First Bay Deep Mati Freediving Festival Exudes Beauty with a Cause Beyond the Depths of Davao Region | Motourismo

Words by Arabelle Jimenez
Underwater Photos by Melardz Vee

Coming together from Manila, Cebu, Bohol and Davao to participate in the first-ever Bay Deep Mati Freediving Festival. Front row from (L-R), yours truly Arabelle Jimenez Mermaid Instructor and Co-Founder of Motourismo, Emma Chen Freediver from Taiwan, Daniel Bautista Filmmaker, Department of Tourism Region XI Director Tanya Rabat-Tan, Davao Oriental Governor Cora N. Malanyaon, City of Mati Mayor Michelle N. Rabat, and Jean Pol Francois Freediving Instructor and Founder of Freediving Planet Cebu.
2nd row (L-R): Jean-Luc Tulliez Molchanovs Instructor and Co-Founder of Ocean Bluex, Imam Gulisan Filipino Freediving Record Holder, Gert Leroy Freediving Instructor and YouTuber, Leachim Padron Freediving Instructor and Founder of Glide Freediving, Niccolo Stevens Molchanovs Instructor and Photographer, and Dyna Fernandez Freediver from Cebu.
Photo inserts freedivers Dan Patrick and Mermaid Arabelle.
Underwater photos by Melardz Vee at Pujada Bay, Davao Oriental.

Declared as one of the most beautiful bays in the world at the 15th World Bays Congress in Toyama Prefecture, Japan in 2019, the Pujada Bay in Mati, Davao Oriental is once again the center of attraction during the first edition of the Bay Deep Mati Free Diving Festival. Mounted by the Philippine Department of Tourism Region XI, the festivities was held on September 23 - 26, 2022 at the City of Mati in the Province of Davao Oriental.

The Bay Deep Mati Free Diving Festival, dubbed as the biggest freediving festival in the country, brought together more than 50 freedivers and scuba divers from different parts of the Philippines to showcase Mati’s rich biodiversity, its clear waters, and to promote the area as a world-class diving destination.

DOT XI Regional Director Tanya Rabat-Tan flanked by freediving celebrities Gert Leroy and JP Francois.

"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.

Opening Night at the City of Mati

One of the highlights during the opening ceremony included the awarding of the best underwater photograph, which was the culmination of a two-day workshop, conducted by Daniel Bautista and Niccolo Stevens. The grand prize winner of the 1st Bay Deep Mati Freediving Underwater Photography went to Melardz Vee of Maco, Davao de Oro. 

Winning photo 1 by Melardrz Vee

Winning photo 2 by Melardz Vee

The welcome dinner 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.

It was also a pleasant evening meeting our hosts led by Davao Oriental Governor Cora N. Malanyaon who welcomed us warmly, together with VIP guests from 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 2022 were also individually recognized on stage.

The newly certified Molchanovs Wave 1 freedivers.

Roadtrip from Davao City to the City of Mati

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 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. As a mermaid at heart, preserving the beauty of marine life, and advocating its protection comes naturally. 

Based in Manila, this is my fourth time in the Davao Region, but my first time to dive the clear waters of Mati in Davao Oriental. I am happy to share with you this piece of paradise under the Mati sun.

Arriving in Davao City, our group was welcomed by Department of Tourism XI officers Kat Rubio and Al Olden who meticulously arranged our trip from Manila. Equally welcoming us were the energetic DOT licensed tour guides, Gracie Plata and Shandy Soledad. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for taking care of us from start to finish with, many fun and memorable moments in between.

Our group at the Waterfront Insular Hotel in Davao City. (L-R) Dr. Tyrone Javier, Al Olden, JP Francois, Dyna Fernandez, Gert Leroy, yours truly, Ted Claudio of Wazzup PH, and Kat Rubio. 

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 view point 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. 

City of Mati Baywalk

Pujada Bay's viewpoint overlooking the Sleeping Dinosaur Island.

Davos, the 53-foot long sperm whale's bones on exhibit at Subangan Davao Oriental Provincial Museum.

Freediving Pujada Bay and its Islands

The day has finally come for us to explore the waters of Pujada Bay. All the divers were assigned in different dive groups and boats. My first day was with the group of JP Francois, together with some certified freedivers from Davao region.

All throughout this event, we were escorted by the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, and the Philippine National Police in Davao. Safety is utmost in any sport, and we do feel secured with their presence underwater and above ground. Saludo!

Channeling my inner mermaid in the clear waters of Pujada Bay. Photo: Melardz Vee

Our dive group on day one in the J-Twins boat.

Escorted by the Philippine Coast Guard

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. 

We also visited the vanishing islets of Oak and Ivy, which are white sandbars that shines under the sun. To start the day right, a brief Yoga class was conducted by Marie Baguio of Ocean Bluex right on the sandbar of Oak.

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.

Gert Leroy having fun with new freediving friends.

JP Francois, Shawn Kennedy and Dyna Fernandez just concluded a shore dive.

Buffet lunch on the island.

Our hospitable tour guide Gracie Plata with Ted Claudio and Dyna Fernandez.

Dr. Fred Medina, Leachim Padron, Jean-Luc Tulliez, and Rodney Jao.

Pristine Pujada Island

Scuba Diving and Freediving Waniban Island and Blue Bless

The following day, I decided to go scuba diving at Waniban Island, and go mermaiding with freedivers off the shores of Blue Bless, which is famous for its wall drop.

Scuba diving in the crystal-clear waters off the shores of Waniban Island.

Camaraderie among divers of various backgrounds on board the dive boat.

Surreal to be diving with Imam Gulisan.

Let's go 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. 

Appreciating a garden of corals, fish and fauna in the bays of Mati were the participating freedivers and scuba divers captured in the lens of Melardz Vee.

Mayor's Night and Closing Ceremonies

The success of the first edition of 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 to work hand-in-hand in promoting dive tourism, putting Mati in the world diving map, and secure its commitment in protecting the region's marine life.  

City of Mati Mayor Michelle Nakpil Rabat

It's party time at Menzi, Dahican Beach with Mayor Michelle Nakpil Rabat, JP Francois, Dyna Fernandez, and Dashiel Indelible, Jr. Head of Mati City Tourism Office.

Bay Deep Mati Freediving Festival organizers and support groups. Thank you for making this happen.

After the revelation of Mati’s abundant underwater resources, everyone who is involved in this 4-day event became more vigilant and motivated to further their cause. We definitely support Bay Deep Mati Freediving Festival's goal of advocating a responsible dive tourism that could help its local community prosper for future generations.

For more information, visit:

Department of Tourism - Davao Region 

City of Mati Tourism and Promotions Office

Bay Deep Mati Free Diving Festival


By Arabelle Jimenez

About Motourismo.

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