To Promote or to Protect?

posted in: article, environment | 0

Back roll entry and down we went with a single goal in mind – photos! In October, a group of photographers from different countries visited us to shoot the underwater scenery in the far south of the Philippines. The results were unexpected to say the least.

Text & Photo | East Pardillo


I work at South Point Divers, at Sarangani, located off the most southerly point of the island of Mindanao. My guests were among the most respected underwater photographers so I was ecstatic to be their guide and spotter as this was our chance to promote our beloved reef – a hidden jewel of dive destinations, Maasim Sarangani.

On our second dive of the day, at around 10 o’clock in the morning, my group and I jumped off the boat setting out to find macro subjects. Little did we know that what we would find was a huge fishing net right upon our descent.

The entire net was sprawled on the reef bed at around sixteen metres deep and was as wide as a basketball court. I was realised that this was going to be a clean-up dive and we would need to dedicate that entire dive into removing the whole fishnet. That was when I heard a loud banging of tanks and a diver showing the hand gesture for a shark. I held on to my camera thinking maybe I should take a photo of this shark before we retrieve the net. My excitement was soon overcome with devastation and grief when I realized that this shark was in fact trapped under the fishnet, which seemed larger than life.

At this very same moment I dropped my camera. I had to do something. All our goals of getting good photos were wiped away with the current. This was going to be a rescue dive. We hurriedly cut the nets to release the shark until we realized it was not alone. Under that fishnet was a total of three whitetip sharks. The other divers had set two sharks free yet the third shark was bleeding through its gills, motionless. It had already died even before we got there.


Another loud bang sent chills down my spine. A diver signalled ‘turtle’. I rushed to them knowing that the turtle needed to get to the surface fast. All the triumph of rescuing two sharks crumbled down when I saw an adult hawksbill turtle lying lifeless under the net. These were magnificent creatures that had been slain in their own homes. It should never have happened to them.

I knew I had to push my dismay down and pick up my camera. I would not let this story go untold. It was in this pivotal moment that I was reminded that I am not only carrying my photo gear to promote. It is also a weapon to protect – I have to get a message across. This was the biggest irony I have ever seen. This reef had been declared as a Marine Protected Area, but the reality was far from it. A thousand questions flooded my mind.

How could this have happened in a protected zone? What else had been happening in unprotected areas? What other mishaps could have happened beyond divers’ reach, those reefs where no one could ever come to rescue the creatures there?

These thoughts were interrupted when a free diving, local fisherfolk arrived in an attempt to pull the nets up. My panic grew as the nets were getting entangled with our gear. Aside from entanglements, in my mind, this posed another threat.

I was taken back to a memory when a local fisherfolk aimed a spear gun to my head as I surfaced after setting a shark free from a fish trap they had set. They had been waiting in their boats to confront me for what I did. I feared that this might happen again to me and my fellow divers after these fisherfolk discovered that we had just set those sharks free. I knew we had to leave.

We quickly took the lifeless shark and turtle and drifted with the current hoping we would surface far away from their boat. A few minutes later, after our dive, we reported the incident… a boat from the local government had appeared. They  towed the fisherfolks’ boat away and apprehended them. With their boats confiscated, they were about to face questioning from the authorities, and hopefully be held responsible for the incident.

Although I was grateful to see that something was being done about it, my heart was as heavy as the lifeless turtle my hands were carrying. These creatures were the main reason I got into diving. They were the exact reason why I started photography – so I could show the world how wonderful these beings were. And yet there was nothing I could have done to save them.

What if I could do something about this? What if instead of saving them, I could actually prevent these things from even happening? What if I could do one thing, in my own little way to help defend these voiceless beings? Why do I keep promoting dive sites when what is really important is to protect them?

But what if I flipped the script? What if I did not have to choose one or the other? What if it was never a question between ‘To Protect or to Promote’. Because really, whenever I promote the ocean, I spread awareness that grows into an action towards protection. I guess if it were me, I would like to do both.


They say “choose your battles”. If we don’t choose to do something about this, WE ALL LOSE. So yes, I’m choosing to be in this battle. And whether you like it or not, you are too. Sometimes people are so occupied about promotions. What about ‘protection’?