It was our
third day of diving, although it was questionable if we would use the rest of
it to actually dive since we had spent so much time getting all our tanks
refilled at the Terra Rika Beach and Dive Resort. By the time we returned from
the resort, located well down the coast near the town of Pagudpud, it was
already late afternoon.
Don and I
talked about whether we should dive or not while taking a walk down the beach
to watch a group of more than a dozen locals pulling in a gigantic drag net. Over
the years, since he’s been going up there on occasional motorcycle trips, he’s
become very familiar with the drag net process. He explained that the owners of
the humongous nets get half the profit from each catch, while the rest is divvied
up between the boat crew and the able bodied band of “heave ho’ers.”
observed the net slowly being pulled in, we agreed that we would indeed do a
dive off the beach. Once we came to that conclusion Don had taken off back to the hotel to start
getting ready while I stuck around for another 25 minutes to continue to watch
the Claverians go about their fish catching endeavor; I really wanted to see the
results of all their activity.
Ready to dive the waters off Claveria Bay Beach
There was a
lot of joking and chattering as they worked. Two teams pulled from the beach;
each responsible for their half of the net. I’m not sure what the bangka boat
crew’s job was after taking the net out to sea and spreading it parallel to the
shoreline, perhaps to keep an eye on it from the sea. I did see a couple
fellows in the water wearing swim masks whose job I assume was to make sure the
net didn’t get fouled. Perhaps they were part of the boat crew as well.
emphasize how sprawling these drag nets are. When they are set at their
furthest from the beach waterline, their topside buoys marking the boundary of
its coverage form a gigantic semicircle that seems to cover about an acre. Basically, each net acts as an underwater monofilament fence some ten or fifteen feet high and hundreds of feet long. The bottom edge is kept on the seafloor
with lead weights while the top is kept at the surface with flotation buoys.
Pulling drag nets in on Claveria Beach
pulling, already slow, became even slower the closer the center of the buoys
approached, the area enclosed by them becoming inexorably smaller. I assume the
slower going was due to the weight of the fish being forced into the giant sack
at the very center of the net. Actually, until the net was at last pulled completely
in I wasn't aware that the center catch bag even existed.
When it was at
last pulled up onto the beach, only partially filled with wriggling fish, I
realized then that the primary purpose of the net is not to actually catch fish
but to cause them to swim along it until they finally enter the bulging sack at
the center where they become trapped.
Raining hard as we start our dive
sack of fish at the net’s center was finally dragged up to dry sand the result
was totally anticlimactic. I couldn’t tell for sure, but all told there were probably more than a hundred fish in the sack, but none were even half as large as
one of my dimunitive hands. I felt embarrassed for these hardworking folks that looked to me to be mostly housewives, kids, and old men. Surely they would throw
all those tiny juvenile fish back in to let them grow? But no, Don assured me
that every single one was destined for the cooking pot.
satisfied while leaving a bad taste in my mouth, I hurried back up the beach to
the hotel knowing that Don was already preparing his gear for our agreed upon
dive. Within a half hour we were both suited up and in the gravel parking lot
at the center of the “resort,” together marrying up our tanks and BCDs. For that
dive he decided to experiment by using his mini tank while assigning
me one of our two big 100s versus one of our more numerous 80s. I’m pretty sure
the 80 and 100 numbers mark the capacity of the tank, in this case in cubic
feet. I don’t recall what capacity his little stubby tank is; if I had to
guess, I’d say it is a 40 or a 50.
Don's "stubby" tank
with the tanks was for me to use as little air pressure as possible so that we
would have much of it in reserve later if needed, and since we knew the water
probably wasn’t that deep off the beach then he should easily get in a full
dive with the stubby tank. As long as
one doesn’t go very deep then a tank of air will last quite some time. Go below
30 feet though and it goes a lot quicker.
the weather in the far north of the Philippines, a storm suddenly blew in as we
shrugged into our gear for the walk down the steps and through the 100 meters of
sand to the waterline. Once in the water we stayed on snorkel to save air
pressure, keeping an eye on the bottom as we made our way out on the surface. Staring
at the sterile sand below, just as I suspected from knowing what the years of
dragging nets across it must have wrought, the bottom looked flat and dead,
totally unpromising. We hoped it would be otherwise, but how could it after all
those years of abuse? We saw exactly the same thing last year during our very
first dive in an area off a similar beach around the corner from Claveria Bay’s eastern point,
namely—nothing. I wrote a piece about that dive and called it “The Dead Zone.”
"The dead zone" except for crab at bottom middle
We had to go
a long way out before the bottom began to show any real depth; I’d say we were
way past 500 meters out before it even appeared to reach more than 20 feet
below us. Finally, we were so far out that we just decided to stop and go on
down. When we got to the bottom our computers only showed 25 feet, and what we
saw from the top is what we saw down there—literally nothing.
our compasses we continued along the bottom heading out to sea looking for
anything at all that might indicate that any life dwelled out there whatsoever.
Occasionally we’d hear the disconcerting sound of a motor churning overhead
when a bangka boat would speed by within 50 meters or so. Even though we were well
below any danger from the whirling propellers and mashing hull, it always
caused me to pause and peer upwards trying to find it. It’s nearly impossible
to tell sound direction in the water so if I found it scooting above on the
surface it was always because I caught sight of it. We talked about using a
diver down device but that would have been worthless considering that no one would
know what such a thing is.
never reached greater than 30 feet and we probably would have had to go another
quarter mile out to reach more than 40 feet I’m thinking.
We saw this piece of wood in the distance
veered off to the right. Looking out beyond him at his destination of travel I
spotted what he was angling towards, it appeared to be a dark piece of wood. We
were so bored with the constant bland sight of sand and the blueness of the
water that the singular sight of the foot long piece of water logged wood was
like a visual beacon for us.
When we got
there and I saw it was just a piece of old waterlogged driftwood I immediately
lost interest, turning away to see what else might be in sight. A second later
I heard Don make his “Hey” sound into his regulator to catch my attention. I
turned around and saw him closely examining a single tiny dark fish resting on
the sand near the wood where he had overturned it. I felt sorry for the little fish;
he looked so lonely in that vast expanse of nothingness.
Don turned it over and....
is it seems that the little fellow truly was lonely, because as Don moved away
a few feet the fish moved to a position between his fins. Losing sight of the fish
Don turned to look for his new little buddy and the fish took a new position
under his thigh. I continually pointed at the fish as it changed location to
keep my dive buddy up to snuff on where his tiny friend was. We moved slightly
further away and still the little lonely heart followed. Poor little fella, out
in the middle of nowhere and all by himself. I’m certain that the only reason it hadn’t
been swooped up yet in one of those massive drag nets is because of its hidey
hole under that piece of wood. Eventually though, once it gets up to greater
than a couple inches it WILL inevitably get swept up.
.... from under it, out popped this little guy
Lonely little guy insisted on hanging out with us....
See you little fellow! Good luck!
It was a
depressing sight, seeing the damage done by years and years of nets dragging
across the sand. They not only overfish the waters to the point that there are
no more fish of any size to speak of but they’ve destroyed almost every vestige of life on the
sea bottom. About the only other living creatures we saw down there were some
light colored little catfish flitting about in a group of 5 or 6, along with a
couple of sneaky side walking crabs, which skittered away from me like crazy
whenever I tried to approach to film them.
not much alive down there, found a crab though
It was easy
making our way back to the shore; once I realized that the sand ripples form parallel
to the beach, all we had to do was swim perpendicularly to them. When we came
to the surface in four feet of water we were still a hundred yards from shore.
We took our time coming in as we enjoyed the beautiful sunset as it fell behind
Claveria’s pyramid rocks. It wasn't the greatest dive as far as sightseeing
goes, but no matter, I always enjoy them just the same.
An Air Force brat born in Japan in the late 50's. Attended more than a dozen schools before graduating from high school. Immediately joined the US Marines, after 5 years transferred to the US Air Force, retired in 2002 after 27 years of service. Now lives in the Philippines.