What would be a big impetus for you to dive into the blue waters of Eastern Visayas? The rich aquatic life? The underwater grotto with the images of the Sto Nino and Virgin Mary? Or that evolutionary mystery that from this double barrier reef sprung pacific ocean's marine life? Surely, these reasons would be big come-ons to suit up and dive!
Off the coast of Bien Unido, Bohol is an underwater geological feature that is so unique, it is the only one of its kind in South East Asia. Stretching for 93 kms, the Double Barrier Reef of Danajon is one of the only six Double Barrier Reefs discovered in the World. Some 6000 years ago, the ideal condition of combined tidal force and coral bloom has led to the flourishing of two reefs atop an underwater ridge. Thus, the Double Barrier reef was formed.
The Reef of Danahon is smaller, yet geologically more defined than the Double Barrier Reefs of Belize and New Caledonia, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Reef formation of Danajon is also different as compared to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Unlike the huge reef mass of Great Barrier Reef, Danajon features two different reefs formed side by side: The outer reef of Caubyan and the inner reef of Calituban. The Double Barrier Reef together with other smaller reef formations and surrounding islands form the Danajon Bank. But what makes this reef so special is the belief that most of the marine life found in the Pacific Ocean have first evolved here.
Danajon's location is also as unique as its history. It is literally at the center of four Visayan Provinces: Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Southern Leyte. To date, the lone city of Lapu-lapu and sixteen other municipalities from all four provinces have included Danahon Bank within their territory. These Local Government Units (LGU) are coordinating with each other to restore and rehabilate the reefs within the bank after years of destruction and neglect brought about by illegal and irresponsible means of fishing.
The Reef of Danajon has been the source of countless bounties for the surrounding provinces. It has been referred to as a "Sea Bank" because of the diversity of fingerlings and coral larvae that hatch within it. The mature corals and the mangrove forest surrounding the reef have also served as breakwaters and have weakened any potential storm surge approaching the coastal areas. Most importantly, its rich fishing grounds have provided livelihood and food for the residents of neighboring islands for hundreds of years. However, fisher folks have taken too much advantage of the reef's offerings. Dynamite blasting, trawling, Cyanide fishing, extraction of live corals and the harvest of tropical fish for Marine Aquariums have destroyed and shrunk the healthy portion of the reef to 25% of its original size.
Fortunately, various conservation efforts from both public and private organizations have been executed to rescue the ailing reef. Collective efforts from all the LGU's surrounding the reef have established 60 municipal and community based Marine Protected Areas (MPA) and 10 sites have been included in the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS). Programs for sustainable fishing have also been implemented in several coastal municipalities of Bohol.
In an effort to stop further degredation of Danajon, Mayor Boniel of Bien Unido has thought of a creative way of displacing and warding off the bad fisherman from the area. With the help of a group of devoted divers called the Sea Knights, they have built a 14-foot concrete structure of Señor Santo Niño and placed it 30 feet below sea level off the coast of the town. Another image of the same height, this time of the Virgin Mary has been placed in a much deeper portion (85 feet below sea level), under a natural grotto encrusted with live corals.
The said statues served as the sentinels of the sea, constantly reminding any unsuspecting fishermen of the importance of preserving Danajon Reef. Because of the the locals' immense devotion to Senor Santo Niño and The Virgin Mary, their creative solution paid off. These images were able to stop dynamite fishermen from further destroying the marine life in Danajon Reef.
Today, aside from its original purpose, the Underwater Statue of Santo Niño has become a major tourist drawer in the town of Bien Unido. Groups of curious divers and underwater pilgrims have found their way to the town to witness the grandeur of the statues and pay homage to them. In November 2014, the largest diving community in the Visayas called “DIVE TA BAI” has organized an “underwater pilgrimage” that brought the largest school of free divers to ever dive in the area.
Headed by Ian Uy, twenty-three local divers have been joined by several more from Norway, Bhutan, Korea, Japan and France to explore the area, show their reverence to Senor Santo Niño, while sending a strong message of conservation for the protection of Danajon reef, the only Double Barrier Reef in the Philippines.
With the breathtaking images captured by these divers, they hope to share it with the world and open its eyes to the wonders of this relatively minute reef that has a gargantuan significance and role in the Pacific’s marine fauna’s primordial history. Danajon Reef might just be diminutive David that holds Goliath’s strength.
How to get there
The town of Bien Unido is found in the northern portion of Bohol Island. It is about a 3-hour drive from the provincial capital city of Tagbilaran and another hour of boat ride to get to the site of the images. Since the town is not part of the usual “Bohol countryside tour” route, it is advised to rent a vehicle that provides transport service to Bien Unido. Anyone planning to visit the site to dive can coordinate with Bien Unido Dive Camp for equipment rentals, meal arrangements and boat service to and from Danajon Reef.
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Photo credit: Pacific Press / Corbis, via Condé Nast Traveler
Photo from Seasidebohol.com