Story & photos by Arabelle Jimenez
Underwater Photography by Rodney Jao
Pujada Bay is included as one of the most beautiful bays in the world bestowed by the Paris-based Les Plus Belles Baies Du Monde (The Most Beautiful Bays in the World) Club. It is one of only two Philippine bays awarded by the UNESCO-supported club, together with Puerto Galera Bay back in 2005.
Located in Mati, Davao Oriental, Pujada Bay is once again the center of attraction during the first edition of the Bay Deep Mati Free Diving Festival. Dubbed the biggest freediving festival in the country, the event brought together more than 50 freedivers and scuba divers from different parts of the Philippines to showcase Mati’s rich biodiversity and its clear waters, and to promote the area as a world-class diving destination.
“We, at the Department of Tourism, have long recognized the potential of freediving and we continue to support initiatives that highlight and promote these emerging recreational water sports,” said DOT XI Regional Director Tanya Rabat-Tan, who is also a certified scuba diver. “Its purpose is not only to bring in tourists, but also to create a livelihood for our community that advocates a sustainable lifestyle, and respect of nature without harming the ecology,” she added.
The event is also an important venue to underscore the importance of responsible, ethical and sustainable diving tourism, as well as the global significance of conserving the country’s biodiversity.
The kick-off at Mati City also served as a venue to meet and greet celebrity freedivers from Belgium such as YouTuber Gert Leroy, pioneering freediving instructor JP Francois, and our very own Filipino freediving record holder, Imam Gulisan of the Sama tribe of Davao.
This dive tourism event was also graciously hosted by Davao Oriental Governor Cora N. Malanyaon, with the presence of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving headed by Commissioner Dr. Fred Medina, and PCSSD Executive Director Marco Angelo Ancheta.
The freediving participants who completed their certification on time for the Bay Deep Mati Freediving Festival were also individually recognized on stage.
As a PADI Certified Rescue Diver and a pioneering Professional Mermaid, I have had the privilege of visiting many dive spots in the Philippines. Over the past 25 years of diving here and in other countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, I have come to appreciate our very own waters as we do have the best and most diverse marine ecosystems in the world.
Preserving the beauty of marine life, and advocating for its protection comes naturally. I am happy to share with you this piece of paradise under the Mati sun.
Sights from Davao City to the City of Mati
It is a three-hour drive from Davao City to the City of Mati, but I admire the view of the countryside. We stopped at some places of interest like the City of Mati Baywalk, the viewpoint of Pujada Bay (where we had our first glimpse of this beautiful bay), and a visit to the Subangan Davao Oriental Provincial Museum, where we were mesmerized by the famous Davos, the 53-foot long sperm whale’s bones on exhibit.
Pujada Bay and its Islands
The biggest island in the bay is Pujada Island, a 156-hectare gem with majestic mountain ranges as its backdrop, powdery white sands, and crystal blue waters, truly a paradise for divers and non-divers alike. This island is open to the public with some make-shift cottages with tables, which is perfect for a day of picnic frequented by local tourists. We also visited the vanishing islets of Oak and Ivy, which are white sandbars that shine under the sun.
Beyond the beach, nothing compares to the wonders of the underwater world, and needless to say, the rich marine life of Mati deserves to be recognized. New markets abroad now see the Philippines as a richly-diverse destination for underwater adventure, and this is the perfect opportunity to take the plunge.
The 21,200-hectare Pujada Bay is a protected landscape and seascape. Sightings of the dugong (sea cow), whale sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins at different times of the year have been reported. Home to migratory sea cows, these gentle sea creatures play an integral role in achieving marine ecosystem balance in all the areas that they pass through.
The success of the first edition of the Bay Deep Mati Freediving Festival is the primary step in promoting tourism in the City of Mati. The event concluded with Mayor Michelle Nakpil Rabat, together with the Department of Tourism Region XI, and the local government unit working hand-in-hand in promoting dive tourism, putting Mati on the world diving map, and securing its commitment to protecting the region’s marine life.
After the revelation of Mati’s abundant underwater resources, divers and other participants became more vigilant and motivated to further their cause. We fully support these events advocating responsible dive tourism that could help its local community prosper for future generations.