1st Dive at Gilutongan Island

Look carefully at this photo. See the color change? That’s the top of the wall. The blue-colored water is about 60 meters deeper.

Dive 16 was a wild ride. Like dive 15, I was the most experienced diver after the dive guide. One diver had a brand new open water license and only 4 logged dives. 

The newest diver actually had some difficulty at the start of the dive and returned to the boat. He apologized to everyone when we returned, but I told him it was unnecessary. It’s much better to turn back than to give us a serious issue to deal with underwater. He did the right thing.

Anyway, we went to Gilutongan Island, part of the Olango Island Group in Cebu, Philippines. It was my first visit to the Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary.

The group was originally 6 divers, but became 5 divers when the 1 diver turned back. Shortly after we started, I saw something very disturbing.

I thought I saw a distressed diver scenario, so I went for a closer look. Some tour operators, it seems, bring down tourists in scuba gear minus the fins, and let them stand on corals with their booties. They were hunched over a sea anemone, disturbing the resident marine life. They were also feeding the fish and doing everything any real diver should know not to do.

So I stopped them. The guides physically elevated their guests. Realistically, they probably resumed as soon as I was out of visual range. I’m still angry about it.

I raised the issue later at my dive center and, unfortunately, the practice has been going on for years. The marine sanctuary allows it so that the tourist money keeps coming in. I suspect this is why my dive center does not normally send divers or island hoppers (other on-land issues, as well) there. This was an exception, because one of the guests really wanted to go there for some reason. I’m happy that my dive center generally avoids this place.

Remarkably, especially considering the horrific tourism practices, the dive site is in great condition. Somehow I didn’t get all the photos I took (must’ve been a technical issue transferring files) but the wall looks healthy. Sadly, it’s not worth supporting a marine sanctuary that allows tourists to stand on corals. In the future, if others want to go, I’ll talk about how amazing some of the other dive sites are and try to subtly change their minds.

Some of the photos I am missing include a school of fish playing “follow the leader.” I have never seen an entire school of fish swim single-file before. It went on for quite a while, so I really wish I could show it.

The dive lasted 45 minutes and my maximum depth was 20 meters.

We swam into a strange current. It wasn’t pushing us backward, but it took more effort than normal to go forward. It was easier to hover in place, actually.

When we surfaced, I realized how little distance we covered. Using landmarks on the island, we really hadn’t moved much. It felt like we saw a lot, however, and that’s the important thing.

Unfortunately, the whole dive was marred by the group of tourists that was standing on corals. Which is the bigger dilemma: boycotting the dive site or returning in order to play superhero to the corals?

On a positive note, we only found 5 small pieces of debris weighing a total of about .1 kg. I have already submitted the survey to Project Aware’s Dive Against Debris.

2 thoughts on “1st Dive at Gilutongan Island

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  1. Sometimes I wonder, will the tourists go away if they are not allowed to feed or touch marine animals or to respect marine animals? I will blame the tour operator that allows such thing under its wing. If I were in the group I think I will get angry and write a bad review about ignorant tourism practice. I dont get why a tour operator allows such thing, the sea is their source income, once it is ruined, no more tourists will come. Teach those tourists to respect the sea, it should start somewhere.. – my apology for long ranting..

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    1. It’s never wrong to do the right thing. They can make plenty of money with snorkeling or real scuba diving. I try not to think about how little training these tourists receive, since this group had no visible swimming ability. Everything about this is disturbing.

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