Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Explorers of Sarangani Dive Safari Reveal Rich Marine Life, Elevates Region 12 as the Next Diving Destination in the Philippines

Words By Arabelle Jimenez

Underwater Photos by: Garri Emmanuel Tadlip

The author on the right, with Dive Guide John Duane Hitalia of Lemlunay Beach Resort enjoying the rich marine life of Sarangani Bay.  Photo: Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

The Province of Sarangani and the Department of Tourism Region 12 recently held its first Sarangani Dive Safari, which signaled the start of promoting Sarangani Bay as the latest diving destination in Mindanao, the 2nd largest island in the Philippines.

Sarangani Dive Safari Explorers enter the waters of Tuka Dive Site. Photo: Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

The Sarangani Dive Safari, which was held on April 29 to May 1, 2017 saw 14 certified divers from all over the country, coming to experience first-hand the abundance of marine life beneath the waters of Sarangani Bay. I was tapped to represent Manila in this exciting adventure. 

Happy explorers representing Manila, Cebu and Davao, coming from a great dive at Maasim Reef.  From left; John Duane Hitalia, Stella Estremera, the author, Garri Immanuel Tadlip, and Oleg Tadlip.  Photo: Terence Rivac Rubia.

I was one of the media divers honored to be included in this dive exploration. The “dream team" explorers with me were writers and underwater photographers composed of Garri Immanuel “Iggy" Tadlip, Oleg Tadlip, Alieth Bontuyan, all from Cebu, Uwe Michaels from Germany, and Stella Estremera from Davao City.  

We were graciously welcomed by Sarangani Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon, ocean advocate Michelle Solon of Go Sarangani Travel, Departmert of Tourism Region 12 Director Nelly Dillera, and Paul Partridge, owner of Lemlunay Beach Resort, where we were billeted.

“It takes tough people like you coming from different regions outside of Sarangani to come and experience what we have, and tell the whole world how beautiful Sarangani Bay is,” said Director Dillera. “We are trying to recover the negative impressions of Mindanao, and through you, we can change this reaction and promote Sarangani as a new dive destination,” she added.

Macro photography paradise. Marine critters abound in Sarangani Bay.  Photo: Garri Immanuel Tadlip. 

One of the country’s unheralded beautiful bays, the province of Sarangani is proclaimed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), as a Protected Seascape and listed as one of the country’s Key Marine Biodiversity Areas. It covers an area of 215,950 hectares with a 226.4-km coastline, covering the municipalities of Maitum, Kiamba, Maasim, Alabel, Malapatan and Glan in Sarangani, and General Santos City.

A marine biodiversity haven is discovered in Sarangani Bay. Photo: Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

Gov. Solon enthused, “We are doing marine preservation efforts as we are in the middle of a protected seascape. We have whale sharks, sperm whales, yellow fin tuna, pilot whales, dolphins, clown fishes, lion fishes, sergeant fishes, and sea turtles.” He adds, “We are happy that you are here to help us spread the good news for the future of diving tourism in Mindanao.” 

The bay’s coral resources cover more than 2,293 hectares spread over 20 coral reef areas with about 60 important live hard coral genera, 411 reef species in 46 families. Seagrass cover is placed at 912 hectares, with 11 species in the coastal towns.

Sea fans add color and life underwater. Photo: Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

Lemluyan House Reef Night Dive

The Sarangani Dive Safari exploration is a mixture of easy and difficult dives. Upon reaching Lemluyan Resort, a night dive was immediately scheduled. This dive took place at the Lemluyan house reef, where some critters came out only at night. An interesting marine behavior the divers witnessed was a bobhead squid feasting on a shrimp. Other critters that showed up were cuttlefishes, nudies, a lobster, Spanish dancer, and parrot fish.

Marine behavior found during our night dive. A bobhead squid feasting on a shrimp. Photo: Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

Tuka Marine Park

The following day’s dive was at Tuka. We experienced mild currents, but low visibility. These are natural elements one can come across when diving, depending on the season. There are three dive sites at Tuka, but decided to do two sites that day. In both dives, we saw the one-of-a-kind giant bumphead parrot fishes, approximately 2 meters long, looking like a herd of cows underwater. These gentle giants are found in the shallow waters of around 10 feet, and can be seen by snorkeling. Other interesting marine life found at Tuka were dorid nudis, various chromodiris, batfishes, and sea turtles.

Unique seascape in Tuka. Photo: Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

Maasim Reef

Not for the faint of heart, this dive is more for advanced divers. But experienced divers like us welcome the challenge of strong currents. We did negative entries, and used a descent line to reach down to Maasim Reef. But upon reaching the bottom, the visibility was better, and the current milder. A beautiful garden of marine flora welcomed us. Huge fan corals and gigantic bat fishes were among the marine life spread experienced in 20 meters. Spotted in this reef were juvenile white-tipped sharks nestling under a table coral, a highlight of the dive.

Colorful corals in Maasim Reef. Photo:  Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

Rocky Beach

Its name, which was derived from huge, sloping rocks descending to the bottom of the dive site, boasts of colorful fishes, surrounding colorful sea-fans.  It is home to a school of napoleon wrasse, and a ribbon eel.  Soft and hard corals decorated the rocky area, with sea stars basking in the rays penetrating through the waters. Generally an easy drift dive, which eventually led us divers back to the Lemluyan house reef.

Ribbon eel gracefully swam with us towards Lemluyan house reef. Photo:  Garri Immanuel Tadlip.

The success of the first edition of Sarangani Dive Safari is the primary step in promoting tourism in Sarangani. The event concluded in discussion with the Governor of Sarangani, and the LGU’s urging to work hand-in-hand in protecting the marine life.  After the revelation of Sarangani’s abundant underwater resources, Governor Steve Solon, Sarangani advocate Michelle Solon, together with Regional Director Nelly Dillera, became more vigilant and motivated to further their cause.

SOX is Next Campaign. Organizers of Sarangani Dive Safari, together with the DOT Region 12 Officers, and media divers at the thanksgiving dinner and press conference held at the Blue Leaf Hotel in General Santos City. 

For more information on Sarangani Bay, dive expeditions and local tours, please send an e-mail to:

Posted by Arabelle Jimenez

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