MANDAUE CITY, Cebu — Wanting to decongest dive spots in Panglao town and to ensure continuous environmental preservation, dive operators in the area are working to also bring tourists to explore other dive sites in Bohol province, most of which are recently discovered.
It is for this reason that the Panglao Association of Dive Operators (PADO) and the Provincial Government of Bohol are organizing the “BHOLDEX: 1st Bohol Loop Dive Expo 2023” scheduled on April 15 to 30, 2023.
“BHOLDEX is about discovering new dive site destinations. We all know that Bohol has so much to offer. In Panglao alone, we have several dive sites and we also have the world renowned Balicasag Island,” said PADO adviser and co-founder Joseph Jasper Arcay.
Organizing the event is also their way of helping the local diving industry and the different coastal towns in the island province to “bounce back” from the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those, who had yet to maximize their tourism potentials, Arcay said, they also wanted to help them set up their dive industry and to prepare for the influx of divers and other tourists.
“We hope to bring the province to greater heights of promotion and environmental awareness by identifying new market niches, developing new dive tour circuits, creating a dive tourism network, and welcoming back our regular tourists to explore more of the underwater wonders of Bohol,” said PADO president Ivy Bulaybulay-Kung.
Arcay said it was “sad to note” that many of the local governments in Bohol were not yet ready to welcome divers because of their lack in regulations and their lack of facilities.
“That is why we are here. PADO has volunteered to help them and we are all very eager to extend our help to these LGUs in some way or another because all in all, it will also redown to economic benefits for all of us,” he said.
“The vision of PADO is to include the whole province of Bohol. That means to say that we have to go across the border of the municipality [of Panglao] to share also to [the] different LGUs how we came about with our diving industry,” he said.
New Dive Sites
And at least 11 localities in their province where new dive spots were found are receptive of their offer of assistance, Arcay said. These are Guindulman, Mabini, Duero, Dimiao, Lilia, Jagna, Garcia Hernande, Valencia, Ubay, and Talibon towns.
In a prepared statement, PADO said Dimiao town, for example, is “home to a rich variety of coral and marine life.” It has a beautiful soft coral garden and many interesting and unusual nudibranchs among other things.
The Jeffrey shipwreck that was found off the coasts of Jagna town was also found to be “full of marine life.” When in the area, you will get to see sea snakes, octopuses, turtles, sharks, clouds of fish, and spectacular black corals.
In Mabini town, its waters is a “hotspot for tiny underwater critters rarely seen elsewhere in the country.” It also has giant clamps and sea horses that are found on dive sports that consist of shoals.
The dive spot in Talibon town offers a good mixture of soft and hard corals. “As part of the Danajon Bank, the only double barrier reef in the Philippines and one of the three in Southeast Asia, it is regarded by marine experts as one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world’s oceans.”
“The past few months, we have been going in and out of the waters in the different towns just to discover and identify new dive sites and, of course, the LGUs were also very receptive in the program. That is why about 11 municipalities have committed their support as well as they have also committed their promotion for the tourism industry. This is their counterpart,” Arcay said.
Edgar Baylon, PADO vice president, said they hoped to promote, especially, the new dive sites through the BHOLDEX’s underwater photography contest that would be also scheduled in April 2023.
The contest is open to beginners and professional underwater photographers who will be asked to take macro photos, fish portrait, photos of marine behavior, and wide angle shots of the different dive sites in the island province, according to PADO’s Butch Amodia, who is also an underwater photographer.
Photos that will be produced from the contest are expected to help bring divers to these new dive sites and even non-divers who just wanted to explore the island and enjoy its natural wonders.
Contest judges will include international underwater photographer Bo Mancao.
“[This is the] first time in the history of PH where [in] an underwater competition is [being] held in a manner that the entire island has been covered that is why we call it the loop,” Arcay said.
And while they prepare for the contest, PADO conducted series of dives in Guindulman, Mabini, Duero, Dimiao, Lilia, Jagna, Garcia Hernande, Valencia, Ubay, and Talibon towns to do an assessment of “what could be found underwater.”
“After months of doing dives, we have realized that there is so much that Bohol has to offer,” Arcay said.
“We found out that they have something new to offer – macro species, varieties of corals – that are not found in Panglao,” he added.
During the assessment, they also determined if a particular area was a good place for snorkeling, free diving or even scuba diving for beginners.
Arcay said they then shared their findings and observations with the concerned local government units to help them craft legislations and regulations that would ensure the protection of their marine resources.
“The parameters coincide with (the) Marine Protected Area. They have general policies and regulations based on National Fishery Code,” he said.
Regulations should include observing the authorized carrying capacity for each of the dive sites to ensure environmental protection.
Carrying capacity refers to the number of authorized scuba divers in every quadrant or coral reef per day.
In Balicasag Island in Panglao town which had five dive sites, for example, only a maximum of 60 dives would be allowed per site per day or a total of 300 dives per day, Arcay said.
“And that is based on the carrying capacity. So, this is the kind of policy that we would like to share to each LGU and [for them] to copy it somehow because by far, since we [at PADO] started this in 2014, we were able to get positive results from it,” he added.
Based on their experience in Panglao, PADO has policed their members. When violations are reported to the association, they will immediately refer these to their concerned government agencies for appropriate action.
When regulations are in place, businesses as well as the LGUs benefit from it.
Arcay said the practice of ensuring environmental protection was also a means to ensure the sustainability of the diving industry.
“When divers, tourists are already in the market, there is already a mitigation on the adverse impact of human intervention in terms of scuba diving,” he added.
And with pandemic restrictions already lifted, Arcay said, they wanted to make sure that businesses and the different LGUs in their province would be prepared for the influx of divers and other tourists.
“Now that the industry has come up again, we would like to do something or move two steps forward on the right foot,” he added.