By Rey Anthony Chiu | 04:03 PM April 26, 2023
JAGNA, Bohol- The corals here are so pristine, it seems like it was Panglao in the 1980, notes the son of Panglao’s pioneering hotelier and Bohol Loop Dive Expo (Bholdex) 2023 organizing committee member while briefing participants overlooking a potential diver’s mecca here in Tubod Monte.
Paolo Fonacier, who heads the free diving underwater photography, and himself a free diver and photographer, reminded the free divers, who are all professionals, to keep from getting too close to the corals as the tidal swell pushing in to the cliffs, could make one lose control.
The free divers, the largest group coming from Bohol’s Blue Freedom Apnea, couldn’t hide their excitement as they slipped into their dive suits, geared up and readied their expensive cameras for their first dive here.
As the free divers filed down the dive entry through narrow carved steps leading to the base of the cliff, locals kept their distance, knowing fully well that somewhere down in the dive site lies MV Jeffrey wreck, a boat that was said to be lured into the shallow rocks, by beacon lights and a bright harbor.
Jagnaanons recalled that witnesses during that time shared that as they neared the harbor, the lowered the gangway and two mestizas first walked down the plank. On their last step off the boat, all lights went out and the boat rammed into the rocks, its wooden hull, broken and water started coming in.
The incident in 1964, temporarily stopped the Jagna -Nasipit service, and kept people from encroaching into the hidden cove and left the boat that ran aground slowly withdraw to its watery grave.
The incident and the stories told and retold, of that general area in the cliffs of Tubod Mar has helped the corral gardens grow and expand without much of human activity in the water or nearby.
In time, MV Jeffrey wreck further slid out about 50 feet further, now encrusted by soft and hard corals. Dr. John Mueller, a German-American free diver who had his first dive in Jagna, the site has lots of cool tropical fish and better and healthier corals that he aired his concern if beginner divers would be allowed on the site.
Incredibly, the Tubod Mar coral gardens apparently were spared from the destruction brought by Odette, while the other coral gardens across Bohol’s dive sites were not a lucky.
Did some mysterious force protect the corals from the havoc wreaked by the super-typhoon, the dive site totally exposed to the direction of the wind and the waves it churned, divers also asked.
Protecting and conserving Tubod Mar reef gardens however is now Jagna’s responsibility, after BholDEX.
For beginner divers, when they feel uncomfortable, or they need to breathe, most often, they have the tendency to stand or disregard their natural buoyancy that stepping on of their fins hitting the corals is real threat.
This is true to free divers and SCUBA, he said, and immediately followed it on with, well, that is my opinion.
But even another free diver Danie Gehrke agrees, Tubod Mar is not for beginners but for advanced SCUBA and free divers, adding that free divers’ extremely long fins could ruin these coral gardens.
The skill level that they should have when getting in Tubod Mar reef gardens is so that they come with protecting the environment first, than savoring the beauty of the reefs, according to Gehrke, who started to get serious with free diving during the pandemic.
Of course, Tubod Mar has also a reef wall that would be good for SCUBA divers, but the coral gardens are just too shallow that swimming on top of them is a real threat.
The dive site also features a labyrinth of cracks and crevices, some even narrower than a meter wide with deep chasms which twists and turns that hitting the walls could severely damage the corals.
Fonacier, whose father opened the first high end resort, the Bohol Beach Club in Panglao, was among the very first non Jagna-anan who dived the Tubod Mar reefs and got hooked by its sheer beauty and diversity.
Fonacier came to Tubod Mar reef dive for the Bholdex with Bohol’s underwater queen Deborra Mariotti, who runs Blue Freedom Free diving school.
A non-swimmer during the pandemic, Mariotti started training for free diving, an extremely dangerous kind of diving which entails going down without any breathing apparatus.
She was recently crowned Miss Universe in a freediving underwater pageant in Panglao, and has since been diving and training to allow her body to acclimatize and be capable of slowing her heart beat so she could go even deeper than she already has.
Free diving is a relatively new activity in Bohol but has already seen lots of progress, Fonacier said. (rahc/PIA_7/Bohol)