The City of General Santos has its shoreline with Sarangani Bay to the south of the City and for some years now there has been a big push to try to return this area from a Haven for Squatters into a more habitable and scenic area for the “Generals” (this is the nick name for the good people of Gen San) to enjoy!
Years ago, Lion Beach, now renamed Queen Tuna Park was the main swimming and relaxation area for the City and some older people still tell stories about playing with newly hatched Turtles on the beach and Dolphins being a regular site off shore there! Unfortunately as the City developed, all that changed as the Fishing Industry expanded causing problems on this once peaceful area of shoreline! The Tuna and other Fishing Vessels started landing their catch on Lion Beach in large quantities as it was close to the main wet market for the City, with this new trade, the market expanded in order to deal with the increasing volume of fish! As more fish were landed, the job hunting people from all over the area moved in and constructed their Squatter Houses all along this stretch of shore! Over the years the area became terrible as many fish were gutted and cleaned and the offal dumped into the water before the fish were carried to the market, everything else imaginable was dumped into the waters of the bay! The Squatters did not have any bathrooms in their homes so the waters of the bay were their toilets also! To say the least, these waters could only be described as a bio hazard to human life! Things were pretty disgusting in and around the whole area and soon reached a stage where the waters were so polluted that action had to be taken to clean up the place!
With Japanese Funding, a new Fish Port Complex was opened a few miles out of the City which immediately removed a lot of Strain from both the Lion Beach Area and the Environment! The City then moved in and cleared out a large area of the Squatter Population and some areas of Illegal Market Structures were also removed giving the waters of the Bay a chance to clean up as the tides dispersed much of the pollution naturally!
Myself and a small group of divers once had the very unpleasant task of Finding and Removing the body of a young boy who drowned off Lion Beach at the peak time of the Squatters! The visibility was Zero within the polluted area of water and we had to search by feeling along the sea bed to locate the body, You cannot even imagine what we were feeling through with our hands as we searched, maybe it was better that we could not see what we were feeling and touching as that might have scared the living daylights out of us! The body was located on day 2 of the search and it took us another week cleaning and servicing our selves and our scuba gear as it was in a really horrible condition! I was outside the Colombo for that period until my wife declared me Bio Hazard Free again!
About 5 years ago, myself and 2 other divers were asked to dive in the now much cleaner waters off Lion Beach to check on the fish stocks! This we did and in a 1 hour dive we saw only 3 fish! That was not a real surprising after the abuse that the area was still recovering from! To make the fish population increase, Mother Nature required some assistance from man and received it in the form of Artificial Reef Domes!
In April 2005, we started the Sarangani Bay 5,000 Reef Dome Project where a group of interested divers constructed and deployed our Reef Domes into areas of the Bay and beyond! Lion Beach was a natural area for such a deployment as the area really needed assistance and also several groups who sponsored the construction costs of the domes wanted the deployment at Lion Beach as it was easy to get too! As the deployments continued over the next 40 months, over 700 Domes were deployed at Lion Beach and the fish population expanded dramatically! The waters off Lion Beach will never be Crystal Clear as silt from the local rivers is always abundant so the water is usually a bit cloudy but only yesterday we had a check up dive and noticed that the domes were getting more coral growth on them and the fish population had also increased from zero to now thousands of fish and I saw a fish which I had not seen there before, a Juvenile Bat Fish bringing the total different Fish types to there 43 that I had seen off Lion Beach!
There are Large schools of Surgeon, Parrot and Titan Trigger Fish, Nimo and his pals are there, many different types of colorful coral fish including the flamboyant but poisonous Lion Fish, also Octopus and Shell Fish! With the Coral Growth being steady and the fish population on the increase all is looking good for this area which only a few short years ago was nothing more than a septic tank devoid of life! The Lion Beach Area should be respected and protected by the City but unfortunately this is not the case!
Every night the local fishermen move in and set their nets to try to harvest this new found bounty, big or small, they take it anyway! As we dive, one job always is to remove pieces of fishing net and line off of the domes because as more corals grow the more the nets get snagged so the fishermen have to pull their nets free sometimes damaging the nets, other times the corals lose and are broken off from the domes! We have asked the City to declare this small area a no fishing zone and make it a Sanctuary for Marine Life Protection because just within 100 meters on the shore next to Lion Beach there is a Barangay Office with Police and several other Government Departments on Lion Beach itself! Unfortunately, the interest to protect the area does not seem to be much of an important issue at this stage in time! This is very unfortunate but I will keep on Petitioning the Government to protect this important area and if I still have no success then I will try with the new government people after the elections next year! I can only try my best! If the City cannot Protect this small area of waterfront within the City itself then there is no chance of protecting any place else within the City Boundaries!
As I and many others see it, the recovery of Lion Beach both top side and under water is a great success and really shows what can be done when a group of friends get together and decide to do something to help restore the balance of nature and improve the environment for our future generation to actually see in reality rather than from the archives of National Geographic!
The full story of the Sarangani Bay 5,000 Reef Dome Project will be another story!