A Deep Beauty Under Threat

Tarusan Spring aerialLightly explored by FCD Jake Miranda to a depth of 15 meters fresh water on September 7, 2016, the Tarusan Spring cave system held more depths for discovery.  Revealed to Gastardo and Miranda during the June 20, 2017 exploration was the knowledge that the underwater cave system goes further and deeper than 31 meters/ 102 feet.

The freshwater spring is located in Brgy. Tarusan, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur and it features a strong outflow. With the monsoon rains washing down silt into the area, horizontal visibility during the latest dive was at 2-3 meters.

Tarusan Spring Map 2017Logs and tree branches were in the way as the divers made their slow meandering descent. Line laid was approximately 70 meters and upon reaching the depth of 31 meters after 30 minutes, the divers turned the dive and vowed to return for further exploration during a period when the rain will be less and the visibility will hopefully be better.

Although the dive was safe and successful, what dismayed the FCD was the introduction of “improvements” by the landowner. The spring water harbored various aquatic plants of astounding beauty, with lush growth along the river bank complimented by thick topside foliage.

 

With the vegetation uprooted during the construction of a cottage above the headspring, it resulted to erosion. There was heavy siltation observed during the dive.

The following pictures below explicitly show what the area looked before and after the perturbation of its natural beauty by misguided individuals.

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Hinatuan Mayor Shem Garay and the Tourism Council have been duly informed of the state of the area and the latest news received from their side is that the landowner has been in a meeting with them and he is supportive of the LGU’s intervention program for the spring.

“We have already talked with the landowner. We even invited him to attend the ER & Tourism Stakeholders’ Dialogue and he appeared and stood up during the Open Forum asking for the immediate intervention of the LGU so that he would know what to do. During our initial talk prior to the dialogue he promised to remove the cottage and conduct re-greening in the surrounding area. He is very much willing to abide to the wishes of the LGU. “

– Ms. Gemma Salonga Millan, Hinatuan LGU Information Officer

The FCD will continue to monitor the progress of the LGU’s intervention and eventual management of the area. Aside from being the water source of 2 barangays downstream, the area has a natural beauty and it must be kept as pristine as possible.

All topside images by Jake Miranda. Aquatic plants images by Bernil Gastardo.

Article by Gastardo and Miranda.

 

Exploring a Jungle Coral Reef

FB_IMG_1500553257187Located in the peaceful and sleepy barangay of Malixi, Hinatuan- Surigao del Sur, Katinuan Spring was initially explored and lined by FCD Jake Miranda on Sept. 2016.

The spring is fed with water from the Tagbina Watershed and adjacent to it is the meandering river of Hinatuan.

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Katinuan Spring aerial (1)Katinuan Spring aerial (2)

The June 19, 2017 exploration by Miranda and Gastardo revealed that the cave harbors a variety of coral reef fossils. The divers noted the fossilized presence of brains corals and of small plate corals.

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As posted by Miranda in his social media page,

“It is a remarkable geological find for the area noting that the surface entrance of the underwater cave is at least 15 kilometers from the modern day coastline and 22 meters above sea level. Initial discussions with scientists point to the age (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago) and origin of the fossils from the Quaternary Period’s epochs: the Pleistocene and the Holocene. The report on the fossils will be presented to the DENR Caraga’s Regional Cave Committee to discuss the way forward for more scientific explorations of the underwater cave.”

The spring spews clean, fresh water and exhibits a very strong and consistent outflow. Real challenge is posed when navigating into the cave’s mouth (“Nino’s Crawl”) from the water surface due to the strength of the water current. Once inside the chamber (christened “Kap’s Chamber”) which measures approximately 45 meters in circumference, the water becomes still with clarity reaching to approx. 25m horizontal.

 

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At 29 meters, the deepest point of the cave, a surge of water blasts out from the bottom, creating popping sounds on one’s caving helmet due to the multitude of disturbed sediments of which are primarily pebbles. The said area (christened “Popcorn Point”) is turbulent and causes one to be pushed up to the ceiling.

Katinuan Spring

A few small shrimps and 2 eels were observed inside the cave.

The FCD acknowledges the support and hospitality of Brgy. Captain Bibiano Malangi, his family, councilors and constituents.

Credits for the aerial drone photos goes to 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.

Balamban’s Casili Underwater Cave System

6 explorations were conducted from Aug. 2011 to Nov. 2012

6 explorations were conducted from Aug. 2011 to Nov. 2012

The Casili Underwater Cave System (CUCS) is located in Barangay Arpili- Balamban [10.441806°N, 123.711667°E].

It was initially explored by FCD members Bernil, Doc Amores and Alec Toting on Aug. 23, 2011. Subsequent explorations by the 2-man team of Gastardo and Amores have determined the underwater cave’s deepest point at 40 meters/ 130 feet. The present cave line terminates 250 meters/ 820 feet away from the mouth of the cave.Casili Spring

Located several kilometers from the sea, the water from the spring flows into the riverbed alongside. The spring’s water outflow is noted to be of considerable volume but was observed to have stopped during the month of October 2012. Huge earth moving trucks were observed passing on the river bed where they continue to an undetermined site to collect river gravel and sand for commercial purposes.

Noted in the pool of the spring are various fresh water species of mollusks, chordates and arthropods. The last exploration in the area confirms the presence of a large freshwater eel with an approx. length of 0.75-1 meter (locally known as ”Casili”). The observation formed the assumption that the area’s ecosystem is capable of allowing such specie to survive and to possibly reproduce.

The following questions remain:

  1. From where is the source of the water that flows from the cave?
  2. What are the possible effects of the river sand extraction to the cave’s ecosystem and the spring’s continued existence?
  3. How far and how long is the underwater cave system?
  4. What other freshwater flora and fauna exist in the area?
  5. What threats are affecting the endemic species?
  6. Has the farming community in the area made any impact to the water quality of the spring?
  7. How is the existing large-scale shipbuilding industry that is flourishing in the neighboring area of Barangay Buanoy impacting the water table in the immediate vicinity of Barangay Arpili and does it affect Casili Underwater Cave System?

Huge earth moving trucks were observed passing on the river bed where they continue to an undetermined site to collect river gravel and sand for commercial purposes.The FCD is hopeful that the Local Government Unit of Balamban Municipality will see the value of this priceless resource within their community and create the appropriate steps to protect the area to include the following points:

  • An ordinance declaring CUCS as a Protected Area
  • Pre-intervention documentation of flora and fauna endemic to the area
  • Post-intervention documentation of flora and fauna endemic to the area
  • Preservation and documentation of species, fossils and other paleontological and geologically important features in the area
  • Monitoring and maintenance of the quality of the water in specific sections of the cave as per hydrological parameters
  • Establishment of a management body and an enforcement plan adopted and enforced
  • Zoning and regulation of specific activities passed by the management board/LGU

Article by:

Bernil H. Gastardo

Bernil H. Gastardo

The 6th Casili Spring Exploration 2012

6 down, a few more trips to go–from the looks of it..

CHRONICLES of a FILIPINO CAVE DIVER

“Holy Mother!!” — I cringed, turned my head away and shut my eyes as a snake-like form lunged from the dark mouth of the Casili Spring and slithered towards me.

“If this thing decides to bite me, I’m just darn out of luck!”, I thought as the serpentine creature came within kissing distance.

Thankfully, it was not hungry or in a biting mood since Doc and I finned away unscathed from our first encounter of the fabled freshwater eel that the spring is named for. “Casili” after all is the local word for eels that thrive in rivers and springs.

The approximately 1 meter/ 3ft eel of robust girth (size probably gained from feeding on tadpoles and toads) was seen again observing us from the muddy ledge of the Gold Mine Chamber. It must have been attracted to the lights because it approached within touching distance. Its curiosity sated, it left and…

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