"They never disappoint me in the Philippines."
With utter conviction so declares Lynn Funkhouser, internationally published photographer, author, lecturer, environmentalist, adventuress, and leader in dive travel.
"They," of course, refers to the critters, the manta rays, the whale sharks, the thousands of tropical fish species, the wonderful corals, and essentially the entire Philippine undersea – all of which have never failed to take the breath away of this Chicago-based American dive expert every time she comes to the country to explore.
In 1976, Funkhouser was a flight attendant for TWA who discovered the Philippines while on a medical mission. She has never stopped basking in our beautiful underwaters since then.
"My favorite place in the whole world is the Philippines. I have followed my heart and spend two months there every year since 1976. I have been able to dive over 250 of the 7,107 islands. Would have dived more, but some islands are so great and the people so wonderful I have to keep returning to them, especially Anilao, Apo, and Tubbataha. I do add a couple new islands most years," Funkhouser told us when we met her in Chicago recently.
So vocal is she about her amorous relationship with our country that the Department of Tourism (DoT) office in Chicago has found a most valuable ally in pitching to the North American travel market that the Philippines is a premier dive destination.
Without expecting anything in return, Funkhouser never fails to highlight the beauty of the Philippine undersea in her lectures and presentations to divers, environmentalists and interest groups wherever she is all over the world.
She also organizes at least two dive trips a year in April and May, with space limited only to 20 divers. Funkhouser brings them to Anilao and to Dumaguete, aiming to introduce to North Americans not only the Philippine seas but also the "wonderful hospitality" of the Filipino people, the food and fruits, the beaches, the best critter finders, the English–speaking divemasters, even the absence of malaria!
"She has been so generous with her time, her effort, even her pictures. There is really no price to her credibility as a dive expert," explains Vernie Velarde–Morales, tourism director for the USA and Canada Midwest region.
Funkhouser’s knowledge on Philippine marine life is so extensive that she served as special consultant to the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois for the 15,000 sq. ft. building addition for the permanent exhibit "Wild Reef" featuring Apo Island, which opened in 2003.
Funkhouser’s help has not gone unnoticed. In 1994, she was honored with the SEASPACE / PADI Environmental Awareness Award which recognizes outstanding effort in the cause of marine conservation and education "for her continuing efforts promoting reef preservation in the Philippines and around the world."
She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philippine Aquatic and Marinelife Conservationists’ Association, Inc. (PAMARCON) for "her outstanding contributions on behalf of the conservation and preservation of the marine environment of the Philippines."
CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE PHILIPPINES
"If I can’t go to the Philippines every year, I will be very sad," candidly shares Funkhouser.
In fact, she makes it a point that she spends her birthdays here, amid her beloved sea creatures of course.
"It’s more exciting than anything happening in the US, you know," she smiles. "Fifty turtles in one dive, eight thorny seahorses in one dive, where on earth can you do that but in the Philippines. This is also one of the few places in the world where an entire clownfish community can live together. For a diver to be with whale sharks in clear water is one of the greatest things on earth and I happen to experience that – always and only in the Philippines."
An accomplished photographer whose underwater shots have been published in the likes of Time, Newsweek, and National Geographic, Funkhouser is at present conquering her "film addiction" and has gradually shifted to digital photography.
Through her lens, she has been able to capture sea creatures artfully mating at dusk, fishes laying eggs, an octopus sneakily hiding in a shell, or even "best-dressed" crabs all found in the waters of Anilao, Batangas, Apo Island in Dumaguete or in Puerto Galera.
"I have only one big complaint — that there’s too many fish in the Philippines that they get in the way of my photography. Everything is just so alive and gorgeous," she mischievously smiles.