ICC 2009 at Anilao

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Yellow-lipped sea krait. Image from wiki commons, used under the Creative Commons license

Ask me what I’ll remember most about this year’s International Coastal Cleanup, and I’ll have to say it’s this guy. 

For the first time since my childhood in Puerto Galera, I saw a sea snake – and this time not one immured in a net, but right out in the open with me.  First reaction – holy shit, it’s a sea snake, get a closer look! So I take off and swim toward it.  Fortunately common sense returned when I got right above it – it was only about 8 or 9 feet below me, hunting among the corals – for when it stopped its search among the crannies to stare at me, I realized I was looking at one of the most poisonous denizens of the reef. 

Yes, sea snakes are docile compared to their terrestrial cousins the cobras – but having no experience swimming with them, I had no idea what their limits were.  I backed off, and was able to continue observing it for some minutes before I looked up to see Cat about to enter the water, and I swam off to meet her. Cat tends to stop and tread water to clear her mask ever so often, and I was afraid she’d do it near this snake. 

But damn, that was one fascinating encounter. The yellow-lipped sea krait, for that’s what the snake I encountered was, is common throughout Southeast Asia. The pic I found of it (above) is of the Indonesian variety; are the kraits at Anilao a different sub-species? Because its snout looked more vividly yellow than in the picture.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I was in Anilao with Cat and her sister Arlene to participate in the ICC.  Not being certified scuba divers yet, Cat and I had to content ourselves with snorkeling in front of Planet Dive, and picking up whatever I could reach (which is about 20 or so feet).  Cat was literally left holding the bag.  The good news: there was hardly any trash in front of Planet Dive at all.  All I picked up were a freshly discarded PET soda bottle and some plastic food wrappers.

Boatmen in their new Caltex gear prepare for the diversThe other scuba teams toured the dive sites around Anilao, each team going to just one or two sites.  A surprise power interruption, announced only the day before, put a limitation on the cleanup – because there’d be no chance to refill until power returned late in the afternoon, depth for the divers was limited to 30 feet.  Fortunately this was also the depth where the greatest concentrations of trash were expected.  The divers set off Dive master Butch Javier with his findsThe teams made two dives, one before and another shortly after lunch.  As expected, a majority of the take was plastic in one form or another – grocery bags, toys, and Arlene’s group found no less than 18 disposable diapers in one spot. No kidding. Various dive sites also had differing levels of trash – Bubbles and Bebot’s, the dive sites Arlene’s group worked on, had relatively very little.  Mainit on the other hand seemed to suffer more, as the divers who’d gone there returned with laden bags.

Sorting and cataloguing the collected trash16 ... 17 ... 18 diapers!

But there’s good news, however. According to dive master Butch Javier, leader of the team Arlene was in, the amount of trash hauled in during the ICC over the past four years has dropped drastically.  Six years ago, Javier says, the teams would bring in sack after bulging sack, practically filling the beach in front of Planet Dive with sacks.  Now only a few bags are brought in. 

If you think you’re seeing a lot of Caltex logos here, you’re not mistaken.  Caltex Philippines has been a strong supporter of both travel and environmental initiatives, and I was very glad yet totally unsurprised to run into Caltex brand specialist Ickhoy de Leon overseeing Caltex’s participation in the event. 

Me with Ickhoy Along with Ickhoy were also some familiar faces from DPP – Tok Paler, BJ Hernandez, Momon Baula, Jiggie Alejandrino, and Kha Santia, to name only those I knew already.  Tok was badgering me to stay overnight, as we’d only planned a day trip, and I told him we would if it rained hard.  The road to Planet Dive can be risky in a hard rain, as it’s prone to landslides. Tok’s solution: let’s drink up and do some karaoke, that should bring in the rain!

In the end it did rain, but not too hard or long enough to prevent our going, rather to my regret.  We packed our gear and drove off just as the bar was opening and the after-event party getting started. Only later did I find out Arlene would’ve been amenable to an overnight … I should’ve convinced Cathy!

I have to say the development of dive resorts has been an improvement for Anilao.  With the local populace offered an alternative employment from fishing, the area could be declared a no-take zone, with very visible effect. The waters right in front of Planet Dive are simply teeming with marine life, right from the surf line.  And as divers tend to be more conscious of how they use the environment, there’s a lot less trash to be found here than off the more popular public beaches. I recall a conversation many years ago with the owner of El Capitan, the resort that is now Divers Sanctuary; she was telling me she was considering converting her property into a dive resort, because “binababoy ng customers yung lugar” (customers were messing up the place like pigs).  If the Filipino public want to continue enjoying their beaches, they should clean up their habits.


Cleaner waters and better environmental policies (and sticking to them!) will eventually open up more dive sites as our reefs bounce back.  As the world recovers from recession, divers from abroad will begin to look toward tropical Asia again – and if the Philippines can play its cards right, there’ll be jobs for people like this poor Badjao boy hawking pearls. 

I’ll be back next year to do my part – and I swear, it’ll be as a diver.