Most of PhotoUp’s team members live in the sunny paradise of Cebu, Philippines. Just like any tropical island, Cebu is surrounded with cool blue seas. This makes it an ideal playground for our members who are naturally born water babies.

Every weekend, while a lot of the island’s population take a break from the heat by going into the mall, the adventurers of our team take a well-deserved sojourn to the beaches. We pack our gear then head out to some of the beautiful beaches that line up the island.

Free diving has always been the first choice of those who love water adventures on our team. It is a practical activity. We simply invest in a good-quality mask, snorkel, and fins. A rash guard or wet suit protects us from itchy copepods, jellyfish stings, and the occasional attacks from aggressive sergeant majors.

One of the reasons why PhotoUp team loves free diving is that we can explore a magical world at a very reasonable price. We just spend money on the resort fee (more or less USD 2), commuter fare (less than USD 1), and food. With less than USD 5, we can have an exciting weekend adventure that lets us embrace the beauty of Mother Nature. At times, our team pools together some money so we can rent a boat and explore deeper or more remote areas.

Any figure we can come up to is a small price to pay to enjoy the stunning underwater world. Indeed, on every dive, we encounter more organisms within 5 minutes of diving than in 5 hours of trekking up the mountains. Hundreds of colorful fish dart around us as we hover above their homes. They are exceptionally fun to watch, especially if they swim up to us for a closer look. Apparently, these cute creatures are as curious of us as we are of them.

We also hover around vibrant corals and vast seagrass beds, just some of the wonders that are under the waves. It’s like cruising above a living underwater city.

There are special times that we witness rarely seen organisms and spectacles; these moments are truly treasured. It’s not every day that one sees a huge sea turtle, a graceful shark, a cautious moray eel, or a long banded sea krait loitering around the coral fields. Thus, when we see these reclusive creatures, we let out lots of glee bubbles and quickly snap photos to immortalize the moment.

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Photos by Hannah Bacalla

One of our favorite diving places is Panagsama Beach, Moalboal due to a natural spectacle called a sardine run. Like a living underwater cloud, a huge school of thousands of sardines hover just a foot or two under the water’s surface. How they swim in unison and perfectly coordinate their movements is one of the marvels of the natural world. They scatter as quick as a lightning strike when we try to approach them, but they regroup to their main school just as quickly.

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We seek to put people, planet, profit, and purpose on equal footing.

This activity has made us realize the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy sea. Sadly, we see how humans take our blue world for granted by dumping garbage right into the sea. The garbage not only makes this magnificent world unsightly, but poses a danger for marine animals. Creatures of the sea mistake plastic bags and bottles for food, and many get entangled in discarded fishing nets.

As such, every time we dive, we always bring a net bag with us so we can collect trash underwater and dispose of it properly. Environmental protection has always been PhotoUp’s corporate social responsibility, and it feels good that we are able to do our part, no matter how small, in protecting Mother Nature.

But admiring, respecting, and protecting the beauty of the deep are collectively just one aspect of free diving. The other is the serenity. Being in the water allows us to defy gravity, and under the waves, we feel the joy of ultimate freedom. Ultimate peace. Nothing but the coolness of the water caressing our bodies. The sea is not silent; you can hear mysterious clicks, which are produced by various sea creatures. It is the song of Mother Nature, and it’s a refreshing balm after an entire week of being bombarded by the chaos, noise, and pollution of the city.

Free diving also allows us to challenge ourselves. It is not easy to hold one’s breath and dive as deep as we can, with the water exerting a lot of pressure on our lungs. At a certain depth, we just want to give up, our lungs screaming for air and telling us to quit and head back to the surface.

However, we learned how to relax and focus our mind to resist the fear and apprehension. These mental skills has proven themselves valuable, and we have carried these over our work. During stressful times in the office, we focus on the problem and don’t get carried away by emotions or worries.

Yes, PhotoUp members are indeed water babies. Our connection with the sea around our island is strong. We learn lessons of the deep blue to improve ourselves in all aspects of our lives.

Free-diving is a great eye-opener activity. It is a way to see and experience first-hand both the beauty of reefs and the serious environmental threats that they are facing. Chasing Coral, produced by Netflix, is a documentary made by a team of researchers and filmmakers who are fighting to save coral reefs. Watch this Chasing Coral trailer.

Additionally, the international outdoor equipment brand Patagonia released a documentary titled Fish People. Directed by Keith Malloy, Fish People is a film about people whose lives revolve around the sea. Surfers, spearfishers, fishermen, and free divers tell stories of how the sea transformed their lives. Check out this Fish People trailer.

Chasing Corals and Fish People are available at Netflix and iTunes, respectively.