By Carmencita A. Carillo, Correspondent

DAVAO CITY — The setting up of a hyperbaric chamber in the city, the first in Mindanao, is expected to boost Davao City’s bid to become a diving destination not only for domestic but also for foreign tourists.

<b>Keeping divers safe</b>: New hyperbaric chamber to boost Davao tourism

“We are promoting the city as a diving destination but the primary concern of divers is their safety — but if we do not have that facility then they will go somewhere else,”  Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza) Board Member Roberto Teo said in an interview.

The Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) had a hyperbaric chamber a few years ago but it was transferred to Manila because of the lack of demand in the region at that time. The new hyperbaric chamber center, which broke ground on June 25 at the SPMC, will strengthen the scuba diving industry in the region as it will address the safety concerns of those interested in the sport.

Mr. Teo said the building which will house the hyperbaric chamber system, will cost P2.5 million. The hyperbaric chamber itself will cost P10 million.

“This will be the fifth hyperbaric chamber in the Philippines,” he said. The others are located in Palawan, Batangas, Bohol, and Cebu.

Tieza spent P40 million for the purchase of the four chambers, but the one being used in Cebu will be sent to Davao. Cebu, in turn, will get a new chamber given the number of divers going to the area.

Hyperbaric chambers are used for treating decompression sickness (a condition that results when sudden decompression — like rising to the surface too fast during a dive — causes nitrogen bubbles to form in the body tissues, and can cause pain in the muscles and joints, cramps, numbness, nausea, and paralysis) and other dive-related conditions. It is an air-tight chamber where one or more people are exposed to different mixtures of pure oxygen and natural air at different atmospheric pressures.

Arturo P. Boncato, assistant secretary of the tourism department, said the hyperbaric chamber building which will be completed in a few months, was a part of the realization of the Davao tourism sector’s tagline: “from islands to highlands.”

The project is coming to fruition more than a year after the Philippine Commission of Sports Scuba Diving held a board meeting in the city to finalize development plans for the region, which included the transfer of a hyperbaric chamber to the city to serve the whole of Mindanao.

The absence of a hyperbaric chamber system has prevented the tourism department from fully promoting the region, especially the Island Garden City of Samal, as a diving destination, said Davao Region Director Roberto P. Alabado III.