Despite the short notice, I jumped at the opportunity to join Sawom Dabaw, a two-day dive festival organized by Department of Tourism – Davao Region, Visit Davao Summer Festival, and the Provincial Tourism Office of Davao Oriental, held last June 14 to 15, to introduce the newly discovered dive sites in Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental (pronounced he-ne-ro-so) – the southeasternmost corner of the Philippine archipelago. Participated by 21 scuba divers, the event was co-sponsored by AirAsia, which runs frequent low-cost flights to Davao City from Manila and Cebu. I haven’t dove in over a year, and it was high time I get back in the water!
Named after the first elected governor of then-undivided Davao province, Governor Generoso – or GovGen, for short – is a municipality of Davao Oriental province, 160 km away from Davao City, along the west coast of the Pujada Peninsula, which stretches between the Davao Gulf and the Pacific Ocean. Some still call the town by its former name: Sigaboy, a name still seen plastered on the four-hour buses that ply between Davao City and GovGen.
Given its relatively remote location, GovGen isn’t a well-known tourist destination, let alone one known for scuba diving. As a matter of fact, it’s only in recent years that Davao-based scuba divers have begun exploring the waters here, scouting for ideal sites for recreational diving. Furthermore, mobile signal is intermittent to nonexistent in most parts of the town.
Unfortunately, there are no dive centers operating locally yet, and the dive sites here can only be reached by special chartered trips organized by dive centers in Davao City like Carabao Dive Center, who provided the scuba diving services for the dive festival. Travel time by boat from Davao City to GovGen also takes three to four hours.
We had a total of four dives over the course of two days at the following dive sites:
Located less than a kilometer from the mainland, Sigaboy, our first dive site, is a 30-hectare rocky hill covered in foliage with a white sand bar extending from its eastern end. We dove off the northeast of the island over a sandy slope with not-so-good visibility. Further on, the dive led to a good-sized bed of staghorn coral, tube sponges and gorgonian sea fans.
Sigaboy was a shallow dive at 15 meters, and potentially an ideal dive site even for first-time and novice divers. Along the way, I encountered a trio of ocellaris clownfish inhabiting a perfectly perched anemone, and a large Phyllidia varicosa nudibranch. One of the macro divers in the group spotted Melibe colemani, a translucent nudibranch. The ghostly sea slug, first described by science in 2012, is highly sought-after by underwater photographers that it’s been called the “Holy Grail”. Since 2015, M. colemani have been regularly spotted in Romblon.
Around two hours travel by boat south of Sigaboy Island is the municipality’s most promising dive site off the coast of Barangays Pundaguitan and Tagabebe simply called “The Wall”. Even though we started our dive past four in overcast weather, the dive surprisingly had great visibility, thanks to the clear conditions of the water. As we dove to a maximum depth of 25 meters, the coral wall was decorated with soft corals, barrel sponges and large sea fans, surrounded by damselfish and lionfish. At 33 meters, macro photographers found pygmy seahorses (Hippocampus denise) hiding in sea fans.
Our dive master said that sea turtles and manta rays are occasionally seen cruising along this wall, but we didn’t see any of them or any other large marine creatures for that matter on our dive. Perhaps by declaring this area a marine sanctuary with strictly enforced no-take zones, the biodiversity will recover and the coral wall will be thriving with more marine animals.
After spending the night at El Don Resort, a new 21-hectare Mediterranean-inspired resort in Barangay Pundaguitan, we returned to the dive boat to continue heading south towards Cape San Agustin on the southernmost tip of the Pujada Peninsula. The vicinity is best known for its three lighthouses, the oldest one built in 1938, which offer excellent vantage points to admire the rocky coastline and the wide open sea where the Davao Gulf meets the Pacific Ocean.
Unlike The Wall, the dive site consists of a series of sandy slopes that were steeper than the ones at Sigaboy Island. My most interesting finds at this dive site were fluted giant clams (Tridacna squamosa) and a very active pair of black headshield slugs (Chelidonura varians) with electric blue stripes hunting on a sandy bottom, an encounter which I particularly enjoyed photographing and filming.
Diving for only a couple of days, our group barely scratched the surface of what treasures lie beneath the waves of Governor Generoso and rest of Davao Oriental. These are uncharted waters, and merits more exploratory dives along the town’s 53-kilometer coastline as this remote area becomes more accessible. Facing the calmer sheltered waters of the Davao Gulf and the overall region experiencing far less typhoons, GovGen can be a year-round scuba diving destination.
Hopefully, a dive shop will be established soon – perhaps at El Don Resort – which will surely attract more scuba divers to discover this faraway corner of the Philippines. If you’re an adventurous diver looking for a place where not many has dived for, then GovGen should be on your bucket list.
For inquiries about scuba diving in Governor Generoso, contact the Municipal Tourism Office (+639123151195) or Carabao Dive Center (+63 82 3001092). GovGen is three to four hours’ drive or boat ride from Davao City, which is serviced by regular low-cost flights by AirAsia.