The routine of all the training dives involved first accomplishing some instructional tasks, after which we got to do some underwater exploring just for the fun of it. And so once PADI instructor Peter was satisfied with our progress on that first of our six training dives he signaled us to follow him for a pleasurable little tour of the Sabang cove.
We fell into the same pattern as the one we had on the way out to the training spot. Peter led, followed by the three of us trainees. Jamie, as he always did, accomplished the grunt work, watching over us from his rearguard position.
Our adventure swim along the bottom of the Sabang cove took us in a looping clockwise path around and beneath the eastern floating bar. I was actually surprised at how visually pleasing the area is. My original dive mentor, Don, assured me that it was flat and sandy and doesn’t have much to offer. After a half dozen dives in those waters though, I must heartily disagree with his assessment. The fish are plentiful, colorful, and quite large, especially compared to the ones I am used to seeing on the other side of the peninsula on the Coral Cove side. Not only are they larger for the most part, but evidently people have been feeding them, because they are not the least bit shy of divers and in fact approach almost to the point of bumping into you as you swim among them.
I never cease to be amazed at the diversity of the life forms I am privileged to observe in the waters off Mindoro. I saw many of the same species as are available over in the Coral Cove waters, but I also observed a myriad of species that I have never seen before.
But then, in the midst of marveling at all the wonderful biodiversity all around me, I noticed something disturbing ahead and to the right of our direction of travel. It was a huge cloud of localized silt in an otherwise clear area of water. It was most curious. I wondered what could possibly be causing such a thing.
Pedro led us toward the murkily obscured section of water while keeping our track to the side of it. I think he was also curious as to what was causing the phenomenon. It wasn’t long before it became obvious as to its nature—it was entirely manmade.
In fact, what we were looking at was a gaggle of divers, all knotted up around what appeared to be a large isolated coral mound. It was impossible to discern how many of them there were, what they were up to, or the size of the coral mass because they had so much of the bottom stirred up. If I had to guess though, I’d say there were about a dozen of them. Some of them would become entirely visible for a second or two as they swam in and out of the mass of agitated water. Mostly, all that could be seen in the messy patch of sea bottom was the occasional set of kicking fins and a slew of exhaust bubbles rising above the muddy murk.
If I had to describe what it was that they appeared to be doing, I would say that they were wallowing; just like pigs do to a patch of dirt, turning that patch into a muddy morass as they self indulgently roll and thrash about in the pig made muck. So yeah, whoever they were, they were wallowing like pigs, like sea pigs.
My next thought, ‘WHY are they doing it?’ It’s frustrating to see something so intrusive like that. I mean we are all supposed to be recreational divers, which by definition SHOULD mean that we stay OFF the bottom, keeping our hands OFF the coral and the creatures. In other words, we’re supposed to look and NOT touch!
Out of the water back at the dive shop, as we downloaded and prepped our gear for our upcoming dive off the resort’s dive boat, I began to ask around about the dreadful thing I had just witnessed.
“Those were Koreans in that mass gaggle, weren’t they?”
“So what the heck were they doing man? They were digging on the bottom and messing around with something down there. Have you ever seen anything like that before?” I asked.
He shrugged. “They do what they do.” I began to notice that he was not comfortable with answering my questions about the Koreans. Perhaps they’d been warned not to talk them down or to say anything negative about a group of nationals that have become very influential, even powerful, in this country.
Even so, I refused to stop with the questions. “Well, wait a minute; don’t they have dive masters like you guys? I mean, there’s no way any dive master in this resort would allow that kind of obviously destructive behavior while diving. I’m just not following any of this.”
“Yes, they have dive masters; they’re Korean.”
One of the other American tourists, a certified diver not part of the staff, chimed in, “Did you hear about the Korean guy who “harvested” a giant clam and then had a party where he grilled it at a barbeque? The word is it cost him 150,000 pesos in fines.”
I piped up. “Whoa! Really? Dang, that was one expensive clam bake, eh?"
Still feeling aggravated I asked another, pretty much rhetorical question: “So, that’s why the local tourism association has supposedly passed the ordinance that we’re not supposed to dive or snorkel with gloves? They really think that’s going to stop the abuse?"
All my questions were and are academic, completely rhetorical. The answer is and always will be merely a shrug. I've said too much already I suspect.