JULY 25, 2008
(STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - Jacques Yves Cousteau, having earned the moniker “Father Planet” for his magnanimous contributions to environmentalism, wanted to understand “the silent world” better in order to protect it. He often said that “to live on the land, we must learn from the sea.”

If you explore our ethereal dive sights in the Philippines, teeming with marine biodiversity, you will perhaps embrace the theory that our country has the greatest concentration of species from the South Pacific, China Sea and Indian Ocean.

An invitation to dive with our esteemed diplomats from the dynamic Undersecretary for Sports and Wellness Tourism and (Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving) PCSSD executive director Cynthia Carrion proved to be not just a visit to a paradisiacal haven but a very enlightening ecotourism sojourn.

In an age when the natural world is being threatened and exploited, Usec Carrion reminds us of our connection to nature, one that could some day be lost to us, if we do not act now. It is with this dire sense of urgency that she notes that a single drop of enthusiasm can generate noticeable waves. She enthused that the only energy we must conserve is electrical and fuel energy. The more we consume or use our own energy, the more we have of it. An intrinsic relationship between Mother Nature and sports tourism has to be preserved. She epitomizes the trailblazer, the conduit that inspires us to love our wealth of natural resources and seize every opportunity to make more of himself, preserve his environment with his own skill, his own energy and with his own friends. Yes, the friends we are referring to here are the Dive Diplomats who not only explore our breathtaking oceans but help our coastal communities as well through their support for livelihood, poverty alleviation and sustainable tourism projects.

A prayer solemnly read by Beni Gomez put everyone in the befitting mood as she recited the lyrics of the song Calypso, written by John Denver for Jacques Yves Cousteau. “To sail on a dream on a crystal-clear ocean, to ride on the crest of a wild raging storm, to work in the service of life and the living, in search of answers to questions unknown, to be part of the movement and part of the growing part of the beginning, to understand, aye Calypso, I sing to your spirit the things you have shown us, the stories you tell…”

Indeed, what better tribute to a man whose efforts in researching pollution and its effects on the sea, exploration of resources and coastal development and his development of the SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) enabled him to create more than 115 TV films and author 50 books as he opened up the oceans to millions of households starting in 1943. Inevitably, he realized it would take an organized effort to protect the planet.

If Jacques Cousteau were alive today, he would aggressively salute the efforts of the PCSSD, which strives to promote scuba diving in the country and to formulate and implement programs for marine conservation and protection, particularly in areas of high tourism value.

On a recent trip to this gem of a paradise called Amorita in Bohol with the honorable ambassadors from the Embassies of Turkey (Adnan Basaga), Italy (Rubens Fedele), Germany (Christian Luwig Weber-Lortsch), European Union (Alistair MacDonald) and UNDP, we were graciously welcomed by Amorita’s operations manager, Ruth Escalona. While basking in a tropical escape where spa-worshippers congregate, we rediscovered our consciousness for stewardship of our marine resources and ecological treasures. Over a sumptuous buffet spread at the garden of Amorita, Carrion shared her insights on the “Sisid Pilipinas Projects.”

In 2006, during the very first Diplomats Dive, the PCSSD came up with this development framework to guide its program and project initiative. It was anchored on the principles of community-driven development like ensuring the continuous response of coastal communities to the environmental sustainability and poverty reduction nexus.

The diving diplomats support these projects as they embark on “ocular” inspections of our marine life spots through diving initiatives. The first Diplomats Dive was held at Dive Solana in Anilao, Batangas; the second in Dumaguete’s Bahura Resort and this third in Balicasag.

As part of the Coral Triangle, we are blessed with the best dive sites with both macro and pelagic life calling these waters their home. Balicasag island lies about 10 kms southwest of Panglao. It is surrounded by a coral reef falling off into an abyss for great diving and snorkeling. On the southern side is a 40-meter marine sanctuary which is protected and which local inhabitants respect.

A rich coral garden with branching types of corals reach out from the shallow depths towards the sky, while along the walls hang barrel sponges, enormous sea fans and cracks and crevices where turtles can be found. Soft coral in luscious colors adorn the slopes along with clown fishes and anemones. One site called “black forest” is actually populated by a healthy patch of enormous black coral trees, whose branches cover the fluorescent color spectrum of green, yellow, orange and white. The thicker branches were once harvested and then dried in the sun and later polished, revealing shiny black ivory used in jewelry, hence the name black coral.

The protected status of the island has ensured a healthy population of schools of jacks and barracuda, pleasing those who prefer the bigger pelagic species.

When not communing with the diverse denizens of the deep, the diplomats embarked on a tour of the attractions of Bohol such as the famed Chocolate Hills, the picturesque Loboc River where many a cinematic opus has been filmed, the tarsier sanctuary where the world’s smallest primates thrive and the historic churches where the angelic voices of the Bohol children’s choir serenade like seraphim from heaven.

According to Ria Hernandez-Cauton, 28, owner of Amorita and an Ateneo management magna cum laude graduate with an MBA from Asian Institute of Management, Amorita sprawls over 1.8 hectares of lushly landscaped gardens high up on a windswept cliff overlooking Panglao’s famous Alona Beach, with Bohol Sea and the islands beyond. This luxurious sanctuary with 20 deluxe rooms, two sky suites and 14 single-detached villas, utilizes a fusion of indigenous materials from the east and west, while respecting the local vernacular. For a while, I thought I was transported to the Oberoi in Bali and the Banyan Tree in Bintan, Indonesia. Amorita Resort promotes the idea that life is beautiful. Time is too short not to be happy; therefore, one must savor the finer things in life now.

I will never forget that magical evening in Amorita as, under a canopy of stars, we dined with the diving diplomats as we were gamely entertained by very talented Boholano high school students with their songs and native dances. We all got up on the stage and danced the night away. We took our seats at the exquisitely laid dinner table where numerous candles illumined the night, complementing the starry skies. In between breaks from our entertainers, our background music was the orchestra of the waves crashing against the rocks and gentle breeze rustling fallen leaves.

Travel always transforms us in subtle or permanent ways. Sometimes, a trip is more than just a trip; sometimes it flirts with transcendence. These places are so hard to leave yet so easy to come back to.

As I took the flight back to Manila, the aerial view from above afforded me a 360-degree perspective of the vast ocean. The Calypso song by John Denver reverberated in my mind as it imprinted in my heart the urgent reality that we must take part in the growing movement and work in the service of life and the living.

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For more information on PCSSD, call 524-8977 and 524-7141 loc. 425 / 346.

For reservations at Amorita Resort, please call +63 038 5029001 to 03 or e-mail inquiries@amoritaresort.com.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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