REPORT: Search and Recovery in an Underwater Cave in Siargao Island

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The recovered body inside a body bag at the foot of the spring.

SIARGAO ISLAND- In the late afternoon of April 29, 2017, the body of a 40 year old male was found deep inside an underwater cave of a spring in Brgy Esperanza, Del Carmen municipality of Siargao island.

The deceased, Mr. Jose Borja, a local farmer, was believed to have suffered a seizure while doing laundry in the Can-agong-agong Spring in Dringcamdors Village. (9° 51.889’N, 126° 1.082’E)

Cave divers Jake Miranda and John Rey Pingkian of Surigao City recovered the body from a crevice inside the cave.

Barangay chairman Fred Galolo said that Borja was reported missing on April 19th and was last seen in the spring attending to his laundry. They immediately conducted a search and suspected that Borja drowned in the spring. Hookah divers using compressor-fed air tried to dive the spring but failed to penetrate beyond the entrance.

Del Carmen Mayor JR Coro requested the assistance of Miranda, a member of the Filipino Cave Divers and a dive supervisor of Emergency Response Diving International, an international dive agency specialized in public safety diving and body recoveries.

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Cave Diver tender John Rey Pingkian prepares while Brgy. Captain Fred Golo and PNP personnel help secure the area.

The dive team arrived on site at 2 PM, and immediately set up all the gears. The underwater operation commenced at 3:43 PM. There was zero visibility throughout the search and the diver had to grope for the cave walls to avoid getting disoriented.

The dive was made even more challenging because it was a foray into an unexplored cave which was also heavily-silted. The second diver acted as surface tender and standby diver. At 4:08 PM, the body was finally located at a depth of 4 meters during the ascent phase of the dive.

At 4:13 PM, the diver surfaced with the body of Borja which was in an advanced state of decomposition. It was then placed in a body bag away from public view. The whole underwater search took 30 minutes and went as deep as 15 meters. After procedural turnovers using the chain of custody, the area was secured and the cordon was removed. The activity was terminated at 6 pm.

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The dive profile showing in yellow the phase of the dive when the body was located.

The municipal, barangay government units and local police station provided excellent support at topside which lessened the risk and made the recovery successful without incident. Protocols like cordoning the area, pre and post-briefings, and safety procedures concerning contaminated water were practised throughout the activity.

The volunteer recovery team was well supported by other parties. Shore It Up Foundation of Metro Pacific Group lent Ocean Reef full-face masks and an M105 and GSM DC underwater communications setup, while Ravenworks also lent a Viking HAZMAT drysuit, an OTS full-face mask and a net body bag.

Siargao island, a well-known tourist destination famous for its surfing, is a limestone-rich flatland with numerous springs and waterways in the middle of lush forests and mangroves. Locally known as bito or busay, most of these springs serve as laundry areas. The springs with the purest waters are the main sources of drinking water for the remote villages.

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Jake Miranda in full haz-mat suit similar to the equipment used during the recovery operation. He is an ERDI Dive Supervisor and a TDI ITC Instructor.  File photo.

Report by:

Jake Miranda

Jake Miranda

Preserving a Dying Spring

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The Filipino Cave Divers is proud to be part of a landmark move to preserve a dying spring.

As of March 5, 2017, the blue lagoon area of Enchanted River is closed for swimming. The decision came after a series of scientific studies and multi-partite consultations with the Hinatuan LGU, local tourism stakeholders, Department of Tourism, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its Environmental Management Bureau, a team from Department of Biology, University of San Carlos, Cebu City, Filipino Cave Divers, and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

In the past, swimmers would intentionally and unintentionally break off rocks from the delicate limestone walls. The rocks descend down to the underwater cave and block the mouth of the spring. As the mouth got smaller, this decreased the optimal flow of freshwater, allowing seawater to come in and destroy the river. As more tourists visited and swam in the blue lagoon, the situation became irreparable to the point that no freshwater was coming out of the spring.

Since the closure of the blue lagoon to swimming, the spring has been restored to its original condition-bluer than blue freshwater has been coming out and forcing salty water back to sea. The unimpeded flow of the freshwater benefits the ecosystem of the river which extends out to Hinatuan bay, the traditional fishing grounds of Hinatuanons.

A new swimming area downstream has been opened just outside the blue lagoon area. This will ensure visitors will still be able to experience the spring’s clean and blue freshwater.

Hinatuan Enchanted River is the most famous tourism site in Mindanao and is gaining more fame around the country and in the world. Help us protect it for the present and future generations to come. It is the only one of its kind in the Philippines.

Article by:

Jake Miranda

Jake Miranda

 

Biophysical Survey of the Enchanted River: A Scientific Report

Foreword by Ms. Ethel Wagas:

This article is an output from FCD’s project entitled “Rapid Resource Assessment of Four Philippine Underwater Cave Systems”, funded by The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) under the PAME Project, in partnership with the Department of Biology of the University of San Carlos and the local government unit of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

This was the very first scientific investigation on the flora, fauna and water properties of the Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater System. The exploration was made possible through the collaboration divers, field scientists and representatives from the local government – with the aim of better understanding the ecosystem of both the underwater cave system and its connecting river. This is also the first scientific article produced by the Filipino Cave Divers published in Annals of Tropical Ecology.

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Ethel Wagas

HERUCS (1) HERUCS (2) HERUCS (3) HERUCS (4) HERUCS (5) HERUCS (6) HERUCS (7) HERUCS (8) HERUCS (9) HERUCS (10) HERUCS (11)

The Marigondon Cave of Mactan: A scientific study made in 1993

Foreword by Dr. Danilo T. Dy:

The 1993 scientific article was USC’s first contribution to the study of underwater caves. It was a collaborative effort between a marine geologist from the Univ. of Hamburg, Germany and researchers of the Marine Biology Section, USC. The article provided initial data on the dimension of the cave, the range of temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen & the meiofauna density inside the three sections of the cave.

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Thank you, PCSSD!

The Filipino Cave Divers (FCD) expresses its appreciation and acknowledgement for thepcssd efforts of the Philippine Commission on Sports SCUBA Diving (PCSSD) for its initiatives and its support for the advancement of divers’ safety and in the exploration and sustainability of important ecosystems with high tourism potentials.

The FCD is proud to have participated and partnered with PCSSD during the following recent endeavors in Cebu:

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April 26-27, 2016| Oxygen In-Water Recompression (OIWR) Workshop & Simulation- Cebu Leg to heighten divers’ safety, through PCSSD’s partnership with the Philippine Technical Divers [Philtech]. It was conducted by Philtech’s founder and FCD’s Public Relations Officer, Alex Santos (a luminary in the Philippine diving scene who introduced Nitrox in the country). FCD members who attended the training were Jaime Lapac, Bernil Gastardo, Nelson Que, Lyndon Cubillan and Dean Apistar.

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April 28-May 1, 2016| The Preliminary Bio-Physical and Resource Assessment of the Pawod Underwater Cave System (PUCS) of Brgy. Agus, Mactan- Cebu. The assessment included water sampling, fauna inventory, and area mapping. The analysis & identification of the collected samples under the supervision of FCD scientist Ethel Wagas is currently ongoing. Updating of the area map is led by FCD geologist Alex Santos. A full scientific report will be submitted to PCSSD by July 2016.

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May 2, 2016| The preliminary exploration of a virgin cave system in Western Cebu with the FCD team composed of Bernil Gastardo, Alex Santos, Nelson Que and Lyndon Cubillan. Data gathered from the survey is still under process.

Thank you very much PCSSD team!

4th Joint PAME and RCC Meeting

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Seven underwater (anchialine) caves in Mindanao were formally submitted for classification marking the first time in the country’s history that underwater caves will officially be included in the national list. This happened during the joint meeting of the Regional Cave Committee and PAME Group of Caraga Region, Philippines, held last Dec. 10, 2015 at Balanghai Hotel, Butuan City.

The Filipino Cave Divers, represented by Jake Miranda, presented the results of recent underwater cave explorations. Videos of cave conservation efforts were also shown to the audience.

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Article by:

Jake Miranda

Jake Miranda

Freshwater cave system in Cebu yields an undescribed species of fish

The recent exploration (Dec.7-8, 2015) to Casili Underwater Cave System in Brgy. Arpili- Balamban, gave the team the opportunity to video document a previously unobserved denizen of the deeper portion of the site.  Captured on video is a  yet-to-be described fish that was spotted at a depth of 32 meters and around 600 meters away from the cave entrance. Length of the specimen is approximately 5 inches long. The team was unable to secure a live sample for study.

Alex Santos, Jaime Lapac and Bernil Gastardo composed the  team. For the successful 2-days of exploration, much appreciation and gratitude goes to the hearty support and kind cooperation of the local council and barangay tanods led by Barangay Captain, Hon. Rhodessa Paulin.

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FCD attends the 19th National Cave Committee meeting

8-19th NCC Meeting (6)The FCD, as resource speaker, attended the 19th National Cave Committee meeting on Nov. 24, 2015 at Brentwood Suites, Quezon City, Philippines. Representing FCD was Jake Miranda.

FCD presented the results of the rapid assessment of four underwater caves (anchialine) in Cebu and Mindanao.

FCD also showed the Hinatuan and Libwakan videos (personally seen by the BMB Director during an earlier screening) to the keen interest of the committee.

Other topics discussed were the publication of the Philippine’s first semi-technical cave book, a scientific cave conference in 2017, the ongoing geo-tagging of caves and the upcoming National Cave Congress on April 11, 2015 in Sagada province, and an upcoming symposium for Biodiversity.

The key successes were:

1. Continuous and growing appreciation of underwater caves by national government;

2. The publication of FCD articles in the new semi-technical cave book and a partner coffee table book;

3. An upcoming MOA between the Biodiversity Management Bureau and the FCD;

4. Successful presentation of the GIZ-PAME-FCD-USC Rapid Results Assessment, particularly the Libwakan Spring video which raised concern for springs around the country;

5. Anent Item 4, BMB to stipulate the word “biodiversity preservation” in national budget such that development works like tourism facilities, roads and irrigation will only be built when they have measures to protect biodiversity.

Thanks to the GIZ-PAME and USC-FCD team for the inputs, videos, and Anna Varona and Ethel Wagas for their work.

Article by:

Jake Miranda

Jake Miranda

Rapid Source Assessment: Bababu Lake of Dinagat Islands

Bababu LakeOn April 17-20, 2015, the FCD-USC-DENR-GIZ will conduct the last leg of the Rapid Assessment of Terrestrial and Aquatic Biodiversity Survey on Lake Bababu, Dinagat Islands.

Bababu Lake, 10.074197°N, 125.509106°E, is in Barangay Basilisa, Dinagat Island- Province of Dinagat Islands. It is accessible from Surigao City via a 1.5 hour boat ride. The lake is approximately 200 meters in diameter.

The lake cave (Cave Entrance) is at 10.075459°N, 125.508469°E, which is approximately 700 meters from the sea outlet. The sea outlet is at Kabun Cove, Agongon (Cave Exit) 10.079940°N, 125.505360°E.

Cross-section of the Bababu TunnelThe area is also an upcoming tourism destination. The underwater cave tunnel system discovered in 2012 has been initially measured to be approximately 700 meters long, making it the longest natural underwater cave tunnel in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia.

Bababu LakesideBababu features closely contiguous ecosystems within the lake, inside the underwater cave and on the terrestrial area that are unique and a home to a wealth of unexplored biodiversity.

After being identified as a eco-tourism site by the Local Government Unit, there has been a surge of the number of visitors going to the area. Concerned stakeholders now fear that the opening of the site will result in the degradation of the critically fragile ecosystem and will result to the loss of the still undocumented biodiversity treasure.

Habitats: Heavily forested karst area with lake, sea basins, coves & surrounding islets.

Key Diversity Areas: Freshwater lake, forest area, corals in the basins

Trigger Species: Freshwater fish, shrimps, sponges, urchins & unknown species

Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave System (HERUCS) Rapid Source Assessment

Hinatuan Enchanted River

Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave System (HERUCS)

The Hinatuan Enchanted River,  8.458886°N, 126.354667°E is in Barangay Talisay, Hinatuan Municipality, Surigao del Sur, Caraga Region (Region XIII). It is accessible from both Butuan City (2.5 hour vehicle ride) and Surigao City (4 hour vehicle ride).

This particular river starts from the underwater cave entrance at 30 meters depth, forms into a spring pool, and flows out to sea. Its stream is approximately 1,000 meters long starting from the spring pool and terminating at its outlet to sea.

The area is now Mindanao’s main tourism destination. On weekends, crowd of more than 1,000 persons is not unusual, most if not all partake in the swimming activities.

HERUCS is a contiguous ecosystem joining the underwater cave and the terrestrial area that are unique and a home to a wealth of unexplored biodiversity. Concerned stakeholders now fear that the gaining popularity of the site will result in the degradation of the critically fragile ecosystem and will result to the loss of the still undocumented biodiversity treasure.

The Local Government Unit of Hinatuan was able to acquire ownership of the lands around HERUCS totaling to 27 hectares.   A ordinance declaring the HERUCS as eco-tourism area had also been adopted. Moreso, the DENR and DOT had recently facilitated the determination of the area’s carrying capacity. This project will greatly augment the present efforts of the LGU of Hinatuan to sustainably utilize and develop HERUCS. The LGU of Hinatuan had expressed desire to declare HERUCS as conservation area expanding the coverage to 150 hectares and having more conservation supportive legal provisions.

Hinatuan_fishesOn March 20-24, 2015 the FCD with the University of San Carlos- Biology Department, DENR-BMB and GIZ will conduct the first ever Rapid Source Assessment of the Enchanted River.

There will be daily sampling of the water from the outer, middle and inner parts of the cave system. Biological assessments and sampling of specimens both flora and fauna will also be made by the accompanying university biologists.

Mapping will be conducted by the cave diving team to enhance previous data gathered during earlier surveys by FCD founders, Dr. Alfonso Amores, Jake Miranda and Bernil Gastardo.

Joining the survey team is FCD Alex Santos. He is the 1st cave diver to explore the cave system back in 1999.

Visit http://www.facebook.com/FilipinoCaveDivers for real-time updates of the upcoming survey.