Like many people, I’ve always liked being around water. Beaches, waterfalls, lakes, rivers — you name it. I’ve also always been curious about life beneath the calm surface; it also doesn’t hurt to know that scuba diving is the closest experience to being weightless in outer space. So for my 24th birthday, I saved up like crazy and signed up for a dive license certification with RAID (Rebreather Association of International Divers) along with my friend MV. We got to work with dive master John who also trained MV’s family of advanced divers. We knew we were in good hands.
Unlike most recreational activities, scuba diving is not a skill you can just learn on the fly. Before I even set foot on a dive site, I had to complete a nine-course module along with the online quizzes and tests that came with the RAID course. I found myself relearning about marine biology, physics and physiology and at the same time learning the parts and function of scuba (BTW, that’s an acronym for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus”, you’re welcome). Before signing up, I knew diving was a technical activity, but I honestly didn’t really expect it to be that complex. TL;DR: my life depends on what I know about basic science, the environment and my scuba, and how I use all of that to adapt underwater during every dive. No pressure. (Read: So much pressure.)
But the promise of the experience outweighed the anxiety — or at least I convinced myself that it was anyway. After all, the Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, aka one of the world’s richest areas for marine life. So when someone says we have some of the best dive spots in the world, they’re really not exaggerating.
Rolling in the deep: Studies show that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
After learning about the equipment and the skills needed to operate them — in a swimming pool test, no less — master John took us to a sanctuary in Anilao, Batangas for our first dive out. The water is very unassuming, judging from the surface, and it helped calm me down that my dive group was very supportive and more experienced than me. We got dropped off at a spot called Classroom, a shallow area of clear soft sand that’s perfect for beginners, and worked our way downward, one meter at a time. We started bumping into different species of fish, one school after the other, and seeing vibrant coral reefs stretching to the dark abyss that, sadly, I was still not allowed to swim to. But still, the experience was life-changing. By the time we got back to the boat, we had painlessly clocked 80 minutes underwater at a depth of 20 meters. That’s when I knew I was onto something here.
How does one act after seeing the effects of climate change firsthand and the value of what we have to lose?
I’d be lying if I said all dive experiences are pleasant. When I took up diving, I admit it was a very self-serving decision. I wanted to learn how to survive underwater. I wanted to see the diversity of our marine life. But the more that I dove, the more places I saw, the more I could no longer ignore the “elephant in the water.” Studies show that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish. Coral bleaching is happening now, not in some distant future, and it will become worse a lot sooner than most of us are aware of. Animal migration patterns have changed because of changes in water temperature and loss of coral reefs that function as home to many marine species. There’s a real, big shift happening in the marine ecosystem, people.
Joining cleanup dives won’t solve everything, but it’s a good place to start.
I’m definitely not an expert on this. The above information are easily accessible and, just like you, I end up having more questions than answers every time I do my research. But the ocean crisis isn’t isolated from the other parts of the planet. The sooner we accept this, the sooner our network of problems gets put into perspective.
My most recent dive was for a cleanup movement in Anilao. It was held a week after a storm had passed and that trip was more enlightening than any article or any documentary. I saw the damage myself. It happened to a place I was familiar with and it was so disheartening to see how vulnerable we are right now. What more when the Big One hits?
I’m not saying a cleanup dive will solve everything, nor am I saying that you have to dive to understand these problems. But if there’s one thing I learned from scuba diving that’s worth imparting, it’s that a school of little fishies in a big ocean can do a whole lot more than a lone fish can. And if there are as many people who like being around water as much as I do, then something must be done.
These days, I don’t dive as often as I like. While I’ve grown to appreciate the ocean on a much deeper level, I also know diving tourism contributes its own fair share of pollution — from plane, car and boat carbon emissions to microfibers escaping from the synthetic attire we wear into the ocean. For me, it’s not about stopping completely as it is trying to be more efficient. I try to do more and see more during each drive trip because if I’m part of the problem, that also means I’m part of the solution. This is my commitment to the environment for now, and I’m okay with that.