated in the Philippines. The event, which 500th anniversary is to be held on March 31, 2021, marks the beginning of the Christianization of the archipelago.
Twelve years ago, I was not equipped as I am today. My small compact camera at that time didn't really allow me to make underwater scenic images. So I was focused mostly on the "little" during my 2008 stay in Sogod Bay. This time, it's different. Every night, I choose to set up my camera in a "wide angle" configuration. I want to capture the special atmosphere of the coral reefs.
Photographing them has become my great passion... The more I dive, the more they fascinate and amaze me. And I am well aware of their fragility. The damage caused in the world by overfishing, pollution and global warming (corals bleach and die when the water is too warm) have increased to an unprecedented extent in recent years.
Between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the "Coral Triangle" of which the Philippines is a part, has already taken quite a beating. Despite all this, it's still the place on the planet with the greatest diversity of coral species. There's still life, abundant in some places, and there's still hope: the ocean is capable of resilience, if we let the ecosystems regenerate.