According to oceanographers all over the world, we know more about outer space than our own oceans. Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the planet, but we know less than 5 percent about them. In fact, much of the land under the oceans remains unmapped and unexplored, and we haven’t actually understood how oceans work. Why is that, despite our advanced technology and unending determination?
Well, the world under the sea is covered by more than 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of water with an average depth of more than 3 miles. Under that unimaginable quantity of water are over two million marine species, spectacular landscapes, and geographical wonders that defy imagination. But to witness the wonders of the strange world under the sea, we, land dwellers, first need to find a way to breathe underwater for long periods of time. Fortunately, that issue can be partially addressed with an ingenious human invention called scuba, short for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.
In scuba diving, a diver carries special equipment to breathe underwater. This allows him to stay longer underwater as well as giving him better freedom of movement. Subsequently, he is able to explore more of the sea.
As you all know, Team Sweetie has always been a stickler for new, exciting adventures. Furthermore, we live in a festive tropical island surrounded by gorgeous seas. So when my diver cousin, Jonjie Deiparine, offered to introduce us to an adventure under the blue seas of Mactan, we enthusiastically agreed. It was our chance to explore the fringes of the alien world under the sea.
Together with Sweetie’s daughter, Alexa, we went to KonTiki Dive Resort last December 15, 2013 to have a taste of scuba diving. The tranquil resort is secluded deep inside Datag, Maribago in Mactan Island, away from throngs of people.
Adjacent to KonTiki Dive Resort are the world-renowned Maribago Bluewater Resort and a few lesser known private beach resorts. At these resorts, you can rent these outriggers to take you to the islands around and beyond Mactan.
After taking a lunch of re-fried liempo and rice, Sweetie and I changed into our rash guards to get ready for the exciting underwater adventure. Knowing that we’ll be quite anxious to enter the water, Jonjie has already prepared our BCDs (buoyancy control devices), oxygen tanks, flippers, and other scuba diving equipment before we arrived.
That’s Jonjie, my first degree cousin. Jonjie is a certified and very skilled PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) IDC Staff Instructor, just two steps away from being a PADI Course Director, the highest position in the PADI organization. In fact, he’s one of the most highly recommended dive instructors and tour guides in the country. He trained lots of divers who became instructors themselves. He was also a pioneer instructor of the Philippine Air Force 505 1st Squadron Search and Rescue unit about underwater operations.
Jonjie once owned a popular dive shop and tour outfit called Jonjie’s Aquaflight. After he closed down his business, Jonjie is now a freelance instructor specializing in multiday dive safaris. You’ll be glad you hired his services.
Before entering the water, Jonjie briefed us on the basics of scuba diving. He taught us how to put on the flippers properly, how to put on the diving mask, how to purge water out if it enters the mask, hand signals to use while underwater, how to equalize pressure underwater, and so on. He explained these in such detail that we understood the science behind the actions.
Then, Jonjie explained to us the mechanics and how to use a BCD or buoyancy control device. A BCD is some sort of an inflatable vest worn by divers to achieve neutral buoyancy (i.e. hovering) or positive buoyancy (i.e. floating) on the water’s surface whenever the diver needs to. Buoyancy is regulated by adjusting the air inside the BCD. Air is supplied from either the tank strapped at the back or from the diver’s mouth.
He also taught us how to properly breathe underwater through the regulator.
After the briefing and while Jonjie prepared his own gear, we took a photo of the diving area. Check out the photo below. The area inside the fence of floating buoys is intended for first-time divers like us who are taking a short DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) course or for novice divers who are taking a full PADI licensing course. For safety, we were not allowed to go beyond the buoys.
But looks can be deceiving. Don’t think that the water there is shallow. In fact, a few yards from the shore, we couldn’t stand up with our heads above the water. The outside-perimeter buoy fence already marks the kantil, or the edge of Mactan’s continental shelf.
Here, Jonjie helped Sweetie in attaching some 3-kilo weights. Weights are needed so the diver can sink to the seabed; it counteracts the positive buoyancy of the BCD and the natural tendency of the human body to float to the surface. It is impossible to go and stay underwater without the weights.
Then it was time to dive, at last. Sweetie and I donned our gear in the water. It’s easier to do so because water is denser than air, making the heavy gear seem light. In fact, when we reached chest-high water, the gear weighted next to nothing.
Ready, all geared up, and excited to dive! Sweetie and I walked backward towards deeper water, as instructed by Jonjie, because our large flippers make it difficult to walk forward.
Are you ready? Jonjie made a last-minute briefing and check before we explore the underwater world.
And off we went! Shore entry is best for first-time divers like us, and KonTiki offers one of the best shore entry diving in the country. That’s because, as we mentioned earlier, the sea grass and coral garden start just a few yards from the shore. That means, we didn’t need to rent a boat to explore KonTiki’s house reef.
Even at a depth of merely 10 feet, the majesty of the underwater world was unraveling beneath us. At this shallow depth, we already saw an incredibly diverse collection of virgin corals.
We paused for a little while so Jonjie could check if everything was okay. Good thing because I was having trouble with my BCD; I kept floating up even though I emptied the air in my BCD. It turned out that there was still some air in the valve. Jonjie fixed it for me.
Sweetie stood mesmerized at the new world around her. All around, we saw colorful fish, coral encrusted rocks, patches of white sand, and patches of sea grass. Everything was illuminated by filtered sunshine, making it seem as if we’re in another planet.
We signaled Jonjie that we’re perfectly A-okay. The photo below is our first underwater shot together ever! Cool!
As we swam further, Jonjie signaled us to stop. He then used a small probe to poke something in the corals. We wondered what it was he’s poking.
It was a lionfish! Can you see it in the photo below? It’s that butterfly-like fish resting on the pillar coral’s prong. The lionfish is venomous. A sting from its spines can cause extreme pain, fever, nausea, convulsion, diarrhea, heartburn, and numbness. Despite that, the venom is rarely life-threatening.
Lionfish are often kept as popular aquarium fish.
Along the way, we also saw this enormous bright red brain coral, so-called because of its brain-like appearance. Brain corals are some of the most common types of corals in the tropics. They can live up to 900 years old and can grow as large as 6 feet. Brain corals have tentacles which they extend to catch prey such as small fish, shrimps, and mollusks.
Corals provide protective homes for a variety of fish. That’s why it is very important to preserve and protect corals. By collecting and destroying live corals, humans deprive the fish of their homes. Fish then move to other areas to build new homes, and poof goes the local fishing industry.
A colony of corals sprung out of the seabed. Often, corals grow on top of each other. This coral column is almost as tall as Sweetie.
Let’s go a little bit farther, Jonjie signaled us. We were going to the lip of the kantil.
After several minutes, we reached the edge of the continental shelf and the big blue. Depth was 20-plus feet below sea level. Wow! We knew that we were just exploring a microscopic part of the world under the sea when we witnessed the enormity of the darkness beyond the kantil.
Jonjie mentioned that on some days, thousands of sardines congregate here (the “event” is sometimes called a sardine run), and the enormous wall of silvery fish is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, we didn’t witness a sardine run by the time we got here.
Jonjie also told us that predatory barracudas can be seen here, hunting for prey. In fact, we saw some large faint silver bodies in the blue, silhouettes of barracudas. Unfortunately, our camera couldn’t capture them due to the lack of light.
Jonjie toured us along the lip of the kantil where we saw the ground literally overgrown with corals. It was just an amazing sight.
Be careful at the kantil because the current here is swift, strong, and unpredictable. In fact, we had to kick a little harder so we won’t drift into the blue.
We saw beds and beds of beautiful corals along the kantil—in coral-reef terminology, this area is called fore reef. Did you know that most of the coral reefs in the world are located within Southeast Asia and Australia? And do you know that 60 percent of the world’s coral reefs are endangered due to man-made activities? This threat is especially strong in Southeast Asia where more than 80 percent of the reefs are actually endangered.
Jonjie stopped for a while and wrote something in his diving slate. A slate is a waterproof communication device which a diver can write text messages on. He can then show what he wrote to other divers.
“Fire coral. It burns” was what Jonjie wrote on his slate while pointing to the specimen. Technically, they are not corals but some sort of jellyfish or anemone. When touched, fire corals release toxins that make it seem as if your skin is on fire, thus the name.
Everywhere, we saw schools of colorful fish who regarded us as curiosities rather than threats or intruders.
The fact that there are large numbers of fish here indicates that corals are plentiful and are well taken care off. Kudos!
Fish do need to feel alone at times. Hehe! We saw this solitary clownfish (left) and, later, this lonely damselfish (right) broke from the pack to swim near us. We guess they wanted to take a closer look at the strange creatures who were emitting lots of bubbles.
Sometime during our exploration, Sweetie signaled that something’s wrong, and she wanted to go up the surface. It turned out she felt the need to throw up. No, it’s not because she’s pregnant, panicked, or poisoned. It was because of vision distortion. The glass of the mask and the distortion in the water were making her dizzy and nauseous.
I took the chance to take a photo of my gauge. I still have 3,000 cc of air left in the tank after half an hour of scuba diving.
After clearing her guts, Sweetie was ready to go down again to explore the reef crest, or the area right before the fore reef.
Both instructor and student have a lot of fun while touring around the reef. Scores of brightly colored and friendly damselfish seemed to join in the fun.
Jonjie picked up a colorful, multi-patterned nudibranch for us to take a closer look. A nudibranch is a kind of soft-bodied marine mollusk without a shell, a kind of sea slug, in other words. The creature was soft to the touch.
Here’s another strange coral that looked like wrinkly sheets. We guess small fish live in those holes and folds.
Jonjie led us to another highlight of the KonTiki reef, a dark, mysterious something that rose out of the reef crest. We initially thought it was part of a small shipwreck. Upon closer look, the structure turned out to be a giant claw that once came from an earth-moving vehicle. It was sunk there years ago to form a foundation for an artificial reef.
After a decade, the iron claw became encrusted with corals and algae, sort of like a business center for fish. Scuba divers and free divers can explore the cavity inside the claw. We didn’t go in because we still don’t know how to squeeze into tight underwater spaces with our bulky gear.
Sweetie checked the huge variety of hard corals that have overgrown the iron claw.
This was what she saw. Amazing! And see those particles? While many of those are sediments, others may be gametes. Gametes are cells that fuse with other cells to initiate reproduction. These gametes will soon find an anchor so they can grow to new adult corals.
We thoroughly enjoyed this amazing scuba diving experience. The DSD session was just a glimpse, but Sweetie and I are now seriously contemplating to get actual diving licenses.
After seeing an actual artificial reef, we headed back to explore more of KonTiki’s inner coral reef.
Check out this video of our dive. You can see the richness of corals and marine life.
We saw a cluster of sea anemones (brown) that swayed gently in the current. Anemones and clownfish share mutualism, a biological symbiotic relationship that is beneficial for both organisms. The anemones protect the clownfish from predators that are affected by stings of the anemone’s tentacles. In return, clownfish defend the anemones from butterfly fish, an anemone-eating fish.
Here’s another video of the reef system showing corals, fish, and a colony of anemones with their tentacles swaying with the current.
Hello, Nemo and Marlin! Overcame by curiosity, these cute, colorful clownfish exited the anemones and swam up to us. We think they love cameras. Hehehe!
We took a close-up view of the anemone. The wriggly tentacles look extremely beautiful! Those flower-like organisms are not flowers at all but another species of sea anemone. Yes, there are gardens under the sea!
That’s a small, vibrant pillar coral viewed from above, a home for that striped fish. Exporters sometimes harvest these corals to be sold as home decors and jewelry. This practice should be stopped.
These corals look ominous! If humans were an inch high, then these corals would probably be considered real-life Lovecraftian monsters! The one at the bottom looked particularly interesting.
This pale red coral looked like a colossal amoeba. The sea holds so many wonders; we realized how infinitesimal our knowledge about our oceans is. With so many unknowns and so many mysteries, our oceans demand the highest respect.
That’s a large Elephant’s Ear coral that is overgrown with other smaller corals and algae.
That’s an interesting cluster of different corals.
There are no words to describe these. These are truly alien landscapes.
We spent more than an hour exploring the rich and vibrant reef before our tanks ran out of air. After reaching ashore, it was Alexa’s turn for a snorkel treat! Jonjie outfitted her with an inflated BCD as a life jacket.
Hi, Alexa! Are you having fun? We bet you do! Children would definitely love snorkeling here.
Alexa was able to take a few excellent underwater photos while snorkeling. Check out that cluster of different corals.
Alexa was also able to take a nice photo of a sea anemone in full bloom.
Sweetie and I are staunch believers of practical learning. While lessons in the classroom can be very informative, no amount of textbooks, videos, photos, and lessons can compare to an actual experience. That is why as much as possible, we take Alexa with us on adventures that we deem safe and manageable for her.
In this instance, through her first snorkeling experience, Alexa was able to witness an actual marine ecosystem at work.
Alexa definitely enjoyed her first snorkeling experience. She went around the reef for an hour before heading back to shore.
Thank you very much for the DSD session, Jonjie, and we’re sure we’ll be back for more! It was a Christmas gift that was more than we expected. The experience of having an adventure underwater was absolutely indescribable. It was more than fun; it was truly an eye-opener. It was a reminder that Mother Nature is bigger, more mysterious, and more breathtaking than we can ever possibly imagine.
Note: In our cover photo and some photos in this blog post, you can see us holding corals. This is actually an error on our part being first-time divers. Corals and marine organisms are very delicate and should not be touched. We want to include these photos showing our mistakes so that you, dear reader, will know what NOT to do when scuba diving or snorkeling.
1. Contact Jonjie Deiparine at 0923-4580554 as a guide and dive instructor. Jonjie is a highly skilled PADI instructor, having decades of experience in his belt. He has trained search and rescue personnel, special forces, and other search-and-rescue divisions in underwater operations.
He is a top-rated, certified PADI IDC staff instructor and is highly recommended by tourists, local divers and international divers. Not only he can introduce you to scuba diving, he can also train you to become a licensed PADI diver or even an instructor like him. He specializes in adrenaline-filled dive safaris that can last 3 to 4 days in the Philippines’ most beautiful reefs.
Furthermore, Jonjie has a very extensive network of island hopping operators, tour operators, dive shops, resort owners, and other businesses and entities in the scuba diving industry.
We assure you, you won’t regret hiring Jonjie.
2. To get to KonTiki Dive Resort from the Lapu-lapu City public market or Gaisano Mactan Island Mall, Marina Mall and anywhere in Pusok road (the highway that leads to the two Mactan-Mandaue bridges), ride a jeepney that goes to Soong, Maribago. Ask the driver to drop you off at the crossing of Datag; it’s just beside Imperial Palace and is marked by a Julie’s Bakeshop outlet. From there, you can either ride a habal-habal or walk to KonTiki Dive Resort.
3. Don’t expect a nice, sandy beach. Kontiki is a dive resort, and people go there to freedive or scuba dive rather than just frolic in the beach.
4. When swimming in KonTiki’s waters, expect a sharp change of depth within just a few meters from the shore. Thus, if there are non-swimmers in your group, it is best to let them put on life jackets or hang on to flotation devices for safety.
5. Here are KonTiki Dive Resort’s basic rates, amenities, services, contact details, etc.
For more information, check out Kontiki Dive Resort’s website.
6. Take note that you need to pay two separate expenses: one, for the rental of scuba diving equipment, and two, for the instructor’s fee. For the scuba diving equipment rental, we paid P1,150. The instructor’s fee varies, depending on what diving course or service are you taking.
7. Hungry or thirsty? You can grab a bite at KonTiki’s in-house restaurant. The prices are quite affordable.
8. Don’t forget to bring the following:
- rash guard
- board shorts or cycling shorts
- swimsuit or trunks
- water (at least 1 liter)
- soda or softdrinks (or you can buy them at KonTiki’s in-house restaurant)
- snacks (or you can buy them in KonTiki’s in-house restaurant)
- waterproof camera
9. Waterproof your belongings by placing them in plastic bags or dry sacks.