Tag Archives: seahorse

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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Dumaguete and SEA Photo Contest-Part Two

After the days diving we stripped off our gear and put it in our crates for transport back to the dive shop. We then loaded into the jeepney for the ride back. There seemed to be a bit more traffic on the way back. Once at the dive shop, I gave my camera gear a good rinse, said my goodbyes, and walked the half block to the main road. From there I waved down a trike and headed back to Gabby’s.

The doorway to my room. Every room had a theme and I thought it was kind of cool that mine was “Lionfish” 🙂

After a shower, I went down and grabbed some food. Breakfast of course 🙂 Afterwards, I went back to my room, put all my batteries on charge, worked on photos a bit, checked Facebook, and went to sleep early.

Breakfast at Gabby’s. I know it might sound strange to some, but I LOVE spam and was really happy I could order it for breakfast 🙂

The next morning, Saturday, April 22nd, after a good nights sleep and breakfast, I set up my camera equipment with fully charged batteries. Then went out front and waived down a trike for the ride to dive shop. There we had a repeat more or less of the day before. A small amount of socializing. Verified all our gear was back in our crate, and then we loaded up for the trip to Dauin.

The dives on the second day were boat dives and we were to visit some sites outside of the sanctuary. The sites were all close by and we started gearing up once everyone was on the boat and we took off. The first dive site was called San Miguel (maybe after the beer?). It was mainly sandy bottom with some debris and coral here and there. My dive started at 9:17 AM. Although we dropped in with guides, we became spread out fairly quickly as we found subjects to focus our attention on. At the beginning of the dive I spotted a couple of sea snails creeping along the bottom. Then I saw a sunken piece of driftwood with a few gobies on the top. I saw that as an opportunity to work with the snoot I’d just purchased for my strobe.

What a snoot does is restrict the light from your strobe to a smaller area. They’re used to highlight the subject or certain areas of the subject. I’d used them in studio photography, but never underwater. When I was in Singapore for ADEX, one of the seminars I attended talked about the use of snoots and I was intrigued by the idea. When I visited Splash in Manila I talked to Jovic about it and bought one to add to my equipment. One of the things Jovic said to me was that some of the subjects I photographed would often blend into the background. Maybe not surprising when you consider that camouflage is a tool used by both predator and prey in the ocean. A snoot could help separate the subject from the background. The goby seemed a perfect subject to practice this on! I ended up spending a good period of time there… as long as I could get away with until my computer told me it was time. This was the maximum depth of my dive at 68 feet.

The use of a snoot highlights the subject by restricting light from the background and directing it directly where it is aimed. This results in a nice separation without a distracting background.

As I worked my way back up the slope, I saw a squat lobster on another piece of sunken driftwood. Took a few photos, then moved towards the area where the boat was moored. It was running close to an hour at this time and I could see other divers getting back on the boat. Although we’d been a bit spread out, we had always been in sight of other divers. Depth here was maybe 15-20 feet. By the time it was clear, my safety stop was finished. My total dive time ended up at 63 minutes. Water temperature was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and as I mentioned earlier, my maximum depth was 68 feet.

The boat moved to the second dive site called Ginaman. Most of the photographers spent the surface interval chatting and sharing what they had shot with their friends. When it was time we geared up and stepped in for our second dive. This dive started at 11:33 AM. Almost immediately I discovered that a large pillar of concrete almost completely encrusted in corals with plenty of life on it in less than 15 feet of water. I took my time moving around it. First was a juvenile lionfish. After taking several photos, I moved on and discovered a seahorse moving along the base. After photographing that, I found a banded boxer coral shrimp. Then another seahorse! Then a shortfin lionfish (also a juvenile), then a juvenile filefish. A little toby, then three more shortfin lionfish! Of course there were the usual cardinalfish, wrasse, and damselfish. It was a very small area, not more than a couple of yards on a side, but it was teeming with life!

Cardinalfish photographed in Dauin.

From there I moved out onto the sand and seagrass. I found a bottle with a crab dug in underneath. Commensal shrimp, there were a few fire urchins about. I found a small white sea hare. Then some coral outcroppings with Christmas Tree worms, and an anemone with saddleback anemonefish. To finish off the dive I photographed a small school of juvenile catfish. I was right underneath the boat and waiting for people to get on. They came along, feeding and swarming along the bottom as everyone who dives has seen numerous times! I thought, “why not?” and snapped a few shots! The second dive ended up being 69 minutes long with a maximum depth of only 17 feet. Water temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit. I ended up back on the boat with my tanks still over half full!

Sea Hare photographed at Dauin.

At this point we headed in to the beach at the marine sanctuary. I was invited to have lunch, but I opted to stay on the boat and take a nap! I think I was still recovering from my trip down from Malapascua!

After lunch, everyone started returning to the boat. For the third dive we dropped in a site called Punta. My dive started at 2:59 PM. Punta also turned out to be a sandy bottom with some coral here and there. I almost immediately discovered a waspfish! I haven’t seen them very often so I was happy to find one! The last one I’d seen was in Puerto Galera last year. I took several photos and moved on.

Waspfish photographed during a dive at Dauin.

I spied a goby and took a few photos. As I kicked away from the goby I saw a small frogfish! As I began to work around the frogfish it occurred to me that I’d never gotten a picture of one with it’s mouth open. I’d heard that all one had to be was patient and here was an opportunity as I was in a group of people who could quite easily spend a significant amount of time photographing just one subject to get it right! After shooting several angles and checking exposures. I settled down to wait. 30 minutes later the frogfish yawned! After getting the shot from the side I knew that I was going to have to do this again at some point to get the same shot from the front. Still I was pretty happy to get the shot!

Frogfish yawning photographed during a dive at Dauin.

After getting that shot I started towards the guide and the other photographer curious about what they were shooting and had a crab come scuttling along. As I maneuvered for a shot, he seemed quite willing to attack me if I got to close! After taking a couple of photos I let him go! I’d spent so much time on the frogfish, that ended up being my last shot of the dive! I checked my time and it was time to head for the boat so I caught up just in time. I never did see what the other photographer was shooting! I ended up with a dive time of 62 minutes with a maximum depth of only 13 feet! Yes I had well over half a tank left again! 🙂 Water temperature was 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Not surprising it was a bit warmer given the shallow depth.

A crab photographed during a dive at Dauin. He seemed quite ready to remove one of my fingers if I got to close!

We headed back to the marine sanctuary after the dive where we offloaded and were transported back to the dive shop in Dumaguete. Again taking about an hour with traffic. At the dive shop, it was a repeat of the day before. I rinsed my camera equipment, said my goodbye’s and walked down to the main road to catch a trike to the hotel.

I grabbed a quick shower and then went to meet my friend Mark Gormley. Mark and I met the first time I came to Dumaguete in December 2009. Mark is from Australia where he’s in manufacturing. His wife Marmae is from Cebu. When he and I dived together at Dauin he showed me his lot which is beachfront at the Dauin Marine Sanctuary and talked about his plans to someday build a dive resort there. Although it’s been 7 years since we’d seen each other, we’d kept in touch via Facebook and occasionally chatting. By sheer coincidence he and his wife were in town the same time I was there. He’d messaged me a couple of weeks earlier and I’d let him know that I was going to be there so of course we made plans to get together.

Mark called me on the phone from Australia last December and talked to me for 3 hours after I got out of the hospital in Singapore following my heart attack. Mark also had gone through a heart attack a few years ago and he wanted me to know that it didn’t mean that I wouldn’t be able to dive again.

I’d been told by the cardiologist that did my first angioplasty and stent in Singapore (and I have to say also saved my life), that I shouldn’t be in denial and that I’d likely never dive again. Mark assured me that lots of people, including him, did come back to diving after a heart attack so this was not necessarily true. I was really appreciative of that at the time as although I’d put on a positive face for “Facebook”, I was quite depressed about the possibility that I wouldn’t dive again. I never knew about Mark’s heart attack as he’d never mentioned it to me when we’d chatted.

I met Mark and his wife and niece at the Hayahay which is a great local restaurant. They will let you pick out your seafood and cook it to order. They have good pizza’s too! We had an enjoyable evening catching up. Mark has spent a lot of time in the Philippines and has been coming here even longer than I have. He’s a wealth of knowledge on the Philippines and also on the local dive scene. They gave me a ride back to Gabby’s and we made plans to try and see each other again before I left. I’ll talk a bit more about the resort he’s going to open in my next post.

My next post will start with our day trip to Apo Island. I’ll be working on that tomorrow so stay tuned!

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.

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