Rama: Moon over Bachao

Look at a map of Cebu and one thing becomes apparent—all its cities, towns and municipalities have access to the sea.In fact, if you take a road trip from Cebu City all the way down south to Santander, then up Samboan all the way to Moalboal, Aloguinsan, Balamban, all the way north to Daanbantayan following the eastern seaboard, then down southwards via Bogo, all the way to Catmon, Carmen, and further down towards Mandaue and onwards to Cebu City, you are essentially just hugging the coastline.Granted, the route is not all scenic but there are still pretty awesome beaches in Argao and Dalaguete, and it gets better the further south you go—Alcoy, Boljoon and Oslob, culminating in the white sandbar of Sumilon Island.Likewise, the beaches fronting Tañon Strait in the east, facing Negros Island, are to die for. Moalboal is a diver’s paradise and the white, powdery sands of Bantayan’s Kota Beach are said to beat Boracay’s.And then there are pockets of joy that are still being discovered, thanks to adventurous individuals who take pride in going off the beaten path.One such pocket is Kalubihan beach in Bachao (locals pronounce it Bakhaw), a sitio of Barangay Catmondaan in Catmon town, where I found myself, Sunday, upon the invitation of former USJ-R students who are now themselves enthusiastically racking up dive time.Hex, who is now a banker, together with her significant other, Edzon, and Iza, now a realtor, found an invitation to an underwater cleanup and reef assessment online and extended the offer.The event was organized by local divers with the support of the Municipal Government and the local police office. There weren’t a lot of divers, compared to the Dive 7 event in Moalboal sometime back, but it did still attract well-established groups like Pawikan Divers, EZ, and Trek and Dive.Catmon is classified as a 4th class municipality with a population of 33,745 people as of 2020, spread across 20 barangays. Catmondaan is the fourth biggest barangay in population with 3,086 residents.But despite it often being described as a “sleepy town,” a tag that incoming Municipal Tourism Officer Maynard Concha strenuously objects to, Catmon has three marine protected areas all fronting the Camotes Sea. And Bachao lies at the center.Joining a subgroup of local divers and dive masters, our quartet did two dives, each approximately 45 minutes long.On our first dive, we left Kalubihan Beach and rode on the back of a multicab with our gear to get to the Barangay’s basketball court where we went down concrete steps, made our way to the water, and swam about 30 meters before making our descent.The swim-out brought us on top of an underwater wall. We went down about 20 meters and drifted with the current back to Kalubihan beach.On our second dive, the entry was right at Kalubihan beach. We explored the depths of its almost barren sloping sandy contour.The Bachao marine sanctuary, given the protection offered to it by law, could be in better shape.The almost featureless seabed off Kalubihan beach was expected given the super typhoon that hit last December. There was practically no coral cover beneath a depth of eight to five meters. My only consolation was one encounter with the biggest sea cucumber I have ever seen in a dive.But there should have still been a lot more marine life, given the still great quality of the reef structures on the wall we drifted through on the first dive.Which brings us to a problem that Tourism Officer Concha confirms—the existence of spear fishers who dive at night and violate the no-catch zone provision of the marine protection ordinance over Bachao.It is something that we hope to address in the Local Government Unit, he said. And defining the problem is the first step to addressing it.