Finding joy in Anilao
Overwhelming joy engulfs Victoria Liles as she finds herself amidst an entirely different realm each time she hits 40 to 60 feet deep underwater off the coast of Anilao, in Batangas’ Mabini town.
“When you see fish species you’ve never seen before. I can’t exactly describe the excitement and energy that come with it. It’s a great feeling,” Liles, a 29-year-old Marine biologist from Germany, said.
She and her husband Chris of Portland, Oregon own and manage the Granada Beach Resort in Boljoon, Cebu but were in town for the 4th Anilao Underwater Photography Shootout sponsored by the Department of Tourism (DoT) on Nov. 23-27 last year.
DoT Secretary Wanda Tulfo Teo directed Undersecretary Kat De Castro, head of DOT Public Affairs, Communication and Special Projects, to promote aggressively the Philippines’ scuba-diving destinations, as well as advocate environmental conservation.
De Castro said the Liles couple competed with 131 divers from 17 countries, as well as, local aficionados from all over the archipelago, in the five-day underwater photo contest.
“We want to offer our visitors a Philippine experience beyond the usual fare of sun-and-beach. There’s an entirely distinct world to be discovered in deep-sea diving which is very enlightening and challenging,” stressed De Castro, a certified diver herself.
At least 36 entries won awards in various categories, including DoT Photographer of the Year awards for Yoshio Osawa (compact class) and Dennis Corpuz (open class) for their originality and composition in showcasing the bursting underwater life.
Filipino actor Richard Gutierrez, who for 10 years has made diving his escape to find peace and quiet, topped 100 competitors in the marine behavior (open class) category and also placed third in the fish portrait category.
“It’s really great meeting divers from all over the world and Filipino divers from the Visayas and Mindanao. I love exploring nature and seeing the beauty of the marine life here in Anilao, just two hours away from Manila. I can’t wait till my children go diving with me,” said Gutierrez.
“It’s really surreal. I’ve had 6,000 dives in many areas around the world and I’m still finding animals I’ve never seen before. We couldn’t be more thrilled,” said veteran scuba-diver Chris Liles.
He noted the proximity of Mabini town to Isla Verde Passage, known as the Ground Zero for the diversity of marine subjects.
“The diversity of the animals found underwater at Verde Island is absolutely fantastic,” Chris said of the area declared in 1999 as marine reserve by the Philippine Tourism Authority (now Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority).
In 2006, an international team of marine conservationists declared the Philippines the Center of Marine Biodiversity in the world, and the Verde Island Passage as the “Center of the Center of Marine Shorefish Biodiversity.”
“I was quite surprised to see the differences with Cebu, which is a very pretty island but it’s not as jungle-themed as it is out here. Though we have some great diving sites in southern Cebu, we don’t have the critters that you find in Anilao,” Chris went on to say.
Saori Arita, magazine editor for the Marine Art Center of Tokyo, Japan, said her first diving experience in Anilao has been fulfilling.
“You feel liberated. You feel peace and calm when all you hear is your breathing and the bubbles, and when the water is warm,” said the youthful diving journalist.
Odd Kristensen, who represented the Underwater Macro Photographers Group, agreed that the Anilao diving sites are truly special.
The Australian retiree expressed optimism that more divers would come to find themselves enthralled by the Philippine deep, although there should be tight measures for conservation to protect this country’s underwater treasures.