The Grotto revamped!

Site reopens after over a year of closure due to renovations
Posted on Oct 14 2021
Grotto renovations and cleanup with DIVEWISH, along with the other volunteers and private companies under the Public-Private Partnership program of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Grotto renovations and cleanup with DIVEWISH, along with the other volunteers and private companies under the Public-Private Partnership program of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. Photo contributed by DIVEWISH.

Tagged as one of the best cavern dive sites in the world, the Grotto has finally reopened to the public after over a year of being closed due to renovations.

Saipan Tribune drove up to Marpi last weekend to check on the Grotto fever the island is now having, especially among local divers who have been waiting to yet again explore the crystal clear deep blue waters of Saipan’s most popular dive spot.

The Grotto’s park has been given a much-needed facelift—its steps and railings fixed, its viewing deck resurfaced and revamped, its restrooms cleaned, and a new, inviting “Grotto” sign affixed.

Grotto’s fresh look is all thanks to the public-private partnership formed between the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers, and the five private companies that adopted the site—DIVEWISH, Saipan Adventure, Tasi & the Ali’is, Loco & Taco, and Bibong Corp.

We had the fortune to sit down and talk with Woong Choi, DIVEWISH’ chief executive officer and PADI instructor, on the recent beautification initiative at the Grotto.

He said that, aside from fixing the steps and railings and cleaning the restrooms, other improvement projects done at the site include the pavilion and parking lot painting, trash pickups, lawn services, and underwater purification work.

According to Choi, even before the PPP was formed, many “who loved Saipan and Grotto”—groups and even individuals—have been picking up trash at the site. But it was the repairing and painting that was the biggest issue given the cost of the paint and materials for the project.

“Many companies began coming together to form a bigger group, with the intervention of the local government, which gave an opportunity to improve the site officially. As the group got bigger, painting and repairing became possible as well. …As the saying goes, ‘One arrow is easily broken, but the bundle of arrows is not.’ It is nearly impossible to improve the site as a small group, but many companies forming bigger groups and the intervention of the government, as well as volunteers joining the events made it possible in a year,” Choi said.

Dive against debris

Aside from helping improve structures at the Grotto, DIVEWISH, with volunteers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., has also been diving—picking up trash underwater for the past several months.

This is aligned with the Dive against Debris program, conducted officially last Sept.18 during the Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ Aquatic World Awareness Responsibility Education Week.

DIVEWISH is an officially-registered PADI dive resort, and a 100% AWARE partner. Environmental protection training is included in all four of their dive certification curricula. DIVEWISH also donates monthly to PADI AWARE and to environmental groups per certification issued.

“Prior to PADI AWARE Week, with the approval of the local government, unofficial Dives against Debris were conducted once a month by the instructors of DIVEWISH, and with the aid of the volunteers from FEMA and CHC,” Choi said. “As many people do not have the opportunity to see and experience the situation underwater, DIVEWISH instructors have gathered certified local volunteers and have led the Dive against Debris. The events have been posted on the official PADI and PADI AWARE site as well as [on] Instagram, and have gained attention globally.”

Common debris picked up underwater include plastics, rebar, clothing, signboards, beer bottles, and cans, among others.

“Although the Grotto was closed to the public during the pandemic, many debris were picked up. During our first event, about 200kg of debris and wastes were collected, and about 150kg of plastic, cans, and other debris were collected by 12 volunteers during [the] PADI AWARE Week alone,” Choi said.

DIVEWISH has included the “Dive against Debris” to the Grotto improvement program, and will continue to clean underwater.

Begin with simple things

“People tend to not think about things that they can’t see. Seventy percent of the Earth is surrounded by water. Climate and temperature changes can occur depending on the underwater environment. In my opinion, experiencing underwater firsthand rather than reading books about how the corals and underwater creatures affect the earth’s environment will probably make it easier to understand,” Choi said.

As a PADI instructor, Choi said that scuba diving education contains not just dive skills to explore, but provides opportunities to learn, understand, protect, and respect the environment.

“We need to think about not simply just the ocean or the Earth, but also about how people affect the environment. I’ve been diving in Saipan since 1996, and I can completely say that the ocean has been different since then and now,” Choi said, adding that corals and many sea creatures have decreased in population.

He added that the temperature and the season have changed underwater, and with the ocean and the corals absorbing most of the sun’s heat, which cools the Earth and provides appropriate life cycle to all, the death of corals breaks the food cycle of life underwater.

“The corals are dying, which are food sources and homes to many fish. This affects the bigger fish as they eat smaller fish. The ocean does not absorb the heat as much due to the destruction of the underwater environment. It causes the Earth’s temperature to rise and then causes the glaciers and the ice to melt in the North and South poles, which then elevates the sea level.”

Choi added that people who have stayed on Saipan long enough have seen and experienced the rising sea level. “It may seem it’s already too late, but we need to begin protecting the Earth that we live in. Many creatures are labeled endangered and this isn’t only an issue for the underwater environment, but an issue for all humanity. It may not take a long time to destroy the environment, but it would take long time and effort to restore.”

Protecting the marine world is something that is not exclusive to divers, but is a shared responsibility of everyone in the community.

“We can begin with simple things, such as picking up trash after yourself and also, picking up trash in sight. Next, we can begin finding interests and recognizing the environment. I think being an example to the next generation would be an effective method,” he said.

Choi has also been gathering data for an environmental education campaign as part of his vision to share his thoughts with children, with hopes that the future generations will be able to enjoy and see the beauty of nature, just as we do today.

For more information about volunteering with, or diving with DIVEWISH, visit their website at https://divewish.com and Instagram at https://instagram.com/divewish, or contact them via +1 (670) 789 8231.

Iva Maurin | Correspondent
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com
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