Lynn Funkhouser is not a household name in the Philippines yet her contribution in the past three decades to the country has been absolutely tremendous.
The feisty and flamboyant American is an inductee in the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame and an internationally published photographer whose work have been published in calendars, ads, and major magazines, notably in "Audubon," "Animals," "Action Asia," "International Wildlife," "Time," "Newsweek" and "National Geographic". Lynn also has exhibited her work in many galleries. As an environmentalist, Lynn is committed to making a difference on this planet through her images and lectures.
"A Friend of the Filipino"
Lynn is also one of the major promoters of the Philippines as a diving destination. At every opportunity, she gives lectures and exhibits in dive shows and museums all over the USA. She also makes it a point to bring international divers and marine researchers on her annual dive trips to the Philippines.
Choose Philippines caught up with the former TWA flight attendant in Anilao, Batangas where she was one of the judges of the SNUPS 2012 underwater photography contest. Lynn graciously shared her love affair with the Philippines that began in 1975.
"The Best Thing I Have Ever Seen"
Lynn was a flight attendant who could travel the world basically for free and had the time off to do it and pretty soon became pretty addicted to diving in different dive spots all over the world.
"I’m in Guam and I’m invited on a medical mission billed as living on President Marcos’ yacht and cruising the Sulu Sea- Who can turn that down? In reality it was living in a Navy destroyer with 226 sailors, goats tied to the latrines and we slept on the deck on lounge chairs,” recalled Lynn.
She added their ship was even fired on but that did not stop them from visiting Zamboanga, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi Tawi, Bongao, Sibutu and Sumiyong.
Lynn said she went to the admiral and asked him if she could dive. She said he assigned 7 Navy frogmen as her escorts, “I had lunch underwater- I would skip lunch and go dive. I got to dive in all those islands and I saw things I have only seen in aquariums and books”!
“This is the best thing I have ever seen. So I kept coming back here and everywhere else I would go (the Philippines) would be my benchmark and nothing has ever been better than the Philippines for me”, the Chicago native admitted.
After the Mindanao trip Lynn came to Anilao where she fell enthralled with the nudibranch- very colorful sub-order of marine mollusks. “In the Caribbean if you’ve seen a nudibranch a week you’re excited and here … it was littered with nudibranch. I had to come back! I was hooked! Every time I came back there were more and more nudibranch. And more and more of everything else!”
37 Years and Counting
She has been returning to the islands every year after 1975. In fact, Lynn has celebrated all except one of her birthdays in the Philippines ever since. She has dived in 260 islands with the most being in sites around Anilao , Tubbataha and Dumaguete and has become an expert in Philippine diving.
“The diving (in Anilao) is the richest in the world,” she exclaims. Noted marine scientist Dr. Terry Goslinger has called it the “Center of the Center of Marine Diversity, the Apex of the Coral Triangle”.
Due to this fact Lynn has been coming back and staying for a two month period for the past 37 years. In every trip she brings other underwater divers who thank her by coming back to the Philippines.
"You don’t run out of critters. I swear you have this prop department and I swear you keep painting up new things every year. I always see new stuff and new behaviors," she laughingly recounts.
She admits her heart is really here in the Philippines. So much so that she took some of the islands to the US. Lynn was part of a US$49 million, 8-year project in Chicago called “Wild Reef” - a permanent exhibit that opened in 2003 at the John Shedd Aquarium that is a replica of a famous Philippine reef.
“When I am homesick I go there. Its 1,500 square feet and replicates (the marine diversity of) Apo. I love to bring Filipinos there and show them how special your country really is,” said Lynn, adding that “The Philippines has the best diving in the world or I would be somewhere else.”
Aside from the Philippine’s abundant marine life, Lynn admitted there is another reason why she keeps on returning: “Your people are so wonderful! I mean you’ve got the best diving in the world- oh you can probably come close in Indonesia or in (Papua) New Guinea but your people make a huge difference. I wouldn’t give up the best diving in the world for anything. I love you all! You’re so wonderful. You make life so easy and you’re fun. The food’s fabulous and I don’t get sick here. It just has everything.”
When told that she definitely has chosen the Philippines, Lynn, with a twinkle in her eyes, answered, “No... The Philippines chose me.”