Swimming At The Heart Of Marine Biodiversity

Verde Island Swim Challenge
June 12, 2016
Lobo, Batangas

by: Camille Ong - Pinoy Triathlon's daughter that was supposedly the reason why he started doing triathlon in the first place. I do not understand how this came to be because my dad had to bribe me just so i would swim/bike/run during those days when I was little.

The swim for Verde Island Passage was a unique one. Not because this was my first open water swim, but due to the fact that this was a competition wherein I was swimming for a cause; to stop miners from destroying Verde Island Passage marine life with their cyanide hands and destructive intentions. It is especially paramount to protect this place because it is declared as the world's center of marine biodiversity, and all those species underwater have been there for a long time now so preserving them is a priority over mining gold. I have heard that the issue with the mining in Lobo popped up a long time ago. According to a survey, over 319 species and 74 genera of hard corals can be found in Verde Island Passage. And further studies reveal more species that are new. This area is also important for tourism, which the speakers in the event emphasized. 

Verde Island Swim Challenge

Swimmers are to participate in 2.5 and 5 kilometer swim to raise awareness on the threat of mining on the Verde Island Passage. We have been warned that we should be able to finish before 8:45 AM, because then, it would be impossible for us to swim against the current of the ocean. Even though it was reported that it was going to rain on the day of the race itself, I woke up to clear skies and the sun was beating down on us, so the free sunblock we got along with the swim cap didn't go to waste. 

 not only is this free but this sunblock is also reef-friendly! why is this important, you may ask. It's because some chemicals in sunblocks have been found to bleach corals

Instead of the usual sand, the beach was littered with smooth, small rocks that my mom wanted to steal so she could use it as a scrubber. Racers were scattered along the length of the beach as we wait for the gun start. Behind all of this was the Punta Malabrigo where there are tents and tables for body marking and breaking of the fast.

When 6 o'clock approached, the 5k swimmers started with a bang (ha. bang). Some of them had an impressive start but others were kind of left behind. I'm just  gonna take that as a sign that they're just saving their energy since it's a 5k swim we're talking about.

The 5k swimmers are to swim 15 minutes ahead of us 2.5k swimmers, so when 6:15 came around and we were set to go, we could barely see the 5k swimmers ahead of us. That's what a 15min head start can do. 

Swimming in the ocean is definitely harder than swimming laps in the pool. The fear of being dragged into the unknown can be felt and you always have to look ahead of you instead of to your right when you swim the freestyle because you might bump into someone... or something. The blinding glare of the sun didn't help. I was nursing a headache throughout the race just because of that. 

Sadly, there were parts in the ocean where you have no choice but to swim with the garbage. I don't know where the trash came from but as I wade my way out of the trash with swift strokes, Manny Villar's presidential jingle kept playing in my head. Yes, Manny. 'Nakaligo na ako sa dagat ng basura'. I had to be careful because there were pieces of wood floating here and there, not just plastic wrappers. (and if I were being honest with myself I think I saw a diaper floating amidst all of it...) 

I kept a chill pace when I was swimming the first half of the 2.5, so I quickened my pace on the way back to make up for it. I was tailing my cousin the whole way back so I was in good hands. I just wanted it to be all over that the mere sight of all those rafts floating between me and the finish line made me curse. My goggles were too tight on my face and it was giving me a headache so I had to stop every now and then just so I can adjust them on my face.  (you should see my dad, his goggles were sucking up the skin around his face just to prevent leakage - it was swollen as shit :)

When I finally got to the end of the race, dragging myself from the water proved to be hard so I had to force myself to walk on the rocky shore just so I can cross the finish line. I may hate all the training that comes before a race and the race itself because 'why the hell am I willingly doing this to myself' but the feeling of crossing the finish line makes it all worth it. Conquering something always makes me happy. I guess that's why mountaineering appeals to me so much. I may wish for a swift death when I'm climbing a mountain but the moment I reach the summit, all of my complaints fall away and a kind of peace settles within me. That feeling is what makes me do all these physical stuff even when I'm admittedly a couch potato. My dad here can attest to that because he used to bribe me just so I would train for my swim meets. 

After the race, there was free brunch for the swimmers and then the awarding. I didn't go to the awarding but I found out later on that I got 2nd place in my age group, yey for bragging rights, I guess. The event organizers did not lack enthusiasm for what they were fighting for and the volunteers were plenty to help out with the event. Finishers received a medal and a shirt, which makes finishing the race all the more sweeter. I hope many more races like this would be held because fighting for a good cause while being able to experience the thrill of the race is definitely more fulfilling than just a regular race, you know that the effort you are putting in an event like the VIP SWIM CHALLENGE just might make the world a better place.

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