Tag Archives: Malapascua Island

Another visit to Malapascua

On Friday, April 14th I caught a Cebu Pacific flight to Cebu City. I was on my way back to Malapascua Island. The flight was uneventful. Leaving the terminal, there was a long line to get a taxi. A few people went ahead and got a Yellow Airport Taxi, but not as many as you would think given the line.

As I noted in my blog about my last visit to Cebu, the yellow cabs are nearly twice as much! After waiting in line a few minutes, I noticed that there were a few white taxi’s showing up to pick up specific people. That’s when I remembered I had Grab on my smartphone. I contacted Grab via the app on my phone and less than 10 minutes later I had a cab pulling in to pick me up! Much quicker than waiting in line! I did pay an extra 70 pesos, but that was well worth it.

I had waited to long to make a reservation and was unable to get a room at Kiwi Lodge where I normally stay. Before I flew out of Clark, I booked a room at Travelbee Business Inn through the Agoda app on my phone. The location wasn’t as good, but it met my criteria of being under 1500 pesos a night. I dropped off my bags in my room and then walked down the street to grab a bite to eat at Jollibee. Then back to my room and bed.

The next morning I was up early. I showered and repacked my bag, then took the elevator down. I had a quick cup of coffee, then checked out. The security guard hailed a taxi for me. I had the cab drive me to an ATM so I could get cash, then to the North Bus Terminal. I just caught a bus as it was pulling out! 5 1/2 hours later I was back in Maya. A short wait for a ferry and I was on my way across to Malapascua Island! The ferry dropped it’s passengers on Bounty Beach and I walked along the beach until I reached Evolution.

I had emailed Matt Reed, one of the owners of Evolution Dive Resort, the day before to let him know I was on my way back. He had emailed me back to see if I’d booked a room yet since it was Easter weekend, accommodations were very full! I’ve often advised people online of the importance of having reservations during the holidays in the Philippines. As it turned out I had also emailed Sharks Tail about a room and received a prompt response from Andy. I knew Evolution was going to be full! Matt was correct about it being a holiday and there being a lot of people on the island… I got the last room available!

After leaving the ferry, I went to Evolution first because I wanted to dive that day. It’d been almost 3 weeks since I’d been in the water! I was too late for the afternoon dive, but I had plenty of time to dig out my gear and get my camera equipment set up in preparation for a night dive. After that I went to The Sharks Tail Resort to check in.

As I mentioned in my last blog post about Malapascua Island, The Shark’s Tail Resort is about a 5 minute walk away from Evolution. It’s not on the beach, but it does have a swimming pool which is nice. There is a nice little bar there and the restaurant has good food at decent prices. Once I was checked in to my room, I headed back to Evolution. Let the diving begin!

I’m going to do this post a bit differently since I posted so recently about diving with Evolution. I’ll skip a lot of the logistics. I made my first dive of this visit on the 15th at Lighthouse and the last dive was the morning thresher shark dive on the 19th at Monad Shoal. I did 12 dives total on this visit. I arrived on a Saturday and left on Wednesday to travel to Dumaguete for a photo contest.

I dived Chocolate Island and Gato Island. I also did a dive on Secret Wall and Bugtong Bato. I dived Bantigue twice (once in the afternoon and once at night). I dived Monad every morning I was there as I’m always looking for a better thresher shark photo than the ones I’ve taken before!

On the way to Lighthouse (so-called because it’s directly in front of Malapascua Island’s lighthouse) for the Mandarinfish mating we could tell it was going to rain. We got a few sprinkles on the way over. We got geared up on the ride there (only about 15 minutes). We were in the water quickly and the dive started at 5:24 PM.

Lighthouse is an area of mostly broken and damaged corals. The damage is from another time when scuba diving around the island was virtually non-existent and fisherman used whatever worked in order to feed their families. What worked, was dynamite and sadly there are many damaged areas. It’s not enough to pass judgement, or laws against these types of destructive practices. People will do what they have to in order to survive. It’s important to develop an alternative. Thanks to eco-tourism, now there are alternatives and a significant number of people now make their living through the tourist trade here. This has led to protections being put in place to protect the environment as now what you can see is a more valuable resource than what can be taken from the sea.

The main area that mandarinfish can be seen around dusk virtually every day, is areas of staghorn coral, which as I said earlier are damaged and broken. Lights will scare them so most guides will filter their bright dive lights through their fingers in helping people spot the mating dance. In my own case I have a Light and Motion Sola Photo 1200 that I attach to the top of my housing. It also has a 300 lumen red light that doesn’t seem to have much affect on fish which has come in handy in helping me spot and get close to them.

Right on schedule as it got dark, the mandarinfish came out to play! After seeing the mandarinfish, I moved out of the way so others could see them and amused myself by practicing with my new snoot setup that I’d just purchased that week. I had visited my friend Jovic Santos in Manila earlier in the week. Jovic owns a chain of shops in the Philippines known as Stride & Stroke, that cater to outdoor and water sports, including diving and snorkeling of course. Jovic’s passion though is underwater photography. He also owns and operates “Splash UW-Photo-Video-Pro Shop” in Manila. I stopped by to chat when I’d come back from Cebu the end of March. It was the first time we’d seen each other since my heart attack and he was really happy to see me and hear that I was diving again. Jovic is the primary sponsor of a yearly photo contest for amateur photographers. I’ll write more about that in my next blog post.

Mandarinfish mating at Lighthouse dive site near Malapascua Island.

I moved around the periphery, photographing whatever caught my eye. There were anemonefish, cardinalfish, soldierfish, and squirrelfish. As it got dark and the mandarinfish mating finished, we started to see more crabs and pipefish. I’ve seen octopus and frogfish on this site during past dives here. The dive ended up at 53 minutes with a maximum depth of 35 feet. Water temperature was 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Anemone Crab photographed on a dive at Lighthouse dive site near Malapascua Island.

When we came up it was pouring down rain! I stripped off my wet suit on the way back and stored it with my other gear in my crate. When I left the boat I had my camera and my now soaking wet t-shirt. As I mentioned earlier, we’d gotten a few scattered showers on the way to the dive site and my shirt had gotten damp. I decided not to put it in my dry bag because of that. I used one of the outdoor showers at Evolution to rinse off, then dried off and purchased a new t-shirt in the office. By now the rain had stopped. I had dinner then headed to my room.

I wrote about Monad Shoal last month and the logistics at Evolution, so I will just write about the dives this time. I did 4 dives at Monad during this visit. As I mentioned in my last blog article on Malapascua Island, there can be several days a month when sharks are not seen. Lot’s of things affect sightings. Everything from what phase the moon is in, too to much current.

As luck would have it, I did run into some weather (the rain that showed up the first night was a strong indicator). Not terrible weather, although we did get some scattered showers the next couple of days. There was some wind and current was running. Current can affect shark sightings.

The first day I saw a pufferfish resting inside a bowl formed by coral. I also spotted anemonefish, triggerfish, clam’s, and of course nudibranchs, but no sharks. The second day I saw one thresher shark, very briefly at the beginning of the dive. Also saw what appeared to be the same pufferfish resting inside the same coral formation as the day before! Spotted a nudibranch (Chromodoris magnifica), a dragon sea moth creeping along, anemone’s, clam’s, and more nudibranchs. On the third day, I grabbed some photos of a jellyfish up in the water column. There were trevally swimming by and all the usual suspects… but no sharks.

Jellyfish at Monad Shoal… I thought given how “blue” it was that it would look better converted to black and white… What do y’all think?

The 4th and last day I had a good feeling about it. The wind had died down and there was very little current. As we were getting ready to descend, Jo, who knew I’d dived the previous three mornings with only one brief sighting, called out to me and asked how many sharks we would see today? I said the first number that popped into my head “Five”! As it turned out we did see five sharks! We were observing sharks almost the entire dive. Awesome!

Divers observing a thresher shark at Monad Shoal.

This is one of the reasons I encourage people who are planning on visiting Malapascua to plan at least 4-6 days if they can, depending on how many dives they are doing a day. I’ve stayed as little as 4 days twice now and still saw sharks. Normally in the past I stayed at least a week and once stayed for a month! Yes I really like the diving in Malapascua.

On Sunday, April 16th after diving Monad Shoal, I went to Chocolate Island in the morning. Chocolate Island is about 30-35 minutes by boat and is between Malapascua Island and Cebu. I really enjoy Chocolate Island. There are normally a good variety of nudibranchs there and the corals are in really good shape. It’s fairly shallow and the walls of the island taper down to a sandy bottom. I’ve photographed frogfish there in the past, although I didn’t see any on this particular morning. I was in the water at 10:08 AM. Chocolate Island is also known for nudibranchs and I would see 5 different species by the end of the dive. There were the usual lizardfish waiting for a meal to swim by. Neon damselfish were everywhere. Grouper (lapu-lapu in Tagalog), a toby with a cleaner shrimp hitching a ride, and threadfin hawkfish it seemed everywhere you looked! Saw a few different species of pufferfish and some beautiful anemone’s. Cardinalfish, lionfish, more toby’s, a seahorse, and a white-eyed moray. Anemonefish (of course), and a couple of small cuttlefish. The great variety and beautiful corals is one of the things I love about Chocolate Island. I would end up with a 56 minute dive with a maximum depth of 48 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Neon Damselfish at Chocolate Island

The afternoon dive was at Secret Wall. Secret Wall is another site that isn’t that far from the dive op, so we start getting ready once the boat pulls away. The dive started at 1:49 PM. This dive has a short wall that bottoms out into a wide sandy area. On top of the wall, there is a large area of soft corals, and lot’s of life! The dive started with a nudibranch, and as we made our way along the wall, there were lot’s of things to see. The “usual suspects” I’ve called them before 🙂 Hawkfish of course. Lionfish, pygmy seahorse, beautiful corals, more lionfish, filefish, crinoids, wrasse, damselfish, grouper, goatfish in the sandy areas… a really nice dive! I ended up with a 43 minute dive with a maximum depth of 79 feet. Water temperature was 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

On Monday, April 17th the morning dive after Monad Shoal was Bugtong Bato. The dive site is about 15 minutes away of the northwest corner of Malapascua Island. It of course has another wall and also a sloping reef that bottoms out around 100 feet. I would hit a maximum depth of 85 feet on this dive. I saw 4 different species of nudibranchs (can you tell I’m a bit obsessed with nudibranchs?), and lot’s of beautiful corals. Butterflyfish were everwhere, as well as all the usual reef fish, from hawkfish, to damselfish, to wrasse, and anthia’s. A very nice dive that lasted 47 minutes. Water temperature was 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Halgerda carlsoni photographed at Bugtong Bato near Malapascua Island.

The third dive of the day was at Bantigue. Bantigue is very close by. By the time you get your wetsuit on, it’s time to start gearing up! It’s a nice dive with mostly sandy bottom, so a muck dive. You can see a bit of coral towards the end. This dive is really about macro for the most part. I spotted a tiny cuttlefish near the beginning of the dive that was probably less than six inches! There was a hermit crab crawling along the sandy bottom. A mantis shrimp peering out of it’s hole. A glass anemone shrimp hiding between the branches of a soft coral. Flounder which is fairly common on the sandy bottom. Goby’s were in abundance. I spotted a very tiny nudibranch. It was hard to tell the species it was so tiny!

A tiny nudibranch photographed at Bantique near Malapascua Island.

A couple areas of debris had coral growing on it and a retinue of cardinalfish surrounding it, facing into the slight current. I’d been asked ahead of time if it were okay as it was me and two new divers. We ended up back at the boat after only 39 minutes. I still had over a 100 bar left in my tank! I’d half expected it though, so I wasn’t really surprised. I could have opted to do a different dive. Maximum depth was 46 feet. Water temperature was 78 F.

Cardinalfish at Bantigue.

The fourth dive of the day was again at Bantigue and was a night dive. The dive started at 5:54 PM. This would turn out to be a really great dive. I was diving with a diver from Hong Kong who was also experienced. Started with pipefish right at the beginning, followed by an anemone crab. We would see anemone crabs throughout the dive which is common on night dives in Malapascua. There was a lizardfish, damselfish, and a pufferfish. We saw banded boxer coral shrimp in several places.

Banded Boxer Coral Shrimp photographed on a night dive at Bantigue near Malapascua Island.

A large leopard flounder and then a small devil scorpionfish, half buried in the sand that reminded me of how important it is to check whenever you’re close to the bottom! A couple of old tires proved to be home to numerous banded boxer coral shrimp and little tiny transparent shrimp! I believe they were Urocaridella antonbruunii. They’re so tiny it’s always a challenge to get a photo.

Tiny shrimp photographed on a night dive at Bantigue.

I saw a couple of tobies that were still active. Saltwater catfish, a shortfin lionfish out hunting (I rarely see them during the day), then an octopus that I used my red light to get close to for a photo. A flatworm, another shortfin lionfish (this was the red variation), and a filefish. It turned out to be a very productive dive! The dive was 64 minutes with a maximum depth of 46 feet. Water temperature was 80 F.

Shortfin Lionfish photographed during a night dive at Bantique.

On Tuesday, April 18th, after the morning dive at Monad, I threw my camera battery on charge in preparation for the trip to Gato Island. My Canon G16 battery is normally good for 3 dives. Occasionally, depending how much I shoot, it could die towards the end of the 3rd dive though. I didn’t want this happening at Gato!

Gato Island is about 45-50 minutes by boat from Malapascua Island. It’s a day trip, as I’ve written before. Because of the distance, you go over and do two dives with lunch in between before coming back. The weather had really cleared up and it was a beautiful sunny day!

The first dive at Gato was the Cave which is actually a tunnel going under the island. The dive started at 10:17 AM. Right at the entrance to the tunnel I photographed a Phyllidia varicosa nudibranch. There were the usual hermit and anemone crabs inside the tunnel and a small school of catfish. As we approached the exit we could see a whitetip reef shark that was actively swimming about and I took a photo. As we got closer it turned and swam towards me and then right past me, almost close enough to touch! I snapped a photo as it went by, but unfortunately the photo is a little soft, probably from my moving out of the way!

As we exited the tunnel I photographed a lionfish that seemed like it wanted to pose for a few photos.

Lionfish at Gato Island.

A huge crab was scuttling along across the rocks and I photographed it as well. It continued to be a typical dive at Gato Island. Lot’s of life and lots of variety.

There is a huge crab in this photo. Can you see it?

Cardinalfish, damselfish, ornate ghost pipefish, lizardfish, threadfin hawkfish, more nudibranchs of course. A grouper that actually held still long enough for several shots (imagine that!).

Grouper at Gato Island.

A nice seahorse to finish up with. Very nice dive. Dive time was 59 minutes with a maximum depth of 65 feet. Water temperature was 79 F.

Seahorse at Gato Island.

After lunch we moved the boat and started our second dive at exactly 12:30 PM. One of the first things I saw on the second dive was the shed skin of a sea snake. Not surprising as Gato Island is sanctuary and a breeding area for them. There were a couple of species of nudibranchs, one was another Phyllidia varicosa. The other I’ve not identified yet (I actually have a fair number of those which I’ll get around to identifying at some point). The next thing I spotted was a beautiful Thorny Seahorse that was almost completely white. I couldn’t remember ever seeing one that color before so I took several photos. After that another nudibranch, this one a Nembrotha lineolata I photographed some of the beautiful corals at Gato Island on this dive.

Seahorse at Gato Island.

One thing we saw during this dive which was a bit shocking was a large (by comparison) wrasse going after an anemonefish. I didn’t see the beginning of it, but the anemonefish was literally ripped apart! Anemonefish can be quite aggressive… I’ve had them actually nip me while taking photographs. I think it picked on the wrong target!

Orange cup coral and tree corals are some of my favorites because of their color and they’re everywhere. I photographed another school of catfish, banded boxer coral shrimp, anemonefish, and pufferfish. More nudibranchs, including a Nembrotha cristata. Squat shrimp, anemone crab, and a grouper to round things out.

My last dive of this visit was on the morning of Wednesday, April 19th at Monad Shoal where, as I described earlier, we would see 5 thresher sharks. After returning from that dive, I washed my gear and sat it out to dry. I had breakfast, then went to my room to pick up my things and check out. I’d packed the night before. I returned to Evolution, settled my bill and packed my dive gear. The desk called someone to help me get my bags to the port area. Quite a feat to get my dive gear bag, my Pelican case for all my camera gear, and 2 people on a motorbike!

At the port I bought a ticket on the ferry that dropped us at the old port. I hired two motorbikes to take me and my gear to the new port where I could catch a bus back to Cebu City. 50 pesos each. The bus left at 12:05 PM and I was at the South Bus Terminal in Cebu City by 5:15 PM. From there I caught a taxi to the Travelbee Business Inn for a good nights rest before heading to Dumaguete.

I’m gaining… less than 3 weeks behind now 🙂 I’ll be headed to Anilao on Friday, May 12th so there will be more after I finish Dumaguete which I’ve already outlined. Stay tuned!

I hope you enjoy reading my blog. If you have, don’t miss my next post! Visit the “Subcribe” page and sign up. It only takes a moment. Lot’s more coming! 🙂

Malapascua-Part Two

Gato Island is one of my favorites when I visit Malapascua. It’s about 45 minutes by boat from Evolution. It’s a day trip. After the first dive, lunch is served. After lunch there is a second dive, then return to the dive shop. It’s a protected breeding area for the sea krait (sea snake) and I’ve seen them on a regular basis. It’s a great spot for nudibranchs, ornate ghost pipefish, and frogfish, as well as white tip reef sharks. One dive will normally include the “Tunnel” where you enter on the northeast side of the island and exit on the west side. I’ve often seen sharks in the tunnel on the west side. This is “technically” a cavern dive. You’re diving in an overhead environment, but you never completely lose light from one opening or the other. It’s relatively safe as the chance of a silt-out is nil and you can’t get lost. It is quite dark in the middle so a light is a necessity!

Our guide for this dive was Gino. When I returned to diving in 2014 after a break of almost 4 years (I was working in the middle east for a big chunk of that), I made a trip to Malapascua Island and stayed a week. Gino was my guide for almost every dive that week and took very good care of me. It was Gino who spotted a warty frogfish on a night dive that was maybe an inch and a half big. On another night dive he pointed out a tiny juvenile bobtail squid smaller than my fingernail! He is an amazing spotter!

As with Monad, everyone starts gearing up as we approach so that as soon as we arrive, we can jump in. It was just Gino, myself, and one other diver. My dive started at 10:50 AM. We started through the tunnel and right near the entrance I spotted an anemonecrab. Crabs are quite common in the tunnel. Not unexpectedly, as we exited the tunnel, there was a white tip reef shark, actively moving about.

A white tip reef shark swims around near the exit to the tunnel at Gato Island.

There are a number of swim-through’s we passed through as we made our way around. I photographed a cowrie with it’s mantle partially extruded, then a banded boxer coral shrimp under an overhang. Then we came upon three cuttlefish. We stopped and observed them for a few minutes. I took a few photos and then switched to video. Perhaps it was two males and a female? As I was videoing, one cuttlefish appeared to violently go after the other one. I reflexively tightened my grip on my housing and my thumb stopped the video! The one cuttlefish decided to depart the area and the attacking one came back. We looked at each other and shrugged, that was interesting.. then continued with our dive.

Cuttlefish at Gato Island.

It was a very nice dive. Gino spotted an ornate ghost pipefish near a crinoid, I found a couple of nudibranchs, and a pufferfish, lionfish, scorpionfish, more nudibranchs. I would end up photographing 8 different species of nudibranchs at Gato! This first dive at Gato ended up being 58 minutes with a maximum depth of 64 feet and a water temperature of 77F. Very nice dive!

Scorpionfish at Gato Island.

For lunch we had chicken with a nice curry sauce, vegetables and rice. There were bananas for dessert. Lunch out of the way we waited until we’d had an hour surface interval, then started gearing up for the second dive. We started our 2nd dive at 1:07 PM. The second dive was more of the first. More nudibranchs, pipefish, lionfish, an octopus, hermit crab, a seahorse, and a nice frogfish. Another white tip reef shark, this one sleeping. Dive time was 50 minutes with a maximum depth of 72 feet. Water temperature was again 77F.

As we were getting back to the boat, my buddy who we were diving with told me he was sorry he’d dropped the light I’d loaned him just before the dive. He was very apologetic and said he’d buy me a new light. I told him not to worry about it as these things happen. Gino said he’d go back and look for it. We were both saying there was no way he would find it. By the time Gino’s head popped up we were already back on the boat and had our gear off. I was standing at the bow as Gino swam back. As he approached the boat, I said, “didn’t find it did you?”. His response was to hold up the light! The ability of Filipino dive guides continues to amaze me even after all these years!

Once everyone was back on-board we got underway back to Malapascua Island. We were back before 3:30. I had brought all my chargers with me that morning and left them in the office at Evolution. As soon as we were back, I gave everything a quick rinse and then dried it off and started pulling batteries. I wanted to allow them to charge as long as possible before heading out for the night dive later. I had a bit less than 2 hours so I was hoping for the best!

I ended up at the bar in The Craic House having a mango shake and working on photos since I had also brought my laptop and left it in the office. I did a bit of writing and killed time waiting for the next dive to start. After an hour I started checking my batteries. At 5:15 we had the brief and by 5:30 we were on our way to Pipefish Bay. It’s very close so we started gearing up almost immediately once we were on the boat. There were 4 people diving plus the dive guide.

My dive started at 5:48 PM. Alex was the dive guide again. It wasn’t quite full dark yet, but it was close enough. I think I enjoy this time for the same reason I enjoy Monad Shoal in the morning. At twilight, you get that mixture of day and night. We see activities associated with both. My first photo was a nudibranch, Chromodoris magnifica. There were pipefish everywhere, making “Pipefish Bay” an apt name. Lionfish were still out and about. The usual assortment of crabs were in abundance including hermit crabs and anemone crabs. I spotted a twinspot lionfish, a fish I rarely see during the day. That was followed by a pair of ornate ghost pipefish. There were rabbitfish, and banded boxer coral shrimp of which I saw several throughout the dive. All in all a very nice dive. I ended up with a 60 minute dive with a maximum depth of 46 feet and water temperatures at 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Crab photographed on a dive at Pipefish Bay.

By 7:15 we were all back at Evolution. I rinsed my camera gear, wiped it down and removed my camera. Then closed it back up. I ordered dinner and had a beer and reviewed photos while waiting for it. Once I’d finished dinner, I headed for my room at Sharks Tale. It had been a long day and I was getting up early again the next morning to go dive with the thresher sharks again. Once I reached my room, I put everything on charge, grabbed a shower and went to sleep.

My alarm woke me at 4:15 AM on Saturday the 25th. My last dive day of the trip as I was headed back to Cebu City the next day. I got up, washed my face and got dressed. I set up my camera which basically consisted of inserting a fully charged battery into my camera, and then inserting the camera into the housing, and then closing it up.

When I was ready, I walked out my door and down the stairs, carefully because it was still dark outside! There are no streetlights in Malapascua (no streets really as there are no 4 wheeled vehicles that I’m aware of). Lot’s of paths cross and cris-cross the island. A flashlight isn’t a bad idea! Evolution is about a 5 minute walk from Sharks Tail. I was at the dive op about 10 minutes early for the 4:45 AM dive brief.

The process in the morning runs pretty much the same everyday. After the brief the process from the day before repeated. After boarding the boat and checking our boxes, the boat got underway for Monad. This morning our guide was Jo, another long time guide at Evolution. I remember doing a dive with him at Gato Island last year and we were followed by a group from another dive shop. Jo would spot something and I’d start taking photos. I’d look over my shoulder and the guide from the other shop was there looking to see what Jo had spotted 😀 I’d look over my shoulder as I finned away and he’d be showing his group what I’d just photographed. This happened a few times and we had a good laugh about it back on the boat! At 5:46 AM (a whole minute earlier than the day before) I was starting my first dive of the day.

This morning as the day before, visibility was about 30-40 feet. Unlike the day before, we were looking at sharks almost the entire dive! When we reached the first viewing station, we saw sharks almost immediately, what appeared to be 2. They circled in and out of sight for several minutes, then they were gone. We moved on to a second viewing spot. On our way there a shark crossed in front of us. After reaching the second viewing spot, again within a few minutes, we had a pair of sharks circling in front of us which we were able to observe for several minutes. Likely we saw at least 5 sharks. I say likely because reality is that while they were circling in front of us, they were circling in and out of view due to visibility. It’s often difficult to know exactly how “many” sharks you’ve seen because of that. Unfortunately, this morning I didn’t have a shark come close enough for a really sharp photo, but it was still awesome just to see them! I ended up with a 44 minute dive. My maximum depth was again 77 feet and water temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit… a degree warmer than the day before.

Divers observing a thresher shark at Monad Shoal.

My second dive of the day was at Bugtong Bato. As one of the dive sites around Malapascua Island itself, it only takes about 15 minutes to reach there from the resort. Bugtong Bato is a small pinnacle. The top of the pinnacle is at about 50 feet and covered in corals. It descends to a sandy bottom at around a 100 feet. I really enjoy this dive site. There is a large school of batfish that hang out there and plenty of macro opportunities. For this dive we had Gino again. It didn’t take long for him to spot a nudibranch for me and by the time the dive was over we would find six different species, including a couple I’d not seen before! Also spotted plenty of fish, including rainbow runner, snapper, cardinalfish. Gino spotted a nice snowflake moray eel (Echidna nebulosa). Not uncommon, but not as common as the white eyed moray that I see on a regular basis in the Philippines. All in all a nice dive that ended up being only 36 minutes as we spent a bit too much time near the bottom of the pinnacle. Maximum depth was 86 feet and water temperature was 78 F.

Snowflake Moray
Eel (Echidna nebulosa) at Bugtong Bato.

Butong Bato would be a good dive for nitrox although I don’t normally dive nitrox much these days. Not because I don’t see the advantages of it, but because I’m normally diving so much that it would just add up to less diving for me. I’m “retired” now and I have to watch my budget sometimes so I can continue to travel and dive. Having said that I do still occasionally dive nitrox, but usually only if I’m diving in a group of people are using it.

After we the dive we headed back to Evolution and I had a leisurely lunch at The Craic House. It’s probably one of the best restaurants on the island, which probably explains why I eat there so much!

The last dive of the day was at Deep Slope. The briefing was at 1:15 PM and we were underway shortly after. Deep Slope lies off the northeast tip of Malapascua Island. The plan was to follow the mooring line down, then make our way around a short wall and then up a sandy slope back to the top. We had Gino as our dive guide once again.

Right at the beginning of the dive we saw a dragonnet. I still haven’t figured out the exact species so if anyone would like to help I’d appreciate it! Again lot’s of life here around Malapascua Island. Next was a nudibranch, then a pair of banded pipefish. Grouper, lionfish, a toby, another nudibranch, and then a white eyed moray. A twin-spotted lionfish, then another white-eyed moray. Yet another nudibranch, a cuttlefish, then a pair of filefish. A fifth species of nudibranch, wrasse, cowfish, and a school of catfish fry. The dive ended up being 54 minutes with a maximum depth of 71 feet. Water temperature was again 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

That night I packed after dinner and went to bed early. The next morning I settled my bill at Sharks Tale, then went and did the same at Evolution. I decided that although I was going to take a break, that I would come back to Malapascua Island after attending ADEX in Singapore. I left my dive gear and my underwater photography gear at Evolution, rather than carry it. The next morning after breakfast, I headed to the ferry terminal at the port. I purchased my ticket for a 100 pesos. As it was low tide a small boat took us out to the ferry that was moored in deeper water. 20 pesos for the trip out. We were dropped off at the old pier in Maya. I was lucky to catch a ride with a fellow American who was hiring a taxi for the trip back. 1500 pesos, but we were in Cebu City in just 2 1/2 hours, half the time of the bus! I checked in too Kiwi Lodge. After cleaning up and resting for a bit, I grabbed a taxi to Ayala Mall and had a bite to eat. Then called it an early night.

The next morning I was up early for the free breakfast. The desk sent someone to wave down a taxi for me. I was on my way to the airport by 7:30 AM As expected, taxi fare in a white taxi ended up being significantly less than it was in the yellow taxi. Only a 184 pesos!

In Cebu as at other airport in the Philippines, I passed through security, including metal detector and baggage x-ray before going to the check-in counter. Since I had no bags to check, I’d checked in online and took a screenshot of my boarding pass and saved it on my phone. I went directly to the gate passing through security again before going to the area of the gates. My flight was at 10:35 AM and I reached Clark International Airport in Pampanga a little after noon.

My trip had started on March 9th, the day after my cardiologist agreed that I had recovered enough to dive again after my heart attack in November while transiting Singapore (read about it elsewhere in my blog). I started in Puerto Galera, then Subic Bay, followed by Moalboal, and finishing in Malapascua. 21 dives in two weeks.

Time for a break!

Next I’ll be writing about my weekend at ADEX (Asia Dive Expo) in Singapore. Then my return to Malapascua Island and weekend in Dumaguete competing in the annual “SEA (Small Exotic Animals) Philippines” photo contest.

I hope you enjoy reading my blog. If you have, don’t miss my next post! Visit the “Subcribe” page and sign up now. It only takes a moment. Lot’s more coming! 🙂

Malapascua-Part One

After a decent nights sleep, I woke up on Wednesday, March 22nd (yes my blog is over a month behind but I’m going to catch up I promise!), had breakfast, then had the desk call a taxi. The North Bus Station in Cebu City is about the same distance from Kiwi Lodge as the South Bus Station. A short ride to the bus station and then I was on a bus headed to Maya. 5 hours later we arrived at the pier in Maya.

At Maya the bus lets you out at the new pier. You’ll be asked to log in with the tourist association, then you will purchase a ticket. Price of a ticket on the ferry is a 100 pesos. When the boat was ready we were directed to the boat and someone took our tickets. Be prepared to wade through the water (usually not more than ankle deep) to a ramp to get up on the boat. About 35 minutes later we were walking off the boat at Bounty Beach.

I should add here that last year when I spent 4 weeks on Malapascua Island that I came and went 4 times. Only one of those times did the ferry go to Bounty Beach. When I was in Malapascua again a couple of weeks ago, we were also dropped off at Bounty Beach so perhaps this is something new. What was more normal last year was to go to the port and if it were low tide, a small boat would transport us for 20 pesos. Again, be prepared to get your feet wet.

I opted to stay at Purple Snapper which is under new management and ownership. I knew from having stayed there last year, that the rooms were much more inexpensive than anything I would find on the beach! When I arrived I discovered everything was in the process of being changed over, including the name which has been changed to Sharks Tail. Interestingly enough, I again ended up in the same room that I’d stayed at on my last visit when I stayed for 4 weeks last April. As I’ve said in other blog posts, I often will get the least expensive room. This usually turns out to be a fan room with no television in some places.

Unlike my last trip, the bar and kitchen were open this time, and there was water in the swimming pool! Last year the pool was empty! I met Greg, the new manager, and it sounds like they’re really going to do a lot with the place.

Although I was offered the opportunity to dive with Shark’s Tail, I opted to dive with Evolution. Nothing against Shark’s Tale, but I’ve been diving with Evolution since 2010 and don’t feel any need to go somewhere else. I’ve been very happy with their operation which I consider to be a very professional one.

I was in Malapascua again just over a week ago and have done over 80 dives with Evolution now. At present I’ve done over a 100 dives in Malapascua. I made my first dive there in October 2007. I’ve not gone every year, but I have made six trips now… there must be some reason I keep going back!

This trip I was only planning 3 dive days. I was exhausted after the long bus ride so I opted NOT to get up early for the shark dive. Instead there was trip going to Kalanggaman Island the next day and of course I signed up!

Kalanggaman Island technically is in Leyte so it’s a bit of boat ride to get there. It’s an all day trip. It leaves around 9 AM and takes an hour and a half to two hours to get there, depending on weather of course. There is an extra fee involved of course because of the long boat ride, 650 pesos, which also included lunch. There is also a Marine Fee charged by the Leyte government of 500 pesos, so yes you are paying an extra 575 pesos per dive (don’t forget lunch is included though). I always try to go to Kalanggaman every time I visit Malapascua though. The diving is just that amazing!

Kalanggaman Island is wall diving for the most part. You drop in over a sandy area, then swim over the wall and descend from there. Visibility is often well over 50 feet to as much as a 100 feet!

Wall diving at Kalanggaman Island.

After a good nights sleep and breakfast at The Craic House (Evolution Dive Resorts restaurant), we had our briefing at 8:45 AM. By 9 AM everyone was on the boat and we were underway.

I always try to sit in the middle of the boat. I’m one of those people who just cannot get a tan it seems. I can get very red though! It was a nice relaxing trip. The weather was absolutely beautiful! As we were approaching the island a pod of dolphins was spotted and the boat briefly followed them. Sometimes dolphins seem to want to play and will race along in front of the boat, with occasional leaps into the air, like they are just having fun with us! Today though they seemed to have other things on their agenda so we continued on to the island.

At 10:55 we were starting our first dive. Our guide was Mette Hallum who is a dive instructor from Denmark. I actually have a photo of her from a dive on Monad Shoal last year. Right at the beginning of the dive there was an eagle ray hanging out near the mooring line and I took several photos of Mette shooting video of an eagle ray with her GoPro.

I’m never disappointed when I dive Kalanggaman. Visibility was easily 50-60 feet. Right at the beginning of the dive Mette spotted a black frogfish. I never seem to get tired of photographing frogfish! There are loads of hard and soft corals at Kalanggaman Island and they are in good shape. You can see schools of jacks and rainbow runners. Lots of wrasse and damselfish. Scorpionfish, frogfish, nudibranchs, triggerfish, parrotfish, schools of anthia’s, hawkfish sitting on coral, just waiting to swoop somewhere, coleman shrimp, anemonefish, ghost shrimp, butterflyfish,… all the “usual suspects” as I’m prone to call them. Water temperature was 78 degrees Fahrenheit and my maximum depth ended up being 88 feet. The dive ended up being 44 minutes.

Frogfish at Kalanggaman Island.

During the surface interval we pulled in too shore and had lunch. After lunch we were able to get off the boat and walk around the island. There are a few basic facilities there, but no water or food. You have to bring your own. I walked around the island a bit and snapped a few photos then back to the boat. The boat pulled out again and we headed to do our second dive.

Evolution’s dive boat, The Haldane, beached at Kalanggaman Island.

I started the second dive at 1:28 PM. We again were diving the wall, but a different area than the first dive. Pretty early in the dive Mette found an ornate ghost pipefish next to a crinoid which I took several shots of. The rest of the dive was much like the first one. Lot’s of fish, anthia’s, damselfish, more hawkfish, a couple of different white-eyed moray’s… just another awesome dive! Maximum depth on this dive was 66 feet. Water temperatures were a bit warmer at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, since we didn’t go quite as deep as the first dive. This dive was 56 minutes.

Freckled Hawkfish were everywhere while diving Kalanggaman Island.

After everyone was back on board, we got underway and headed back to Malapascua Island. We arrived at Evolution Dive Resort before 5 PM. I checked out the board for dives that were scheduled for the next day. I had planned a full day of diving for the next day, but trips to Gato Island require a minimum of four divers. I’d let it be known that I really wanted to dive Gato Island and it had been put on the board before we left that morning. I was happy to see there were enough divers. I signed up to do the early morning Thresher Shark dive at Monad Shoal and also the night dive at Pipefish Bay. After dinner at Craic House, I headed back to Sharks Tale for some rest. It was going to be a long day the next day!

The big draw that Malapascua Island has for most people is thresher sharks. It’s the only place in the world where recreational divers can see them on a reliable basis. Is it a 100%? No of course not and no reputable dive operation should promise that. We’re still dealing with a wild animal and conditions, especially current can affect sightings. Having said that, I’d estimate that over 80% of the dives I’ve made on Monad Shoal, I saw thresher sharks. Another way of looking at it would be in a one month period there might be a half dozen or so days when no sharks or sighted which means you’re much more likely than not to see sharks!

Monad Shoal is an underwater island that is actually larger than Malapascua. Scientists currently believe that thresher sharks migrate to the area of Monad Shoal to utilize the services of particular species of cleaner fish that are found there. It’s about a 40 minute boat ride depending on conditions. You have to get up early to see thresher sharks. Early morning is the only time when sightings are consistent. The species that is seen here is the pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus).

Dive briefings at Evolution for the morning trip to Monad take place at 4:45 AM. The staff and boat crews are there much earlier making preparations and loading all the gear on the boat. Divers who have already been diving will grab their wetsuits. Wetsuits are always hung up separately from the gear to allow them to be at least somewhat dry from the previous days diving. It’s easier to let divers find their own wetsuit where it’s hung up. It would be difficult for the crew to know which is which since they’re hung up together, especially in the dark! Once the briefing is over everyone will be transported by small boat (it’s low tide in the morning) out to one of the large bangka boats for the trip to Monad.

I was up at 4:15 AM the next morning. I give myself enough time to wake up in the morning and get my camera gear set up. The walk to Evolution is only about 5 minutes, so not far at all. When I got there I grabbed my wetsuit and then sat and waited for the brief. The brief was given right on time at 4:45 AM. One of the rules is that if you don’t show up for the brief, then you will be charged for the dive. This is just to make sure that people don’t blow off the dive. The crew comes in early to load the boats so there is a lot of work to be done in preparation to go out. Having said that, as long as you show up, if you decide that you are not up to a dive that day, or want to call the dive for any reason, you can do so and there will be no charge.

As soon as the brief was finished, we headed to the beach where a small boat took us out to the Haldane, one of Evolutions dive bangka’s. It’s still dark outside at this point, but we can see a hint of light off to the east. Once on the boat, a boat brief is given for everyone who is on the boat for the first time. Everyone checks their boxes to double-check that there gear is all there. People are human, so things can get mis-placed, although in my experience, having dived with them for years, this is extremely rare. Always best to err on the side of caution. No one wants to get out to the dive site and not have all their equipment. The tanks are normally already set up and I double check mine. After all, I’m the one who is diving with it! After that I go and make myself a cup of coffee and sit in the back while the boat gets underway. By 5 AM we were on our way to Monad Shoal.

As we approach Monad Shoal everyone starts getting ready. People put on their wetsuits and booties, strap on dive computers, apply de-fog (or spit for all the old-school divers), and stage mask, fins, camera’s, etc… By now there is plenty of light as the sky brightens with the arrival of sunrise. Within minutes of arriving at Monad, the crew assists divers with their tanks, final checks are completed and divers start stepping into the water with a giant stride entry. I was in the first group. Our guide this morning was Alex, one of Evolution’s Filipino guides. I’ve been diving with Filipino guides for almost 10 years now and they have always impressed me with their skills. Evolution has some of the best guides I’ve had the pleasure of diving with over the years. I’ve often said that almost everything I learned about spotting, I learned from my Filipino guides!

I stepped in, was handed my camera by a crew member and then finned over to Alex while we waited for the rest of our group. Once we were all together, Alex got a final ok from everyone, then a thumbs down for descent. I dumped the air from my wing and my dive began at 5:47 AM.

The best word to describe Monad Shoal at this time of the morning is “twilight”. By now there is enough light in the sky that you can see quite well, but it is far from “bright”. The top of the shoal slopes and is at about 60 feet on the shallow side. The slope continues down to over 80 feet. Around the edge of the shoal it drops off into over 700 feet of water. Visibility runs 30-60 feet depending on time of year and conditions. Where we started our dive it was about 60 feet deep. When I started to drop, I could not initially see the bottom, but it came into view very quickly. There are permanent mooring lines attached at different places. If there is current then you can use the mooring line to descend. This morning current was almost non-existent.

For most of the dive there were no sharks… this happens sometimes. Nothing is exact when it comes to predicting when they will be there. Sometimes we see them briefly, sometimes we see them the whole dive, and occasionally the sea gods are against us and we don’t them. Still, for me there really isn’t any such thing as a “bad” dive. As I said before there is plenty of life there on the shoal. I spotted a free swimming moray early on in this particular dive. Something you rarely see in full daylight conditions. There are also the usual marine life that you would see, anemonefish, damselfish, batfish, jacks, cleaner wrasse, shrimps, crabs, etc… All the “usual suspects” that those of you who follow my blog have heard me refer to them as.

One of the “rules” agreed to by all the dive operations on Malapascua Island, is that divers will not take lights are strobes on the morning thresher shark dive. There is a concern that if that was allowed, that the sharks might be scared away, and of course no one wants that! So, although I do often see other marine life, I rarely photograph it during that dive. At that depth and under those lighting conditions everything tends to be very “blue”! Sometimes in post-processing I convert to black and white because of that, and sometimes I leave it blue. It kind of depends on how I’m feeling at the moment!

When there are no sharks, I sometimes entertain myself by photographing the other divers. I usually want a few shots of divers anyway. My background in photo-journalism drives home the point that divers are a part of the “story” here and they really are. Diving is so much better when we have someone to share the experience with! I sometimes also will take the time to look at the other life on the shoal. I spend most of though like everyone else… looking for sharks!

At Monad there are a number of observation stations that have been set up. There are concrete blocks that have been sunk there and line attached. This is to give the sharks room to approach on their own. Again, if there were no organization here, and with so many divers in the water, there could be a possibility that the sharks would go elsewhere. During the morning dive when there are so many divers there, groups are to confine themselves to areas behind the lines. If no sharks are appearing at one viewing station, then a leisurely move to another station is allowed. Just keep away from the edges and behind the area where the lines have been installed. This maximizes sighting opportunities for the majority of divers. The system must work… as I said earlier seeing sharks is easily 80%! It’s important to understand though, that sharks can approach from any direction, occasionally they even come from behind you!

This morning, as luck would have it, we just weren’t seeing sharks. It happens…. Towards the end of the dive we had returned back to the area of the mooring line and a little beyond it, when Alex spotted a thresher shark in the distance in front of us, coming towards us! The shark swam right by me and I was able to take a few still photos, then switch to video. The shark went by, circled back a couple of times, then was gone into the blue. Awesome!

Thresher shark at Monad Shoal.

Back on the boat everyone was all smiles! People were talking, the photographers were sharing their photos and video’s, and it’s just general happiness, especially from those who have traveled from half-way around the world and sometimes only have a brief few days. Does life get any better? I ended with a 43 minute dive with a maximum depth of 77 feet. Water temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

We headed back to Evolution. I gave my camera gear a quick rinse, then headed to the restaurant for breakfast. I ordered, then dried off my housing so I could remove the camera and download photos from the morning dive. By 7:35 my breakfast was in front of me. After breakfast, I relaxed until it was time for the briefing for Gato Island at 9:45 AM. By 10:00 AM we were back on the boat and headed to Gato.

To be continued…

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