Food & Travel

Diving into Responsible Skin-diving with ISDA

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#MUNIonThis: Where do your passion and the needs of the world intersect?

This is the question that diving enthusiast Gela Petines found herself asking during her stint at the Twin Rocks Marine Sanctuary in Batangas.

After studying marine life and monitoring the performance of the sanctuary for her undergraduate thesis, she soon came to the conclusion that to protect the ocean, it was the people and not the marine life that had to be managed.

Thus, the adventurous community of the ISDA was born. Composed of ocean-lovers and avid divers, ISDA is jumping headfirst into the task of promoting marine conservation efforts in the Philippines, armed only with a mask and a pair of fins.

[Editor’s note: We love the group so much, we’ve co-created an open dive with them!]

Uncharted waters

Pandan Island, Mindoro by Robert Dominique Magboo

Skin diving relies on a diver’s ability to hold his or her breath underwater until resurfacing. Aside from being a cheaper alternative to scuba diving, the experience is also quite different. Owen Sanico, ISDA’s Water Safety Officer, describes it as a more “zen-like activity” where one can simply focus on one’s environment.

ISDA’s membership application process, which lasts for an entire semester, aims to develop this habit in its prospective members. It is certainly challenging yet immensely fulfilling; among other things, it entails participating in a series of environmental lectures and activities, completing a written and practical test and working with other applicants to carry out a batch project that embodies what they have learned throughout the application process.

Thus, despite the fact that ISDA has yet to gain accreditation from the Ateneo de Manila University’s Office of Student Affairs, there is no doubt that word of ISDA’s mission will continue to spread and attract more members, shared Environment Officer Marika Fernandez.

Sink or swim

ISDA’s growth over the past three years isn’t just characterized by the increase in members. For instance, the skin diving skills of its members have been enhanced through continuous training; beginners usually struggle to reach 30 feet but at present, several ISDA members can even dive down to 60 or 75 feet.

Twin Rocks Sanctuary, Batangas by Oka Espenilla
Twin Rocks Sanctuary, Batangas by Oka Espenilla

Its dive sites have also multiplied over the years, as its members continuously explore the vast oceans of the Philippines. Popular ones, such as Anilao, Batangas and Coron, Palawan, are chosen based on how accessible they are from Metro Manila and how visible and unique the marine life is in the area. One of Fernandez’s favorite diving destinations is the Apo Reef in Mindoro, the second-largest contiguous reef in the world.

This is where she fondly remembers first encountering sharks. While this may sound like a terrifying experience, Fernandez simply laughs. “The sharks are more afraid of you than you are of them!”

Diving with a conscience

(Read: 5 Things Every Diver Should Do)

ISDA members pride themselves on diving responsibly, keeping in mind the idea of “Leave nothing but bubbles.” Aside from being encouraged to use reef-friendly sunblock and to avoid fish feeding, participants are asked to refrain from leaving their trash behind in the area. “We don’t want to bring the waste of Manila to Batangas,” adds Fernandez.

Because of their passion for marine conservation, ISDA members stay up-to-date with the latest in marine biology and, more importantly, busy themselves with more than just diving. Just this summer, ISDA collaborated with the Planet Dive Resort in Anilao, Batangas on a summer diving camp for local children of the Sitio Balanoy community. Through lessons on the basics of skin diving, safety protocols and marine life, the tutorials focused on instilling in them an appreciation for their area and encouraging them to protect their environment in their own ways.

Apo Reef, Mindoro by Rico Diaz
Apo Reef, Mindoro by Rico Diaz

ISDA has also conducted several coastal cleanups and raised funds for various marine conservation causes throughout the past two and a half years. In the future, the organization aims to incorporate turtle rescue and mangrove planting more consistently into their activities.

“Eco-tourism is booming here, but a lot of people don’t know that what they’re doing isn’t that great for the environment. Hopefully, our message will spread,” says Sanico. Aside from gaining a better foothold in the Atenean community, ISDA ultimately hopes to form environmentally aware and passionate leaders and spread awareness about marine conservation, not just to the entire Filipino community but also to the rest of the world.

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