Davao Oriental

DOT, Mati give Mindanao marine tourism a boost with freediving festival

Ferdinand Zuasola
DOT, Mati give Mindanao marine tourism a boost with freediving festival

DIVE. Freedivers take the plunge and explore the waters of Mati City in Davao Oriental during its freediving festival on September 25.

City of Mati LGU Facebook page

The tourism department's campaign aims to raise awareness about marine wildlife biology and behavior, the importance of conservation, and the joy of interacting with Mindanao's thriving marine biodiversity

DAVAO ORIENTAL, Philippines – The Department of Tourism (DOT) stepped up a campaign to give marine wildlife tourism in Mindanao a boost, starting in Mati City which staged its first-ever freediving festival in late September.

The campaign aims to raise public awareness about marine wildlife biology and behavior, the importance of conservation, and the joy of interacting with Mindanao’s thriving marine biodiversity.

Mindanao boasts of a more than 36,000-kilometer coastline and a thriving, diverse, and colorful marine ecosystem surrounded by the Celebes Sea, Bohol Sea, Philippine Sea, Surigao Strait, and Sulu Sea.

For starters, the DOT and the Mati City government collaborated to bring in known freedivers to take part in the first Bay Deep Mati Freediving Festival on September 25 and 26.

Mati Mayor Michelle Rabat said freediving will now be a regular event in the city’s annual Pujada Bay Festival, starting in June 2023.

The city takes pride in Pujada Bay which has been adjudged one of the world’s best bays by the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club during its 15th World Bays Congress in Japan in 2020.

Encompassing some 20,887 hectares, the U-shaped Pujada Bay is also a protected seascape and landscape.

“We will try our very best to maintain the pristine waters of our dear Mati because that’s our biggest asset,” Rabat said.

The freediving festival, organized and staged following reports about how pollution threatened Pujada Bay, attracted several dozen freedivers, including well-known Belgian freedivers Gert Leroy and Jean-Pol Francois.

Leroy, a certified freediving instructor and breathwork YouTuber, holds the national record for his 68-meter dive in the Asian Freediving Cup in 2019.

Francois, meanwhile, is a former world champion in free immersion and static apnea disciplines and is behind Freediving Planet, one of Southeast Asia’s top freediving schools. He has been dubbed as the “godfather of freediving in Asia.”

“Every diving site is different. I would not compare dive sites. Pujada Bay has potential. That’s for sure. The challenge will be to keep it clean with sustainable tourism and provide well-organized logistics to the dive spots,” Leroy said on Saturday, October 1.

Leroy said the bay “is clean, seems to be well taken care of; beautiful and healthy corals, and it has different dive spots.”

In an earlier interview, he said Davao is a region that many foreigners don’t get to explore, and the government’s marine wildlife tourism campaign “could be the opportunity for tourists to get to know this region better.”

Leroy added, “Every trip was a little bit different – nice corals, beautiful corals. It is a big bay, so there is a lot to explore. I think there is a lot of diversity in this bay.” 

Mati’s freediving festival was preceded by a two-day underwater photography and videography workshop at Dahican Beach and Waniban Island on September 23 and 24, and the first-ever open fishing competition in neighboring Governor Generoso town in Davao Oriental on September 16 to 18.

Senior Fire Officer 2 Rosalyn Nonong said non-participating scuba divers were sent by the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) sent to watch over the freediving festival participants.

Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon said local officials were collaborating to strengthen tourism in the province, including its capital city Mati.

She said the challenge would be how to make the province a premier tourist destination in the country through the “Davao Oriental Beautiful” campaign.

Malanyaon told a recent meeting with National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) officials, “Agriculture and tourism are our main economic thrust considering the province’s character. No one can beat Davao Oriental in terms of tourism.”

Mayor Rabat, for her part, said the planned upgrade and opening of the mothballed airport in Mati would further boost tourism and economic activities in the city and province.

Rabat said, “With that being done, we can now present what we have to offer in the province and the city.”

NEDA-Davao director Maria Lourdes Lim lauded the collaboration of the local governments to make Davao Oriental and Mati usher in sustainable growth and accelerated economic transformation in the region. – Rappler.com 

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