It felt like entering a different world!

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The Philippine Siren welcomed on board 16 happy and smiling guests from 6 different countries for this New Year’s liveaboard dive trip in the Southern Visayas. Just before we wanted to set off for our first destination: Talisay Tree. The beautiful wall with Gorgonians and soft corals were a nice habitat for the usual suspects: tomato anemonefish, false clown anemonefish – and many other kinds of anemonefish, common lionfish, schooling fusiliers, red tooth triggerfish, rabbit fish, trevally, trumpetfish, anthias, dogface pufferfish, blackstriped angelfish, three spot angelfish and a huge zebra moray and ringed pipefish. It was not a bad dive at all for a check dive!

The second dive was another great one! We dived the site Gorgonian Wall and found a Denise pygmy seahorse and a whole bunch of orangutan crabs, amongst the layers upon layers of corals on the gorgeous wall. The explosion of life and color on this reef was breathtaking. One of our guests said that it felt like entering a different world! To us that sums it up in a fantastic way. Lighthouse was another scenic dive with a soft and hard coral density you hardly see nowadays. What great pleasure to dive here. It turned into a bit of a drift dive, and on the corner of the reef thousands and thousands of small reef fish where hanging in the current, waiting for it to bring in the good stuff. One of the highlights of the dive was the giant frogfish that resides on the elephant ear sponges. After the night dive we hurriedly set course for Panglao Island and Alona beach in front of which we celebrated New Year’s Eve with front seats views of the fireworks. We toasted on many safe and wonderful hours underwater in 2017.

On our new year’s dive, we had the privilege to get wet at Balicasag Island. The first dive of the day was at Black Forest where we spotted ringed pipefish, a big school of long jaw mackerels and a bunch of nice nudibranchs such as the lined nembrotha, chamberlain nembrothas, kubaryana nembrothas, Willen’s chromodoris and Elisabeth’s chromodoris. We topped it off with some lovely green sea turtles. But truly the second dive was more about turtles when we dived a site with a well-chosen name: Turtle Point. At one moment we counted seven green sea turtles in one 360 degrees scan. Adding the huge schools of anthias and damsels on the reef top edge and a big brown giant frogfish to the dive and we concluded that this was a great one. The afternoon dive was at the gorgeous dramatic wall of Rudy’s Rock. Apart from all the colorful usual suspected reef fish in action, we had two huge Banana Nudis mating in a cave, a beautiful scorpion leaf fish, a grey giant frogfish and a white painted frogfish. For the night dive we went back to Black Forest on the sheltered side of Balicasag. Highlight were reef squid, a cute little octopus and a big berry’s bobtail squid munching away on a shrimp.

The very early morning wake up call was rewarded with an encounter of 6 whale sharks in Oslob! These gracious creatures seemed to be very happy to see us back in the New Year and stayed during the whole dive. After a 2 hours driving we arrived in Dauin, the famous place for muck diving. The site Mainit is actually a kind of a transition dive; coming from the gorgeous corals into hard core muck diving. The highlights of this site were the ornate ghost pipefish, black tail barracuda, damsel fish protecting their eggs from wrasses, big pair of scribbled filefish, leaf scorpionfish, napoleon snake eel, peacock mantis shrimp and the hot yellow sand in the shallows. The real muck diving started as of the afternoon dive at The Cars where we have found crazy things like common seahorse including juvenile, giant frogfish, bearded scorpionfish, ornate ghost pipefish, juvenile orange banded pipefish, juvenile peacock razorfish, ringed pipefish, saddleback anemonefish with eggs, fimbriated moray, white-eye moray, striped catfish, juvenile pufferfish, durban dancing shrimp and crowned coral crab. The night dive was at Secret Corner and a blue-ringed octopus was definitely a crowd pleaser, as were the bobtail squids and tropical bottletail squids. What a superb dive site. In the words of one of our guests: ‘The amount of crazy creatures is just amazing’.

On this day we headed out for Marine Protected Area Apo Island. This little gem is another of our favorites in the itinerary. Having done black sand muck diving the previous day, the contrast with Apo can hardly be bigger. The waters around the island are well known for the healthy hard and soft coral reefs. We started off with two drift dives, at Coconut Point and Cogon. The vibrant colors of the coral formations that are covered in crinoids and the abundance of reef fish made the drifts extremely pleasant. A big school of big-eye trevally and the odd banded sea snake that we encountered made for some great underwater footage. The third dive was at Rocky Point west with its stunning endless fields of hard corals, as far as eyes can see. On the top of this site, it’s all soft corals and leather coral, waving in the sway where green turtles and hawksbill turtles love to scratch their bellies and eat the crunchy corals. The night dive back in Dauin was another amazing one. Atmosphere House Reef is the habitat for bearded scorpionfish, pufferfish, shortfin lionfish, striped catfish, morays, harlequin swimming crab, and reef squid.

Ceres was just an amazing dive especially because of the kindergarten season underwater. We found heaps of small stuff such as baby sea horse, a juvenile ornate ghost pipefish, a baby frogfish and a baby puffer, that was cute as a button. Moving on to Secret Corner for the second dive we added some more amazing creatures to the catch of the day: two blue ringed octopuses, coconut octopus, a free swimming mimic octopus, more seahorses and frogfishes. We concluded that this is the place to be for photographers and videographers wanting to tick off some great underwater shots. The third dive of the day we went to the artificial reef at Ginama-an. The site consists of about one hundred sets of bus tires stacked together in the shape of pyramids. The strong current in the second half of the dive made it a bit challenging but apart from the black giant frogfish and the many schools of fish, we still have seen many different nudibranchs! The night dive at San Miguel was an amazing crazy one with Berry’s bobtail squids everywhere and 1 mini tiny orange baby frogfish and a just little bit bigger juvenile frogfish.

At Pescador Island, our Philippine Siren guests were stunned by the colors and the abundance of fish at the reef. A huge grey giant frogfish was sitting on a purple red barrel sponge facing the sea, perfectly posing for the photographers. His brother was just one meter above him in a grey tube coral. The beautiful wall with all the soft coral opened by the current was a nice place for all the usual reef fish and while ascending from the dive, a green turtle came and greeted us. The next dive was the famous sardines dive at Panagsama Beach. While the 7.227.308 sardines were showing their silver curtain performance, frogfish, reeftop pipefish and magnificent chromodoris were to be found at the reef. And for the first time at Panagsama Beach, we had a glimpse of a thresher shark! After this amazing dive, we set off north to our next destination: Malapascua.

The dive site Deep Slope was our first morning dip. This beautiful mini wall/slope made it really worth diving! A lot of different shrimps in the various anemones and black corals were seen along with all sorts of crabs. A huge cuttlefish came by during our safety stop. The next two dives were at Chocolate Island. The guests came back from the dive showing all sorts of nudibranchs and flatworms and stuff they have never seen such as fingered dragonet, spanish dancer + egg ribbon, racing stripe flatworm, slender t-bar nudibranch, nembrotha mating, robe hem hypselodoris mating, and black velutinid. We headed over to Chocolate Island for the next two dives. It’s a small little triangular island with gorgeous coral-covered rocks and boulders in the very shallows and rubble and muck in the slightly deeper waters. It’s a perfect spot to tick of loads of nudibranch from your list, as well as some odd shaped bottom dwellers.

The early wake-up call was not for nothing today. We had at least 4 sightings of (a) thresher shark(s) at Monad Shoal. These gracious creatures made the guests voted unanimously for another day of Monad Shoal. After that dive, we drove to the lovely Gato Island where we have stayed for the rest of the day. The Tunnel was just a memorable one: banded sea snakes, white tip reef sharks, common seahorses, ringed pipefish, many blue dragons and a baby Spanish dancer with a big school of Long -jawed mackerel dancing in the back ground. Continuing where we left off in the second dive, we explored more of the southwest wall in the third dive. Once again Gato delivered: more whitetip reef sharks, blue dragons, massive elbow crabs, sea horses and more colors soft coral than one can imagine. Coming up we were already looking forward to the night dive in this fantastic spot.

An early morning dive at Monad Shoal brought us some thresher sharks on the last day of diving. We had some cool sightings of the majestic animal. On we went to Kalanggaman Island for our last dive. This stretched out sand bank with picture perfect rows of palm trees made for a fantastic goodbye-scenery. We dived the North wall and found cool stuff such as the funny Longnose Hawkfish and very impressive black coral bushes. We headed for the surface one last time and climbed on board the dinghies, soon to arrive at the big boat. While the crew cleaned and washed the gear, the guests got ready for a nice lunch. We headed back to Cebu. At night we had our traditional last night’s barbeque and got our bellies full again, as so many times before in this trip. Put your hands together for the credo: Dive, Eat, Sleep and repeat!

Once again it has been a memorable trip in the lovely Southern Visayas and Malapascua area. A special one, with New Year’s fireworks and great below the surface encounters!

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