Deep thoughts: A Filipino diver describes the beauty of our country’s seas

Like most young people, Wowie Cai likes traveling and taking photos. But unlike most young people, he thrives with black water photography. When he first dived in 2014, he never imagined the impact of that first underwater adventure on his career. To be precise, that dive made him discover a new world, one he had never experienced before in any of his travels. 

Now Wowie has spent numerous hours exploring the depths of the Philippine seas, taking his camera with him to capture exquisite images of life under the seas, especially those that come out at night. 

How would you describe the beauty of the Philippines underwater? 

The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands, and most people see the country’s beautiful white beaches and glassy sea water. There are many diving destinations here, in almost every part of the country. Eighty percent of my photographs had been taken in the Philippines, which has the world’s most unique marine ecosystem, with beautiful coral reefs that support a rich marine life, teeming with schools of fish.

Which is your favorite diving spot in the country? Why? 

Anilao and Romblon because of their natural terrain and healthy coral reefs. Marine life is abundantly concentrated in these two places. 

As a diver, what have you discovered about the Philippines? About yourself? 

I like to explore. A couple of years ago, while I was doing one of my night dives, I found something I had never experienced before. When the sun goes down, some of the creatures we don’t normally see come out in full force in the open waters. Most of them are larvae of various deep-sea species. During the day, they hide in the deepest corners of the seas. They come out to hunt only at night.

I started photographing these amazing creatures in 2016. One of these creatures can only be found in the open pelagic ocean at night. 

When I first started doing this, taking black water photographs, I often shared what I found with my friends. All my friends were amazed. No one believed that there were such mysterious creatures in our seas—creatures that look like aliens. 

Later, some of my friends suggested that I share my photos. So I started to join a wildlife photography contest. Now, these dreamlike creatures I have photographed in Philippine waters have won 32 international awards, including the one from the Smith Museum in Washington, the Naturu Museum in the Netherlands, the Zoologisches Forschungsmuse in Germany, and Upy in London. Some have also been featured in the National Geographic, BBC, Daily Mail, and Yahoo, among others.

What’s your wish for the country’s seas?

It is precisely because of the efforts of those who devote themselves to marine protection and conservation that the beauty of our country’s seas has been noticed by more and more people. I believe that with the help of the attention given by the media, people have gradually realized the importance of environmental protection for marine development and also for our own development. 

But there is more to be done. The rate by which people are changing their habits is still slow. Human lifestyle remains to be the biggest obstacle to marine protection and conservation.

A healthy marine ecosystem is, after all, important for human beings. For many years I have gone around the world, diving in dozens of seas, and I’ve seen countless dead coral reefs—not even a single fish in those waters! Plastic bags, man-made garbage, and global warming have deeply hurt our seas and oceans.

Protecting the oceans doesn’t just mean protecting fishes, sharks, or polar bears. It’s about protecting ourselves, our own species, and our planet.

Images by Wowie Cai