The placid looking Lake Carolina of Baganga, Davao Oriental is no mere shallow beauty. Beneath its beguiling, crystal clear surface hides a deep and circuitous underwater cave system. The FCD explored its depths on June 20-21, 2019 with the kind permission & support of the property caretakers, Sir Pablo Pabaonon and Ma’am Wilma Monday.
Measuring an approximate 100 meters in circumference, the solution lake of which is Lake Carolina features steep limestone walls that drops down to a sandy bottom. Average depth is 15 meters. Water temperature is a refreshing 25°C that causes a bit of a temperature shock when the noon air temperature is 35°C.
Deep within the Lake Carolina is an aquifer that spews out approximately 3 cu. meters of water per second. From an area elevation of 17 meters above sea level, the spring water then makes a meandering journey to meet the seawater of the Baganga coastline 9.5 km away. The cave is best explored during high tide when tidal influence causes the seawater to enter the lake and the resulting density change reduces the force of the water flowing out from the cave opening.
The FCD team who made the first ever exploration of the cave system was composed of Jaime Lapac, Lyndon Cubillan and Bernil Gastardo.
THE FIRST DIVE
The first dive was conducted on June 20th at 1505H. The tide was low at the time
It was 32 minutes after descent when the team happened upon the entry area to the cave. This was after making a journey around fallen coconut trunks and other large timber. The team also inspected 2 openings that had substantial water gushing out from but are too small to allow a cave diver to enter it.
From a depth of 21 meters, the team could see the expansive cave mouth. Close to the opening and resting on the sandy bottom, the team made note as reference points a “balangay“ (dug-out canoe) with outriggers still intact beside a log.
Descending into the cave against a surge of spring water provided a challenge to the explorers as the force required one to strenuously fin against the flow. A pull and glide technique can be used but if without gloves, sharp rocks surrounding the opening easily cuts the water-logged skin of one’s fingers.
The team managed to reach a flat point in the tunnel which was later christened “The Balcony”. At a depth of 35 meters, the team peered down from “The Balcony” to view a school of surprised and erratically swimming spotted scatfish (Scatophagus Argus) taking shelter in the darkness of the cave. With the cave space distinctly larger in the said area, the water force also dissipates slightly due to the reduced spatial constriction. Farther than the team’s lights can reach, the tunnel spiraled down further into a deeper realm.
Upon deciding to end the dive, the team drifted slowly with the water flow back to the cave opening. The upward progress was made carefully to avoid rapid ascent as the surge became stronger towards the opening.
Looking upwards towards ambient light from inside the cave, the mouth opening somehow looked heart shaped. Hence, the area was christened “The Heart”.
THE SECOND DIVE
June 21st started early for the team since the wake up call was 0430H to prepare equipment and to be back onsite by 6am. After a filling breakfast courtesy of Ma’am Wilma and Sir Pablo, the team headed back to Lake Carolina with the plan to extend the initial line as far as the team’s available gas allowed.
The dive started at 0709H, the tide was high at that time. The visibility was good despite the overcast sky and the turbulent water surge from the cave opening that was so apparent on the first dive was non existent.
The descent to 35 meters was swift and uneventful. Jaime made a connection to the last tie down and with Lyndon and Bernil, proceeded to swim deeper in to the tunnel. There was a point which diverged to another tunnel path but team did not have time to spare for a look-see.
Following the tier design of the descending tunnel, the team stopped at a depth of 42 meters at another ledge. Peering down from this point, they could see the system continue further down towards a Westerly direction.
With decompression obligations starting to rack up every minute they stayed at 42 meters, the team decided to terminate the dive since they could not safely continue without additional gas and oxygen for decompression. They shook hands to congratulate each other, tied down the line and headed back slowly to the sunlit surface.
As they swam, each one already knew that the Filipino Cave Divers must return soon to continue the exploration of the depths of this magnificent and mysterious place called Lake Carolina.
Lake Carolina was known to the FCD as early as 2012. The author researched using Google Earth and specific keywords on the internet to locate the site. Dr. Amores, Jake Miranda and Bernil Gastardo prepared to explore the area on June 2013. Dr. Amores and Bernil had their airline tickets booked for Davao but were forced to cancel when armed hostilities erupted along the route towards Davao Oriental.
It took another 6 years of waiting for the opportunity to get to Lake Carolina but the wait was worth it.
The FCD dedicates the 1st Lake Carolina Exploration to Dr. Alfonso Amores.
The exploration team acknowledges and deeply appreciates the logistical support (scuba tanks, air fills and security coordination) given by FCD Auditor, Jake Miranda.