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Bauan Divers Sanctuary

I first met Lourdes and Mark Lowings at last years DRT Show. Surprisingly they still remembered me when I walked by their booth at this years show! It was September 9th and I’d just returned to the Philippines after being home in the US for two months. DRT happened to be taking place the weekend I flew in.

While at home I’d made only 15 dives and was itching to get back in the water. The first week I was back there was a weather system passing by and conditions not the best. I opted to go spend the week at Subic Bay and Olongapo, where I often hang out in between dive trips. I have many friends in the area and it’s a popular place for expats like myself. I arrived in Olongapo the day after DRT ended as I wrote about in my last blog post.

I emailed Lourdes after arriving and negotiated a rate to visit the resort for a week, checking in on Sunday and leaving Saturday. I’d not really expected to dive that week, but towards the end of the week conditions improved and I decided to get a couple days of diving in Subic Bay. I wrote about the diving there in my previous blog piece.

Sunday morning, September 17th, I caught a trike to Victory Terminal in Olongapo. There I caught a bus to Cubao in Manila. From the Victory Terminal in Cubao, I walked a couple of blocks to the DLTB Terminal where I caught a bus to Lemery. I kept in touch with the resort via text messaging and when I arrived in Lemery, there was a driver there to pick me up. From there we had a short drive to meet a boat which was a short 10 minute ride to the resort.

I was a little blown away by the resort to be honest… much nicer than the places I normally stay! I tend to skimp when it comes to accommodations to save more money for diving. Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort is a very picturesque place, built into the side of a hill it overlooks Balayan Bay. The resort has a total of 32 rooms. 16 suites that will sleep up to 8 people, 6 standard rooms that will sleep up too 5 people, 6 non-aircon backpacker rooms with a cold shower, 2 spa suites, and 1 instructor suite that will sleep 4. There is also a cottage with 4 showers and comfort rooms that will sleep up to 10 people. The resort is obviously very capable of accommodating large groups. There are two pavilions that are ideal for groups. They are complete with rinse tanks and places to hang gear.

When I arrived it turned out that I was the only guest in the resort! A couple of days later a group arrived from China but until then I had the place to myself. I was shown to one of the standard rooms. An absolutely beautiful room. Marble floors, beautifully decorated, and huge! Two king-size beds and one twin bed. What we call a “bathroom” or “restroom” in the US is called a “comfort room” or “CR” in the Philippines. This one had modern fittings and enclosed shower with hot water! (I stay in fan rooms with no hot water quite often to save money so a nice luxury for me 😉 ) There was also a dressing area with plenty of closet space. The resort has wifi throughout. There was a bench on the porch outside the room where you could sit, relax, and watch the sunset if you liked. A very nice room! I got unpacked and put all my batteries on charge.

The restaurant is located in a very nice pavilion complete with a bar. It appeared to be capable of easily seating a 100 people at one time. A great place to sit and watch the sunset. I was really impressed with the food there. Food was amazing and plenty of it! The first couple of days when I was there by myself I was served at the table. Once more people arrived they put out a really nice buffet. Every afternoon after the 3rd dive they would bring a snack and drink down to me. My only complaint initially when it was just me, was they were providing me with too much food! I felt surely I was gaining weight! 😀

Obviously a lot of thought and planning had gone into the resort. Everything from the multiple rinse tanks and racks for hanging gear to showers, to the swimming pool, to where we entered the water, everything was oriented towards the diver. There are two pavilions that are capable of handling different large groups. There are male and female comfort rooms and individual showers. Towels are provided. They have rental equipment and nitrox available.

Unlike in other resorts in the Philippines I’d dived where the emphasis is on boat diving, the focus at Bauan Divers Sanctuary is on shore entry. I knew before I went that I would be shore diving and I was frankly, quite curious about just how good the diving in the sanctuary would be. It turned out I was not prepared!

I’ve been diving the Philippines since 2007 and have logged almost 400 dives there. I have experienced a lot of great diving there. I have to say that Bauan Divers Sanctuary has the best “house reef” of any resort I’ve dived with! A diverse and healthy fish population and nice corals. There are multiple entry points from the resort and different routes making a number of “different” dives possible. Whether we went straight, left, or right. Sometimes we would come back to the entry point, but more often we would exit at a different spot than where we entered. Water temperatures ran around 84F and visibility averaged 40+ feet.

There are wall’s, caves, an island, an underwater pinnacle, sandy areas, and the opportunity to see something new on every dive, all from shore diving from the resort itself. Anthia’s, groupers, damselfish, pipefish, batfish, moray’s, crabs, shrimps, clams, soldierfish, squirrelfish, numerous nudibranch species, trevally, razorfish, trumpetfish, ribbon eels, butterflyfish, peacock mantis shrimp, sea turtles, filefish, hawkfish, even lobster… all the “usual suspects”! I made 3 dives a day for 3 days and never tired of the diving! On the 4th day I did my only boat dives heading south along the coast and doing boat dives in front of Dive and Trek and at Portulano House Reef. After we returned we did a 3rd dive in the sanctuary. I ended up with 12 dives in 4 dive days.

I really enjoyed the 4 days of diving with Bauan Divers Sanctuary Resort. In all I did 12 dives with them. On Friday, September 22nd I took a break and after talking with Lourdes at dinner that night she offered one of the resorts boats to take me across to Anilao. By boat it was less than 30 minutes versus a boat ride, followed by a trike, followed by a jeepney, transfer to another jeepney, then another trike. I was really appreciative of being able to take the direct route! Next morning as promised, I was taken by boat to Anilao.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let the photos speak about the diving at Bauan Divers Sanctuary 🙂 I will be back!

Next up I’ll cover my 2nd trip to Anilao this year and second time diving with Anilao Scuba Dive Center so stay tuned! I arrived in Anilao on September 23rd and left on September 27th.

I’m in Hawaii now and trying to get caught up so I can start writing about what I’m currently doing. I still have my visits to Anilao and Puerto Galera to write about. I’ll be here in Hawaii for about 2 1/2 months so stay tuned!

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Diving Subic Bay with Arizona Dive Resort

I checked out of my hotel the next morning after DRT on September 11th and caught a cab to the bus station in Cubao. From there I got on a bus to Olongapo where I caught a jeepney to Barretto. I arrived roughly 4 hours later (traffic has been horrible in Manila) still recovering from jet lag with the 13 hour time difference.

One of the nice things about Subic Bay for people who will be traveling there from out of the country, is how easy it is to reach from Manila. Take a cab from the airport (if you’re flying in) to the Victory Terminal in Cubao. Taxi should be around 300 pesos, give or take depending on traffic and route taken. If they want to negotiate a flat rate keep this in mind. It they take the toll road they will want you to pay the toll and that’s fair as it’s saving time. Sometimes taxi drivers in Manila don’t want to use the meter because they feel they aren’t getting adequately compensated because of the amount of time spent sitting in traffic. I’m not totally unsympathetic to this so take into account when negotiating or tipping. I don’t tip on negotiated rates so if the asking price is within the range I would probably tip anyway, then it’s an easy negotiation. If they know that I know what the meter rate would be it’s easier to get them to come down. Expect roughly 350 with tip plus tolls. I sometimes offer “meter plus 50 pesos” and they will pretty much always agree to that. Just some things to keep in mind while negotiating 🙂

In Cubao, hop a bus to Olongapo (205 pesos). From there you can catch a taxi or trike to where you need to go. Going rate for a trike from Victory Terminal in Olongapo to Barretto is a 150 pesos. I almost always take a trike if I have dive gear with me as it’s just too much trouble in a jeepney 🙂 A taxi/van will be around 350 pesos. So to get from the airport in Manila to Arizona would be about $15 dollars US via public transport. A bit over $20 if you take a van instead of a trike from the terminal in Olongapo. A private van to pick you up is more convenient but expect to pay at least 5000 pesos ($100 bucks). If you’re in a group though the difference may make the convenience worth it 🙂

I stayed at The Coffee Shop Restaurant and Rooftop Hotel a Filipino-owned place whom I’ve mentioned previously here in my blog. The Coffee Shop Restaurant is open 24 hours and serves good Filipino food. I’ve eaten there many a night. They’re also known for their tacos which are huge! A standard room in their Rooftop Hotel is 1095 pesos a night (little less than $22 dollars at the current exchange rate). I consider the rooms to be US standard. Rooms are clean and well-maintained. There is free wi-fi included and the rooms have cable television which include HBO and Cinemax as well news channels from the US, Discovery Channel, History Channel, etc.. I go there sometimes just to relax after I’ve been diving somewhere else in the provinces because the amenities are all there at a reasonable price.

Across the street is Arizona International Resort, an Australian-owned operation, which is beachfront on Subic Bay. I’ve spoken with the folks at the Arizona Dive Shop a few times as I have spent a lot of time in the Olongapo area the last couple of years. I eat in the resorts restaurant on a fairly regular basis when I’m in town and would occasionally stop in to chat with the guys in the dive shop. Their Economy Rooms are 1350 pesos a night (cash price) with a Standard Room going for 1550 pesos. About $27 and $31 dollars a night respectively. They do offer package deals if you are diving with them according to their website. If I were coming just to dive I’d look into that. I’ve never stayed at Arizona, as I spend time in Olongapo as much as to relax and catch up on things as to dive. Arizona does have a great reputation, though and my experience with the restaurant, bar operation and dive operations bear that out. I can say it is very convenient to stay at the same place you’re diving speaking from past experience. Since retirement though I try to save money where I can with only the occasional splurge… that leaves more money for diving 🙂

For places to eat and drink I’ve eaten in the Arizona restaurant quite often over the last couple of years when I’ve been in town. Their restaurant is one of the better ones in the area in my opinion. I eat breakfast usually at Arizona are at VFW. VFW is further down the road on the left just across from Crazy Horse Bar and next door to Sit-in-Bull Annex. I usually have dinner at Sit-in-Bull Restaurant on Del Pilar Street which is American-owned and operated and in my opinion the best restaurant in Barretto. If I don’t have dinner at Sit-n-Bull I go to Arizona and occasionally to Shamboli’s, an Italian place also American-owned which is just a few minutes walk from Arizona. For Filipino food Coffee Shop is one of the most popular. For drinks, I like Dynamite Dicks, Two Can, or Sit-n-Bull Annex. Those are the essentially “neighborhood” bars. Score Bar is on the premises at Arizona and has plenty of big screen tv’s. Arizona also has a Floating Bar when it’s not typhoon season and that is a cool place to relax too.

Now about the dive operation…. Arizona is a PADI 5 Star Resort and offers training all the way up to Instructor Development Courses and Specialty Instructor courses. They have a reputation as one of the premier dive operations in the area. I’ve run into people who have dived and taken courses with them over the last couple of years and always heard good things about them. I’d also spoken with Kent Simmonds the dive shop manager a few times. Kent is from Australia and is a very personable guy. Arizona has a strong focus on offering good training. With their great location being on Subic Bay people come from all over for training in Wreck, Deep, and EANx. With such a great reputation I decided I would do a few dives with them myself so I could form my own opinion.

The operation is quite professional with high standards. Their boats all carry oxygen onboard and their boat crews are trained in first aid/CPR and as oxygen providers. They provide hot towels after your dive to wipe your face which is a nice touch and free hot snacks, along with coffee, tea, and water on the boat during surface intervals. They go out twice a day and try to allow guests to choose the dive sites they want to dive on when conditions allow.

I’ve almost always had Filipino dive guides over the years except for a couple of times I dived with the owner of a dive operation which happened I think as much as because they were really busy as anything else. This time my guide was James Sims one of the instructors there. A companionable and down to earth guy who was very knowledgeable about the wrecks and their history. James, who is from England has been an instructor for just a year but has a 100 certifications under his belt already. He calls himself a bit of a “metalhead” and loves diving the wrecks. He did a thorough dive briefing before each dive and was quite familiar with a lot of the history surrounding the wrecks. A lot of the experience for wreck divers I think is the history of the wreck they are diving on so diving with someone who is familiar is a nice plus!

I did 5 dives with Arizona over the course of 2 days September 14th and 15th. Barges, San Quentin, and LST all dives I’ve done multiple times (Barges and San Quentin are two of my favorite dive sites in Subic). They also took me too two dive sites I’d not dived previously, Beer Barrels and the Skyraider wreck which I quite enjoyed.

The first dive on the 14th was Beer Barrels. Beer Barrels is a large structure composed of steel trusses, with large cylinders inside of it. The cylinders reminded someone of beer barrels, hence the name. The structure was alive with life including black and green frogfish, lot’s of scorpionfish, spider crabs, nudibranchs, and even a lobster! There were also the usual suspects, lots of fish life which can always be found around any large underwater structure. It’s a square profile as it sits in approximate 100 feet in open water so we were on 32% nitrox. Our dive started at 3:16 PM and was 38 minutes. My maximum depth was 97 feet. Visibility was maybe 30 feet and water temperature was 83F. This could easily become my new favorite dive site! 🙂 This was my first dive with Arizona and was a great dive! James impressed me with his ability as a spotter also. A really great start 🙂

Giant Frogfish (Antennarius commerson) photographed at Beer Barrels in Subic Bay, Philippines.

In addition to Beer Barrels, on September 14th we also dived the Barges near Grande Island. One of my favorite dive sites in Subic Bay it was a floating dock that eventually sank after it was abandoned. The sections of the dock form a rough “T” and sit on a mainly sandy bottom. There is some separation of the sections. One side drops off from roughly 20 feet to around 60 feet. The other drops to over a 100 feet. The wreckage is a haven for a large variety of marine life. When I think about the photos I’ve taken at this site peacock mantis shrimp, nudibranchs, snapper, lionfish, pufferfish, butterflyfish, cardinalfish, all come to mind. I’m absolutely positive I’ve lost track! This dive was very typical of my previous experiences there. We did a 51 minute dive there. Visibility was typical at about 40-45 feet. Water temperature was 84 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus) photographed on “The Barges” in Subic Bay, Philippines.

The first dive on the 15th was the LST. LST’s (Landing Ship Tanks) were a very versatile ship designed for transporting tanks and vehicles. Over a 1000 of them were built in the US during WW II. Many were later converted to use as floating repair ships, hospital ships, troop transports, or floating barracks for accommodations.

This one sits upright on a sandy slope on the eastern side of the bay in 90-118 feet of water. Our dive started at 9:40 AM and was 44 minutes diving with 32% nitrox. Maximum depth was 100 feet and water temperature was 84F. Visibility, as is often the case closer in to the shore was less than 30 feet. As always the wreck was alive with fish. We did a limited penetration and then we roamed around the exterior of the wreck looking for subjects for my camera. An enjoyable dive!

Longfin Batfish (Platax teira) photographed on the the LST wreck in Subic Bay, Philippines.

Our second dive on the 15th was the San Quentin, another of my favorites that I’ve written about before. The San Quentin was a Spanish gun boat that was scuttled at the entrance to Subic Bay in 1898 to block the American Navy from entering during the Spanish-American War. Although the ship is largely deteriorated, the stern with it’s rudders, along with the boilers and the bow are all still easily recognizable. It sits in shallow enough water to give good light and the visibility is almost always good. In the past I’ve observed that when other sites within the bay had poor visibility due to weather, San Quentin (along with Barges) was the go too site as it’s almost always good there lying as it does near the entrance to the bay. It’s close by Barges as it’s just to the southeast of Grande Island.

Our dive on San Quentin started at 11:24 AM and lasted for 61 minutes. We were diving 32% nitrox. There was tons of fish swarming around. Quite a few nudibranchs. I spent some time stalking a coral grouper with limited success. I’ve spotted everything from flying gunard’s and blue-spotted ray’s on the sand surrounding the wreck to various species of nudibranchs, and lot’s of sweetlips, jacks, and grunts around the wreck. A very nice dive and as I mentioned one of my favorites in Subic Bay. Water temperature was 85F and visibility was around 40 feet.

Hypselodoris tryoni photographed on the wreck of the San Quentin, Subic Bay, Philippines.

The third dive on the 15th was Skyraider. This was another dive site that Arizona took me to that I had not dived previously. The Douglas A-1 Bomber, known as the Skyraider, was used extensively during the Korean War. It was still being used when this one lost power and crashed just off the end of the runway on 27 April 1964.

Coral grouper near the nose of the Skyraider which is overgrown in places with coral and crinoids.

Another deep dive with a square profile we opted for 28% nitrox. The wreck is intact and sits upright on the bottom in 118 feet of water. The wreck was alive with fish and other marine life. I spotted two different species of grouper, numerous cardinalfish, along with tiny shrimps in the cockpit. Maximum depth was 116 feet and our dive was 27 minutes. Even with nitrox you can only stretch it so long without running into deco 🙂 Water temperature was 83 degrees Fahrenheit and visibility was only about 20 feet.

Instruments still clearly visible inside the cockpit of the Douglas A1 Skyraider.

Back at the shop the crew took care of washing my dive gear and hanging it up to dry. I let it hang and dry and just picked up my gear later when I came in to settle my bill. I met James later that evening at the Score Bar with a couple of guys who’d just completed their Divemaster training with Arizona for a couple of beers. It was an enjoyable experience and I’m sure I’ll be diving with them again!

On Sunday morning, September 17th, after breakfast at Arizona, I packed and checked out of my hotel. Grabbed a trike and started my journey to Bauan Divers Sanctuary who I’ll be writing about in my next blog post.

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Anilao-Part Two

I covered getting to Anilao and the Anilao Scuba Dive Center in Part One, along with my first dive there. I’m running a bit behind (as usual it seems) due to not finishing up before I left on a trip to Chuuk (via Guam) on June 3rd. That trip which I’ll cover once I’m finished with Anilao, included being on a boat with no internet for 6 days! (Somehow I survived!) After my trip to Chuuk, I made a second trip leaving on June 21st, to El Nido on the island of Palawan here in the Philippines. A place that had internet, but not always the “best” connection. At the end of this blog post will be a small gallery of select photos from my dives in Anilao.

So to continue where I left off in Part One…

On Saturday May 13th I was up about 7 AM. I’d put all my batteries on charge the night before. I got dressed and wandered out to the dining room where I discovered the coffee pot. I’m really not a morning person and definitely need my coffee when I get up! Having a coffee pot set up where I can just help myself was a definite plus! After breakfast, I went back to my room and set my camera up with fully charged batteries. Then went out and checked on my equipment and made sure everything was on the boat. The boatmen would set up my tank every day, but I’m diving with it so I always check. This was pretty much the pattern every morning that I was there.

The first dive of the day was Secret Bay which is a good 30 minute boat ride. Secret Bay is mainly a sandy bottom with a shallow slope. It’s an easy dive. The reason people come here is simple… the critters! Frogfish, nudibranchs, mimic octopus, wonderpus, scorpionfish, shrimps, bobbit worms, have all been spotted here. People travel from all over the world to dive here and for good reason!

We started our dive at 9:40 AM and ended at 10:40 AM for a 60 minute dive. Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 67 feet. Vishal Girisagar who is from India, but lives and works in Singapore was diving with us again. He was on the night dive the previous evening also (sorry I left you out of Part One) 🙂 We would dive together for a few days before he headed back to his job in Singapore.

The beginning of the dive started with a tiny nudibranch, no bigger than my finger nail. Then an anemone with saddleback anemonefish. Next a fire urchin with a zebra crab crawling on it. There were the usual lizardfish everywhere and they are normally easy to photograph, depending on their camouflage and being still to escape detection until they’re ready to pounce. I used my snoot to photograph a coral gobie on coral. A red parrotfish and then another nudibranch. I spotted a devil scorpionfish, that although not uncommon, isn’t something I see on every dive either! The last one I recall was in Puerto Galera last September! A nice productive dive.

The second dive of the day was at Secret Garden. After we left Secret Bay we made our way around Mainit Point and then briefly pulled into shore and dropped off one of the boatmen. Then we went and did the dive which started at 11:50 AM and was a 60 minute dive. Water temperature was 80F and the maximum depth was 60 feet. Near the beginning of the dive I discovered and entire family of squat shrimp living on a rock just underneath and to the side of an anemone. The anemone also was inhabited by a few False Clown Anemonefish Amphiprion ocellaris I saw a couple of different white-eyed morays during the dive. Lionfish and a flying gunard. There was a blue-spotted ray searching through the sand and rubble. I got a photograph of a Thumbprint Emperor, so called because of the dark blotch on it’s side. Towards the end of the dive we discovered a nice outcropping of coral with an anemone and anemonefish, and underneath a Yellowmargin Moray-Cymnothorax flavimarginatus with a cleaner shrimp working on him! Right next to them was a banded boxer coral shrimp. I spent quite a bit of time there photographing the moray and the shrimp as it moved around the morays head and body. The end of the dive Carlo spotted a mantis shrimp and I grabbed a few photos of it as well.

After the dive we headed back to where we’d dropped the boatman. While we were gone he built a fire and cooked up a barbecue lunch which was quite good (I suspect he just heated it up, but it was still good)!

After lunch we headed back towards ASDC and stopped at Matu Point where we had done the night dive the previous evening. This time we dived the other side. We started our dive at 2:17 PM and again did a 60 minute dive. Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 58 feet. There were an abundance of cardinalfish and I spotted a juvenile Harlequin Sweetlips near the beginning and played hide and seek with it for a few minutes trying to get a photo! I then spotted a nudibranch, a Chromodoris kuniei Then our guide pointed out an orangutan crab hiding in bubble coral. It’s called this because of it’s orange color, and long hairy legs. Next was a scorpionfish, then another nudibranch.

One of the reasons I love photographing nudibranchs is the sheer variety. There are over 3000 species of nudibranchs in the world! Anilao has over 400 different species, giving it top honors for variety of nudibranch species for dive destinations in the Philippines! This is another reason so many photographers travel here! So, having said that, I try to do identifications when I can… Sometimes I’m just not going to find it right away though! When I’m writing I’ll include the identification if I have it.

Continuing on with the dive, we were running into some current and made our way around some rocks. Perched there on the side of one was a blenny hiding in what appeared to be a small barrel sponge or coral attached to the rock. It was poking it’s head out occasionally and looking around. At the end of the dive we discovered another small commensal shrimp hiding in bubble coral. Another productive dive!

Afterwards we headed back to ASDC. I downloaded photos, put my batteries on charge, and took a nap! Later I worked on photos from Dauin and my blog piece on my visit there. After dinner I made it an early night!

The first dive on May 14th was at Sunview (a lot of dive sites are named after the resort they are in front of or near too). Sunview is near Sunview Resort. . We started our dive at 9:40 AM. This site is a sandy bottom with scattered coral. Right at the beginning I photographed a Nembrotha chamberlaini. Then a white-eyed moray (Siderea thysoidea). Another nudibranch I’m still working on identifying, one I’d not photographed before so I was happy! Next Carlo showed me a small crab crawling in the branches of a Zygophylax coral colony. I stopped to photograph a beautiful gorgonian fan coral. Not sure of the species, but very similar to a Siphonogorgia godeffroyi with wine red branches and white polyps. Carlo spotted yet another nudibranch I’m still trying to identify, then a box crab Calappa calappa. Next was a pygmy seahorse Hippocampus bargibanti. Carlo spotted a tiny nudibranch, Flabellina rubrolineata feeding on a Eudendrium hydroid. Right at the end of the dive I photographed a commensal shrimp Periclimenes holthuisi crawling across a species of coral I’ve not identified. Our maximum depth was 70 feet. Water temperature was 81F. We were up at 10:24 AM for a 44 minute dive. This dive we ended up calling because we were fighting heavy current and decided it was better to call the dive early than get swept away. We signaled the boat and they came and picked us up.

The second dive was at Koala (in front of Koala Resort). That dive started at 11:24 AM and was a 45 minute dive. Koala has a sloping bottom with some scattered boulders and a variety of soft corals. Lot’s of fish, including anemonefish and some nice anemone’s. Water temperature was 82F and maximum depth was 90 feet. This dive as had the earlier dive that morning at Sunview had current also, although not as bad as it’d been earlier.

ASDC House Reef was the third dive of the day, although it’s more of a rocky slope to a sandy bottom than a reef. We were in the water 2:24 PM (after lunch). It was a 47 minute dive. Water temperature was 82F and maximum depth was 77 feet.

On May 15th, the first dive was Twin Rocks which is known as a good dive site for nudibranchs. We started at 10:01 and had a 51 minute dive. The dive started out with a nudibranch (of course). A Chromodoris annae. Next another possible (still unidentified) Chromodoris that was tinier than my finger nail! Next a Nembrotha chamberlaini, a nudibranch that is quite common in the Philippines that I’ve photographed many times. After that a Chromodoris albonares, another species that I’d not photographed previously. Then a group of three Chromodoris willani, two of them in the act of mating. I spent almost 4 minutes photographing them from different angles. One is posted in my Instagram @underwater.adventures When I left them Carlo had found what seemed almost too good to be true… 3 nudibranchs of different species all lined up next to each other! The largest was a Phyllidia ocellata. Next to it was a Phyllidia carlsonhoffi… and next to that one a small nudibranch that also resembles a Phyllidia, but which I’ve not been able to identify yet. The next species was Chromodoris fidelis, then another species of nudibranch I’m still trying to identify! I finished up the dive with some shots of corals, butterflyfish, damselfish, bannerfishWater, the “usual suspects”… Right at the end of the dive yet another nudibranch which I can’t identify! Eleven different species of nudibranchs in just one dive! Almost half of them species I haven’t identified yet! Who knows? They still are finding new species in the Philippines! 🙂 Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 67 feet. There was some mild current, but not too bad.

The second dive was another one at SunView. The dive started at 12:12 PM and was a 60 minute dive. I spotted a helmut gunard Dactyloptena orientalis at the beginning of the dive. There were wrasse, a pufferfish, butterlyfish, and a lionfish. A tiny nudibranch… probabaly Glossodoris. A commensal shrimp Periclimenes holthuisi with eggs. Another nudibranch, possibly a Cuthona. I photographed a beautiful Divaricate Tree Coral Dendronephthya (Roxasia). A pipefish, another nudibranch (unidentified), more tree corals, and a sea fan with a pygmy seahorse.

The third dive on May 15th was a night dive not far from Anilao Pier. We entered the water at 6:29 PM and did a 67 minute dive. There were lot’s of cardinalfish and gobies during this dive as there often are during the day also. Near the beginning we spotted an octopus which seem to always be more commonly seen at night. Next was a Philinopsis reticulata.

Crabs are always out and about at night. There are thousands of species of crabs so identification is often spotty at best! I spotted an unidentified species of porcelain crab with an anemone. Another crab, much larger (also unidentified) was next. It seemed quite ready to attack me if I got to close!

Next Carlo spotted a stargazer which are always cool to see. After that I spotted a tiny juvenile lionfish, maybe 3 inches long. An anemone with a family of anemonefish. A flat crab at the base of an anemone forcing a scallop open with it’s claws. I came across a blackspotted sole next. Then a small shortfin lionfish Dendrochirus brachypterus.

I found another small crab with very elongated arms, like a squat lobster, but much thinner pincers. Unable to identify. “Unable to identify” seems to happen quite often in Anilao!

Next a nudibranch, appears to be a Flabellina. Crawling along the bottom I saw a hinge-beak prawn. Then I discovered two octopus very near to each other… one had found a home in what looked like an old plastic 2 liter soda bottle with the top had the top cut off. The bottle was obviously a bit worse for wear! Nearby was another octopus that was a bit luckier. It had found a large and intact glass jar. After taking a few photos, I found a large blue anemone with saddleback anemonefish and a porcelain crab. I snapped a few photos then went back to the octopus.

My light was attracting a lot of krill that were so thick, they were often interfering with my photos! The octopus was taking full advantage and appeared to be snatching krill with it’s tentacles and pulling them in! I photographed a bit and shot some video. By this time we’d been down for over an hour and it was time to go up and have dinner! Water temperature was 82F. Maximum depth for this dive was 16 feet. Yes I had almost half the air I started with still in my tank!

On May 16th, my last dive day of this visit to Anilao, the first dive was again at Secret Bay. We got a bit of a late start. We hit the water and started our dive at exactly 10 AM. This ended up being a great dive, one of the best of the trip. At the beginning of the dive Carlo showed me a skeleton shrimp, Caprellidae. Then a nudibranch, Flabellina macassarana. Another nudibranch referred to in one of my nudibranch books as Doto sp.7, found only in the Philippines. More skeleton shrimp. Next a shrimp on a starfish, Periclimenes soror. After that a tiny decorator crab no bigger than a thumbnail on a whip coral. Two nudibranchs engaged in mating, these referred to as Godiva sp.3 in my reference books. Next I photographed a goby sitting on top of a sponge.

Then the jackpot, a Giant Frogfish Antennarius commersoni. It was easily 12 inches. This one was white in color and from a distance was almost indistinguishable from large white rocks strewn around the bottom in that area. This frogfish had developed some large scab-like patches and warty areas. It had blended in quite well! About 20 yards away and up the slope a little, another photographer was working on a subject. They finished up about the time I finished photographing the Giant Frogfish and motioned for us to come over. To my surprise it was another frogfish! This one the Hairy Variation of the Striped or Striated Frogfish Antennarius striatus. It was the first time I had seen one so I was pretty happy about it. As we headed back towards the boat I spotted a Pteraeolidia ianthina. A very productive dive!

The second dive we went to El Pinoy (in front of El Pinoy Resort). We were in the water at 12:36. El Pinoy, like several other dive spots, has a sandy bottom and scattered coral outcroppings. Right at the beginning of the dive I spotted a helmut gunard Dactyloptena orientalis. They tend to be shy and not easy to approach. There were plenty of wrasse in the area. We found a couple of yellow blennies playing hide and seek with us. A juvenile devil scorpionfish followed by an octopus. Another scorpionfish and then a pipefish and a blue-spotted stingray. Finished up the dive working around a nice coral outcropping with plenty of wrasse, damselfish, anthia’s, and anemones. A good dive! We ended with 57 minutes. Water temperature was 82F and maximum depth was 61 feet.

The last dive on May 16th (and this visit to Anilao) was a shore dive. We entered in front of ASDC and worked our way down the rocky slope and then paralleled the shore until we reached the sandy area we had spent more time at during the boat dive. Then we worked our way back along the rocky slope at a shallower depth and exited where we entered at. The dive started at 3:47 PM and was 63 minutes. The dive started with a cleaner wrasse working on a butterflyfish. I came across some soft corals with Periclimenes holthuisi. Then more soft corals with ambonian shrimp Thor amboinensis that hold their tail almost vertically. I spied a small nudibranch a Flabellina. Bubble coral with commensal shrimp, then a beautiful leaf scorpionfish . Next came a lionfish and a nudibranch (unidentified). Next were a pair of coleman shrimp Periclimenes colemani on a fire urchin. More ambonian shrimp Thor amboinensis with soft corals and more Periclimenes holthuisi. Carlo found a spiny devilfish Inimicus didactylus. After that another nudibranch… same species at the last which I’ve not identified yet and Pontoniinae shrimp Allopontonia iaini on a fire urchin. As we neared the end of the dive I spotted a small white-eyed moray. A very nice dive to finish up with! Water temperature was 83F and maximum depth was 57 feet.

After the last dive on May 16th I rinsed everything well and hung everything up. Usually I took care of my own gear while I was there, although they would set up the tank and put it on the boat. I’m fine with someone else doing the “heavy lifting”… my back isn’t as young as it used to be! All the gear would be taken inside each night and secured, then brought back out in the morning. When I checked my gear the next morning after breakfast my wetsuit and booties weren’t quite dry so I gave it a bit of time while I packed everything else. My camera housing, lights, strobe, compass, etc… go into a hard pelican case. The other gear goes into a dive bag which also has room for my clothes. My laptop, my camera (a Canon G16 so it’s small), my dive computer, and odds and ends that I keep on my person while traveling go into a small backpack.

I’d arranged the day before to have a trike pick me up to take me all the way to the bus terminal. Sometimes I just don’t want to deal with a crowded jeepney and my bags! I paid him 600 pesos (around $12 dollars US). We left around 10 AM. Traffic was quite bad that day due to road construction. We didn’t reach the terminal until nearly noon! I found a bus heading to Cubao in Manila. The bus conductor loaded my dive bag and pelican case underneath. We had about 20 minutes before they were leaving so I went and grabbed some food from a vendor and a bottle of water. The bus pulled out about 12:30 and 2 hours later I was checking into my hotel in Cubao.

I’m back to being a month behind and two dive destinations… but who knows? Maybe I’ll catch up soon 🙂 The beginning of June I traveled to Guam, where I’d booked a trip to Chuuk with a group from Micronesian Dive Association. From Guam we flew to Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, home of the world famous Chuuk Lagoon. Here is found the largest concentration of wrecks in the world! This was thanks to Operation Hailstone during WW II and the US Navy’s decimation of the Japanese ships that were there. In my next blog post I’ll be writing about that trip so I hope you’ll stay tuned! Later in June, after returning to the Philippines I made a trip to El Nido on the island of Palawan, a trip I returned from just last week. I’ll be writing about El Nido once I’ve finished Chuuk.

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Anilao-Part One

After returning from Cebu I debated where to go next. It can be difficult to choose in the Philippines because there is just so much great diving here! I also toyed with the idea of going to Malaysia, but ultimately I’ve decided to put that off. I had to wait until the 9th so I could renew my visa. I’ll talk about that in another blog post. For those who are contemplating visiting the Philippines for longer than 30 days, I’ll outline the process.

After renewing my visa on the 9th, I decided on Anilao and started doing some research. I’ve dived Anilao twice before, the last time being a year ago. I wanted a place that was reasonably priced and relatively easy to get to via public transportation. Ultimately I decided on Anilao Scuba Dive Center. ASDC is an all-inclusive resort. Accommodations, meals (served family style), 3 boat dives a day with guide, and marine park fees are all included in the price.

The problem in Anilao for most foreigners or others who might be diving during the week, is pricing. Unlike other areas I’ve dived in the Philippines, the price for diving in most resorts in Anilao is for the boat and dive guide. That cost is divided by the divers on the boat. The more divers, the lower the price. On a weekend at a popular resort you could dive quite cheaply, but if you are by yourself or diving during the week and you are the only diver, it can be prohibitively expensive! At 4500 pesos a day it’s the best price in Anilao that I’ve found for single divers. For someone like myself who usually travels alone, it’s a very good deal! I did do a few dives by myself and did not pay extra. Gina explained she is able to do this because she owns her boats and therefore controls her costs. Apparently many of the resorts hire boats and crews to support their dive operations which means they don’t have control of that part of their operational costs.

ASDC is also relatively easy to get too. I broke up my trip and spent the night in Manila, leaving there on Friday morning. The route initially, is virtually the same as going to Puerto Galera. I stayed in Cubao at Eurotel near Araneta Center. I booked my room in Cubao online as I’ve found that it’s cheaper than walking in. When I checked out I asked the hotel to hail a cab for me. I just didn’t want to deal with carrying my heavy dive bag. The day before I’d transported it 3 blocks and up and down a couple flights of stairs (crossing the walkway above the street) to get from the Victory Bus Terminal, down and over EDSA to the hotel. The taxi took me to the JAM terminal where I caught a bus to Batangas Grand Terminal. 80 pesos well spent in my opinion!

I was sitting on the bus at 7:30 AM on Friday, May 12th and it pulled out at 7:45. We arrived at the Grand Terminal in Batangas at 11:05, so just over 3 hours by bus during morning rush hour leaving Manila. Not to bad! Bus fare was a 175 pesos. Here if I were going to Puerto Galera, I would stay on the bus for another 10-15 minutes to Batangas Pier, but instead I got off. I asked which way to the jeepney’s and someone showed me the way. I walked through an area that contained shops and small eateries to the opposite side of where I got off the bus. There I caught a jeepney to Mabini. I let the driver know I needed to get off at Mabini Crossing. The fare was 37 pesos. Be ready to get asked to pay extra. The not uncommon story is that if you’re willing to pay for the empty seats, they can leave now. I just told the driver I wasn’t in a hurry and we still left within a few minutes. Possibly you might get asked to pay for an extra seat for your bag. You’re not going to get an extra seat for your bag, it’s going to be in the middle aisle, like everyone else, who aren’t paying extra by the way! If you want to pay for a seat for the bag, you can place the bag on the seat. In my experience, If I put the bag on the seat, it’s actually taking 3 seats! In the smaller jeepney’s I’ve done that when I can sit near the door. It’s easier to get in and out rather than move the bag down the aisle where everyone’s feet are!

The ride to Mabini Crossing was just over an hour. From there I caught a trike to ASDC which turned out to be about a 15 minute ride. 50 pesos is fair and if you give him 20 pesos for a tip, he’ll be pretty happy! To sum up to get to Anilao from Manila, I paid the equivalent of less than $7 dollars. The total trip took around 5 hours. Contrast that with a private driver which would be 4500 pesos from Manila, about $90 dollars at the current exchange rate! That’s a whole day of expense at ASDC! I’ll save the money on transport any day in order to have an extra day of meals, accommodations, and diving!

You can expect to shave a couple hours off your travel time by coming direct and obviously a van or car will move through traffic more quickly than a bus. I’m retired now so I tried to save money where I can, but someone who is coming with a group that can split the cost. Someone coming from half-way around the world, may see it as inconsequential compared to the overall cost of the trip. If you aren’t used to getting around in foreign countries, it will give you some peace of mind. Having said that, English is widely spoken here so it’s certainly doable!

When I came in it was around lunch time and people were eating. Gina, who is the owner stood up from the table and I told her I had emailed about diving and was expected. She asked if I’d eaten and when I told her no invited me to eat lunch first. Although the people at the table were almost done, they brought another plate and there was plenty of food. The food was all home cooked and served family style. It was Filipino food and quite good! Over the next 5 days we usually had chicken, pork, or fish, prepared a few different ways, rice of course. Always fresh fruit. Breakfast was typical Filipino breakfast. Fried egg over rice (scrambled on request), toast, with butter and jam. They had a coffee pot set up with unlimited refills which is nice. I’ve never quite gotten used to the common practice in the Philippines of charging full price for refills when I have coffee in a restaurant.

After lunch Gina showed me to my room. It turned out to be an air-conditioned room which was a surprise given what I was paying! I asked about doing a night dive and that was also no problem. I unpacked my clothes, and took out my battery chargers and put all my batteries on charge in preparation for the night dive later. I went back out and met Carlo the dive guide. He told me to be back around 5:30 PM. I also did the normal paperwork and waivers. I had been up late the night before so I headed back to my room for a nap.

I was back at the gearing up area right around 5:30. I started pulling gear out of my dive bag and we got my tank set up. This area basically consisted of a metal rack with a split bamboo platform to sit on to change and hold gear that was drying. This was convenient to the equipment room where everything was stored at night and where all the rental equipment was kept. On the other side of the rack was an area with freshwater shower stalls. Near the steps down to the small rocky beach were rinse tanks for gear.

After my nap I installed all my batteries and set up my camera gear. Carlo was the dive guide and Vishal who is from India, but lives and works in Singapore would be diving as well. I got my gear unpacked and we got my tank set up. The boat crew loaded the tank and I grabbed the rest of my gear after putting on my wetsuit. It was a little after 6 PM when we pulled away.

The dive site was Matu Point. Our dive started at 6:23 PM. The bottom here is a rocky slope. It was dark by the time we entered the water. Fairly early in the dive, Carlo pointed out a tiny coral crab. Then I spotted a dark purple nudibranch (Berthella martensi). After that we saw a moray eel out for the hunt. Unlike during the day, at night they are out of their holes and moving about. After that I found a bug-eyed crab in it’s hole, another nudibranch (Flabellina rubrolineata), and then a hermit crab. A large devil scorpionfish, and yet another species of nudibranch (a juvenile Hexabranchus sanguineus I believe). I found a large devil scorpionfish, a very nice one I thought! There were hingebeak prawns hiding among the rocks. An anemone crab came scuttling along. Right at the end Carlo found a large black seahorse and I spotted yet another scorpionfish. The dive ended at 65 minutes. Maximum depth was 41 feet and water temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

In Part Two I’ll write about the other dive sites I visited in Anilao and the things I saw and why people travel from around the world to dive here! Please stay with me I’m going to try and finish this up in the next couple of days. I fly to Guam tomorrow and from there to Chuuk where I will be diving the world famous Truk Lagoon next week. Truk Lagoon has the largest concentration of shipwrecks in the world, thanks to Operation Hailstone during WW II.

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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! 🙂