Was minister’s ‘clean-sea’ dive premature?

The Philippines tourism secretary diving at Puerto Galera last week (Department of Tourism)
The Philippines tourism secretary diving at Puerto Galera last week (Department of Tourism)

Last week’s scuba dive by the Philippines’ tourism secretary, carried out to demonstrate that the popular dive location Puerto Galera had avoided the fall-out from a catastrophic tanker spillage, appears to have been over-optimistic.

Christina Garcia Frasco’s show of support for Puerto Galera which, she said, remained “100% open for tourism”, was reported on Divernet last week. Only three days later, however, the sea off the tourist destination and nearby areas has been deemed potentially unsafe for swimming and other in-water activities. 

Christina Garcia Frasco after her dive on 12 April (Department of Tourism)
Christina Garcia Frasco after her dive on 12 April (Department of Tourism)

Bonz Dolor, the governor of Oriental Mindoro, revealed on 15 April that the area between Puerto Galera in the north of Mindoro island and Bulalacao in the south had failed four consecutive water-quality tests, indicating that problems had been flagged even before Easter – traditionally a busy time for tourism.

The Princess Empress tanker sank off Naujan in the north-east of Oriental Mindoro on 28 February while carrying 800,000 litres of industrial fuel oil. The resulting spill has severely affected fishing communities and the many designated marine protected areas in the south of Mindoro.

Puerto Galera lies further to the north, facing across the Verde Island Passage to Batangas, and has long been regarded as a scuba hotspot for visiting divers. The area was declared a UN marine reserve in 1974 in recognition of its rich biodiversity.

Diving Puerto Galera last week (Department of Tourism)
Diving off Puerto Galera last week (Department of Tourism)

The University of the Philippines’ Marine Science Institute, which has been issuing regular bulletins on the progress of the spillage, had previously warned that it could reach as far north as Puerto Galera and even Batangas. However, according to a report in the Philippines Star, local governments there had objected to the idea of declaring what is referred to in the Philippines as a “state of calamity”.

Insisting that Puerto Galera would remain open for tourists, Governor Dolor told press that he had made his announcement pending an official declaration by the Philippines health and environmental departments. Asked about the possibility of a ban on in-water activities, he said that the public would now be advised to be cautious about entering the sea.

Also on Divernet: Philippines Reopens To Visiting DiversPhilippines: The Fantastic Four Diving Opportunities4 Manta Hotspots Identified In Philippines, Ignore Rumours: Moalboal Baitball Still Delighting Divers



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