Some might be aware of this fact, but sometimes it needs to be repeated: The Philippines is in the Coral Triangle, and is known to be the epicenter of marine life in the world. Our country has some of the most diverse marine life and thriving reef systems, which is why it is no surprise that many locals, tourists, and marine biologists enjoy exploring our islands and seas.
One particular area of interest is the Verde Island Passage in Mabini, Batangas. It has caught the attention of many scientists and marine biologists in the country, and even abroad.
Scientists and other personalities such as Kent Carpenter and Victor Springer have written reports about the Verde Island Passage in 2008, and even until now, it continues to hold its reputation as the richest area of marine life and biodiversity. There are over 1,000 marine life species found here, and with further exploration, it’s likely that marine biologists will discover more species.
According to a Rappler article, 12 “rare and new” species were found in this area alone–such as, “flamboyant sea slugs, delicate comb jelly, and flat worms in flashy colors.” All of this was discovered when an expedition at the VIP was held by San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences.
According to an article by ABS-CBN News, it was found that the Philippines does have the highest percentage of marine biodiversity in the world — something which scientists have confirmed through various studies, reports, and comparative analyses of various maps.
What is even more interesting is that the highest number of various marine life species was mostly found in — you guessed it — a relatively small area called the Verde Island Passage. While it isn’t a typical beach paradise such as Boracay or Palawan, it is a gem in its own right and is highly regarded by many divers, snorkelers, and marine biologists here and abroad, and rightfully so. If you want to do more than just beach bum or playfully swim around the seawaters, a visit to the VIP is a must.
There are many areas where one can dive and explore in the VIP, and if you look hard enough (and dive deep enough) you will find all sorts of species, some even rare or previously unheard of. There will be a beautiful array of corals and reefs, along with marine life such as the clownfish, the lion fish, the puffer fish, and other characters most people can identify from movies such as Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.
You might also find shrimps, seaweeds, eels, barracudas, frogfishes, humphead wrasses, groupers, and other names of species unfamiliar to you. Occasionally, one might even spot a sea turtle gliding by many meters below.
In the “pinnacle” site, you will find a variety of both hard and soft corals. Dive deep enough and you might encounter clams. Be careful of the currents though — this area is also known for its “washing machine” site, which divers have to be constantly wary of when they explore the area. Nonetheless, the results are rewarding when you finally see what is 50-80 meters beneath the surface.
Twin Rocks Formation
The Verde Island Passage also has a more fun option for those who want to take it easy. The Twin Rocks Formation is a common attraction for many, especially for those who are only starting out in freediving or training in a diving organization. In fact, many freediving organizations, travel groups, barkadas, and scuba divers frequent this area (i.e. Reef Nomads, ISDA), simply because the Twin Rocks are very accessible and beautiful to swim around in and explore.
As with all dives, it is best to do it with a group in order to keep safe and look out for each other in the event of strong currents or unpredictable weather conditions.
When you first wear your diving and snorkeling gear, the water might feel cold, depending on the time of the year you visit. Sometimes, its waters appear calm, but the further you swim, the more you will feel the current pushing you towards a different direction. After passing its shallow part, you will swim in seemingly dark and empty waters — there’s no telling how deep it goes down there. In maybe five or ten minutes, you will reach the Twin Rocks.
At first, all will appear murky, but as you approach the rocks you will be awed by how massive they are, and how much marine life and corals have found a home on these two giant rocks. With the efforts of various environmental groups such as the Conservation International, the Twin Rocks, and by extension, the Verde Island Passage, is a protected area. This has allowed the Twin Rocks to be what it is today.
Diving in groups is also more enjoyable; it makes the vastness of the ocean less daunting to some. During these fun dives, many people will be practicing their diving and breath-holding techniques. Some diving organizations might even set up a line diving activity nearby, in order for both newbies and members to practice and test their boundaries.
Meanwhile, others are simply enjoying themselves. Every freediver is usually partnered with another person; they take turns diving while the other keeps watch. Many GoPros are taken out, and it proves to be an incentive for people to dive as deep as they can and come up with many poses underwater — many of which become picture-perfect enough for Instagram. Let the photos speak for itself.
What else can be done to protect and preserve the area?
While we can have many diving trips to areas as beautiful and breathtaking as the Verde Island Passage, one must also be aware of the dangers and risks that constantly threaten the Philippines’ coral reefs and marine life species. One problem is coral bleaching. Even renowned sites, such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, are already experiencing the harmful effects of bleaching.
The Philippines, a country vulnerable to the effects of climate change, will take a bad hit from environmental threats such as these. Moreover, there is a need for the Philippine government to exert more effort in protecting and preserving our seas because of other problems such as overfishing and destruction of coral reefs, the spread of toxic waste and plastics in the ocean, as well as other forms of water pollution.
More efforts should also be done for the local community residing in these areas. Fishing practices must be improved, and responsible fishing should be observed and taught among locals. Residents should also do their part in ensuring that they do not pollute the seas. Environmental groups must also help local fishermen adapt to the changing climate and its effects on the seas, which is a major source of their livelihood.
Mangroves should also be declared protected areas, as they are also valuable to coastal communities. It is not just the ocean that needs constant protection and preservation; its locals and surrounding areas need attention, as well.
Leave no trace
Overall, while there have been laws and efforts from environmental groups to preserve such areas, it is still not enough. If people want to continue visiting and enjoying the beauty of the Verde Island Passage — also known as the “richest place on Earth” — we have to do our part when we dive.
The good news is that many diving groups and organizations make efforts to do so. Some have clean-up dives where, after every fun dive, they pick up any sort of trash they find floating about in the water or by the shore. Lectures are given before a dive in order to make people understand what to do and what not to do while underwater, such as the following: 1) Do not touch the sea creatures, 2) Always watch your fins and ensure you are not hitting any corals, 3) Keep a safe distance from marine life species, and 4) Be wary of the currents that might suddenly cause you to hit a coral.
Most importantly: Leave no trace when you finish a dive. Take pictures, but take nothing else from the ocean.