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.

Ethel Wagas

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

2014: A Year of Discoveries & Trial by Fire for the FCD

The Filipino Cave Divers started the year 2014 with a series of epic discoveries. Mid-year, it suffered a devastating loss of a beloved co-founder. Forging ahead through such bitter challenge, the organization maintained its core values and expanded its membership, networks and partners. The future of the country’s underwater cave explorations, protection and management is secure in the vision that FCD has set forth. The FCD is discovering more of its potential and 2015 is going to be another year of awesome discoveries indeed!

January 12, 2014– The Siargao Island was initially explored by Doc Amores, Lyndon Cubillan and Larry Williams. Located in Baragngay Tuburan were 3 promising springs that were reported (by locals) to connect Tuburan II to Tuburan I some 2 kilometers away. https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/01/16/search-for-new-underwater-caves-siargao-island/

January 20, 2014– The Pawod Cave was surveyed by Doc Amores, Lyndon Cubillan, Andy Berame and Jaime Lapac. This survey was to determine if the area suffered any damage during the Oct. 15, 2013 earthquake which, at its epicenter in Bohol, registered 8-9 in intensity. No damage was observed in any of the areas especially in the main chamber, and main tunnel.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/01/21/pawod-and-the-big-earthquake-of-2013/

January 26, 2014– The Pawod Cave was relined by Doc Amores, Andy Berame and Jaime Lapac. Several cave divers using the cave had been leaving temporary lines in the area that were confusing. These temporary lines were removed by the team and yellow permanent lines were installed.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/01/26/relining-of-docs-chamber-of-pawod-underwater-cave/

February 23, 2014– Doc Amores and Jake Miranda went to Tagbilaran, Bohol to attend the 18th National Cave Committee meeting chaired by the Biodiversity Management Bureau. Together they presented the credentials and exploration reports of the FCD to the committee. After viewing the presentation, NCC Chair and BMB Director Mundita Sison-Lim said, “With cave diving expertise now locally available, we have a partner in FCD to finally explore the numerous freshwater and sea caves in the different parts of the country. Previously we had to rely on foreign expertise. This partnership boosts our local capability to conduct studies on cave geology and biodiversity inside the underwater caves.”
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/02/27/fcd-attends-the-18th-national-cave-committee-meet/

February 27, 2014– Jake Miranda added one more letter to the cave divers TGADL acronym. FCD now utilizes the mnemonic “Thank God All Divers Live Long”. L (ong) stands for Local. As his article explains, “Local knowledge of the cave includes cave geologic characteristics and composition, water flow, depths, chambers, established lines, and important data from previous expeditions. The new letter in the acronym is added to reflect the need for the cave diver to properly study the cave and prepare for his dive inside its environment. Each cave is different and presents unique challenges to the cave diver.” https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/02/27/thank-god-all-divers-live-long/

April 2 – 3, 2014– Doc Amores, Lydon Cubillan, Jaime Lapac, Ferdinand Edralin, Jake Mirand and Larry
Williams returned to Siargao Island to explore the several sites in Siargao Island. The Del Carmen Cenote No. 1 which was considered by the team as an epic find. The water movement in the area is affected by the tidal flow. With proper tide timing, this can either be a no-current dive or a spring dive with significant flow for pull-and-glide dive propulsion exercises.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/04/09/the-del-carmen-cenote-1-a-classic-underground-riversinkhole/

https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/04/18/kantoloi-twin-cenotes-of-pilar-siargao-island/

April 5, 2014– The Siargao Exploration team proceeded to explore the other sites in Del Carmen, Siargao Island. The crown jewel of the expedition was the discovery of the “Inner Sanctum”. Bamboo ladders and skills in rappelling were required to access the water’s edge. https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/04/09/the-inner-sanctum-of-del-carmen/

May 17, 2014– Doc Amores signed-off 3 new FCD members that he started training a few months back.
Considered certified as FCD Cave Divers are Dean Apistar, Ferdinand Edralin and Marc Berame.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/05/17/new-fcd-members/

June 17, 2014– A very bleak point in the history of FCD was when Doc Amores passed away while exploring the Hinatuan Enchanted River. An undiagnosed heart condition was the cause of his death. He was recovered by Jake Miranda inside the main chamber, 40 meters deep with his right hand intentionally wrapped in the cave line. It was assumed that he did it so that he wouldn’t drift deeper into the cave. Doc’s last decision made the recovery safer for the team.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/07/08/doc-amores-an-explorer/

June 25, 2014– In the shadow of Doc Amores’ passing and during his wake, the FCD held its first election of officers. Elected as President and Vice- President is Bernil H. Gastardo and Andy Berame respectively. The Board of Directors and the new officers vowed to continue Doc’s advocacy to protect and preserve the country’s underwater caves and marine resources.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/about/the-fcd-core-group/

July 2, 2014– 7 Concept Note proposals for the exploration and consequent protection of 2 sites in
Cebu and 5 sites in CARAGA region were sent to the main office of the DENR-GIZ Protected Area Management Enhancement (PAME) Project. These proposals were initially worked on by Doc Amores.

August 11, 2014– The Final Proposals for the survey and protection of cave sites in Cebu and CARAGA region were hand-carried to the PAME HQ in Quezon City by Joseph Nacario to meet the deadline. This was after a rigorous 4 days & 3 nights writing binge by the FCD proposal writing team composed of Jake Miranda, Joseph Nacario and Dean Apistar.

September 8, 2014– Executive Order 2014-24 which is “An Order Organizing Task Force Pawod” was enforced by the Lapu-Lapu City Hall. The committee is composed of 12 members– the City’s elected officials, executives and 1 private organization (FCD). The initial meetings opened a lot of possibilities for the development and protection of the Pawod Underwater Cave System. A management workshop will be conducted on January 2015.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/07/26/docboys-cave-aka-the-pawod-underwater-cave-system/

September 26, 2014– The FCD held its 1st Convention in Mactan. Members joined in the survey of Pawod and an Advanced Buoyancy, Trim and Propulsion Workshop was conducted by UTD Instructor, Juan Naval. https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/10/17/the-1st-fcd-convention/

October 14, 2014– Alex Santos conducted an IANTD Cave Diver training in the exotic and beautiful Paglugaban Cave in El Nido, Palawan.
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/11/09/the-paglugaban-cave-of-el-nido-palawan/

November 28, 2014– The FCD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of San Carlos- Biology Department for the exploration and study of the underwater caves in the country. https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/11/29/fcd-and-usc-a-partnership-for-the-underwater-caves-of-the-philippines/

Dec. 1, 2014– A contract was awarded to FCD by GIZ to survey 4 underwater cave systems until May 2015. The sites to be surveyed starting January 2015 are Casili (January), Silop (February), Hinatuan (March), and Bababu (April).
https://filipinocavedivers.com/2014/12/07/a-journey-of-discovery/

The Silop Cave Complex

Silop Cave Complex (SCC) is in Barangay Silop, Surigao City, Surigao del Norte, Caraga, Philippines, which silop2is accessible via daily flights from Manila and Cebu.  SCC is located at 9.740553°N, 125.515011°E. It is just 15 minutes from the Surigao City Airport.  It now has sixteen-cave entrances system (out of a possible 23) as of June 2014.

Of particular interest is Cave 4a which is part of the established 16 other entrances. It is the only water cave in the system where freshwater runs through the cave at an average depth of 5 feet in the dry season. Certain lengths are as deep as 8 feet. Source pool is 20 feet deep or deeper. The cave is estimated to be 1,000 meters long to reach the source pool.

As of today, there is no baseline information for which the LGU can use as basis to start protecting the area. Today cave 4A’s waters remain an enigma as to its contents, composition and importance to the surrounding forest. Since 2011, the FCD members have spent personal finances to investigate the nature of the SUCS to find out about the value of protecting the area against urbanization. silop_image

Fish, shrimp and bats are commonly found. However, it is under threat from siltation and runoff caused by gold-panning activities in nearby upland areas. In the surrounding areas, unclassified bats and primates are commonly seen.

The Silop Underwater Cave System (SUCS) 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 main threats that can be reduced are the siltation and brown water effect that unfortunately are diffusing to nearby Barangay Silop. The other major threat that this project wants to address is the lack of site-specific policy and mechanisms to safeguard this fragile ecosystem. There is also lack of framework in which development and utilization of the area can follow on

The Local Government Unit is amenable to the conservation of the area due to its enormous potential for eco-tourism and understands that intervention must be brought-in in order to preserve the area’s main attraction-its pristine and water feature. It can be said that currently, there are no significant interventions for conservation being done in the area.

The key stakeholders of the SCC and terrestrial ecosystem include the people and communities of Surigao City, the barangay of Silop and of the Province of Surigao del Norte, along with the tourists and the tourism service sector.

This is one of the areas that the FCD will be surveying early next year with the funds received from the BMB- GIZ PAME project.