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Divers, resorts help save typhoon-stricken Malapascua Island

/ 12:07 AM April 07, 2014

CARPENTERS repair the classrooms damaged during the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November 2013. EVA MARIE GAMBOA/INQUIRER VISAYAS

MALAPASCUA ISLAND, Philippines— Teachers of Logon National High School (LNHS) were having a meeting in a roofless classroom three days after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” struck Malapascua Island in northern Cebu province on Nov. 8 last year when a foreigner approached them and asked, “Can I help?”

The man cried in deep grief over what happened to the island and the Philippines, said guidance councilor Maridel Icoy, who also teaches fourth-year high school students. “And just like that, he gave us P2,000.”

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“I knew then that we were not alone and that there was hope for us to recover,” Icoy said.

More help poured in from different countries—Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Singapore. The donations came in the form of construction materials, money and relief items.

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As a result, LNHS’s stage, eight classrooms and comfort rooms were repaired in time for the graduation ceremony on April 4.

“One foreigner gave us yoga sessions that helped us teachers recover from the stress and the trauma. The students also had debriefing sessions,” Icoy said.

Yolanda, she said, made her see the goodness and generosity in people, even strangers.

Barangay (village) Loon

Around Malapascua, a popular destination for divers, the extent of the devastation is still evident in disfigured coconut trees, their palms limp and lifeless. More fallen trees are scattered in the interior villages.

The island’s name is derived from “malas” (bad luck) and “Pascua” (Christmas). Legend has it that a group of Spaniards was stranded there one Christmas Day due to bad weather.

Covering a land area of

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136 hectares, Malapascua is actually Barangay Loon, which falls under the jurisdiction of Daanbantayan town in the northern tip of Cebu. It is home to more than 4,000 people.

Nearly five months after the typhoon, almost all the houses and resorts on the island have new roofs. Some are being rebuilt.

At the neighboring Logon Elementary School, principal Rosita Daño was holding office on a table outside as more than 10 carpenters were repairing eight classrooms.

The school, which has over 900 pupils from kindergarten to Grade 6, was closed for two weeks after the Nov. 8 typhoon. It was used as an evacuation center for families who lost their homes.

Classroom repair and construction were funded by organizations in Germany, Sweden, Austria, Australia and China.

Tim’s Bar-B-Q

A Beijing-based American, who was identified only as Tim, gave money for the repair of a two-classroom building.

“The customers and staff from Tim’s Texas Bar-B-Q in Beijing wish to help the Visayan people recover from the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda,” a poster read. “We have been raising money for you during the past three months. Our thoughts, prayers and support are with you to rebuild your lives, homes, schools, churches and businesses. God bless you. Tim.”

Five hours of travel time from Cebu City, Malapascua is also known for sightings of thresher sharks, which spend most of their time in deep water. Monad and Kemod Shoals—two submerged islands—serve as the cleaning stations of thresher sharks.

More shark sightings

Divers from all over the world go to Malapascua to see the thresher sharks, particularly to Monad and Kemod, which are the only known places in the world where the wild creatures can regularly be seen at a recreational diver depth, said Rebecca Johanson, a dive shop manager of Malapascua Exotic Island Dive and Beach Resort.

“The thresher sharks come up from their normal habitat to get cleaned by small fish. They can be seen from 5:30 to 7:30 in the morning and then, they go back to the deep,” said Johanson, a Swede who moved to the island in January 2013.

“The typhoon happened on a Friday. On Monday, we immediately went for a dive to check if the thresher sharks were still there. They were still there. In fact, there [now] seems to be more sightings of them after the typhoon,” she said.

Surrounding the island are at least 17 sites that divers can choose from.

Monad Shoal, Gato Island and Ubang Bato are the three most visited sites, said dive instructor and Malapascua resident Renelo Rosales. Unfortunately, some parts of Gato were destroyed by the typhoon.

“The southern part has been damaged but there is still much to see on the northern part, so we bring our guests there,” Rosales said. “They know what happened and they understand. The best thing to do now is to let nature run its course and let the corals recover and grow.”

Since the typhoon, resorts and dive shop operators have noticed a big drop in tourist arrivals. Peak season is usually from January to May.

Fewer divers

At Malapascua Exotic Island Dive and Beach Resort, about 60 divers, mostly from Europe and Asia, would come every February. This year, the number went down to 20.

Front office manager Harold Felicano said social media had been helpful in communicating to the world that Malapascua was recovering and that “there is still so much to see.”

“The resort’s website and Facebook page are channels for posting photos and videos updating prospective divers and guests on the situation in Malapascua,” Felicano said.

“Most of our guests ask about the situation of the locals. We do not want to be promoting our sites while the residents have not recovered, so it was a conscious decision for us to be part of the rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts,” he said.

The resort has also worked with humanitarian and nongovernment organizations, such as the Philippine Red Cross, in extending help to the locals.

There are more than 40 dive shops, resorts and restaurants on the island. Most of their staff members are island residents, as mandated by a barangay ordinance that requires business owners to employ 70 percent of their staff requirement from the locals.

Residents acknowledged that the resorts had been instrumental in their recovery, since most of the foreign help came from divers who fell in love with the island.

Icoy of LNHS said the new roofs meant new lives for most of the residents.

“It is a symbol that we have slowly recovered because we have finally fixed our houses, the basic place where we live and raise our families. We are very blessed with all the help coming from here and from different parts of the world,” she said.

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TAGS: Conservation, environment, News, Philippine typhoons, Regions, Tourism
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