Tubbataha here we go!!!
The Philippine Siren was very excited to start this new trip! This was the first trip of the Tubbataha Reef season, with a little extra add-on of Southern Visayas dive sites. The 13 night trip would take us from Cebu, via Cabilao, Balicasag and Apo islands, Dauin and Cagayancillo to Tubbataha Reef, and would terminate in Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island. Many sea miles to go and lots of underwater life to encounter!
We spend our first day of diving at beautiful Cabilao Island. The check dive at Talisay Tree dive site was a nice and relaxing one, and got everybody comfortable in the water again. Straight off the boat we spotted our first orangutan crab of the trip and a very cool grey-blue bearded scorpionfish sitting on a tube sponge formation. The three following dives brought us: a denise pygmy seahorse, a banana nudibranch, giant frogfishes and at night a stargazer.
Our guest Erica came up from the first dive of the day claiming: ‘This was the best dive ever!’ Probably not only because she loves Nudibranchs, and the dive was at Balicasag’s dive site Black Forest, known for the range of Nembrothas that can be found there, but also because her boyfriend Mikal proposed during the dive! And she said: ‘Yes!’ But Mikal’s luck for the day wasn’t finished yet, because in the third dive he spotted a very Mola Mola, which is a very rare sighting at Balicasag. The rest of the day brought us: two warty frogfishes, some giant frogfishes, plenty of sunlight hitting beautiful reef tops and a bunch of green and hawksbill turtles. After the night dive we were off to Oslob for the early morning dive of the next day and with that, the guarantee of whale sharks. Now THAT was a great day of diving.
The next early morning we saw 6 whale sharks! After the dive we headed over to Negros Island for muck diving on the coastline of Dauin. To name just a few of the highlights of the three dives at Dauin: thorny seahorses, ornate ghost pipefishes, baby and juvenile frogfishes of many kinds of species, robust ghost pipefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, and a rare roughsnout ghost pipefish.
Next we dived three day dives at famous Apo Island. Its healthy reef and abundance of sea life is known all over the world. In the morning we did two drift dives at the Northeast side of the island. Coconut Point made for a gentle wake-up drift and delivered some great logbook entries: giant trevally, schooling big-eyed jacks and lots of schools of other usual suspects on the reef. Cogon brought us more drifting and added more cool stuff to the list: banded sea snakes, massive groupers, sweetlips and snappers and more big schools of red-tooth triggerfish and unicorn fish. The third and last dive at Apo was all about underwater landscape; or seascape for that matter. We dived Rocky Point West where the divers were amazed by the huge ancient hard coral formations on the walls and the endless fields of leather corals on the shallow plateaus. IN other words: breathtaking coral beauty.
After the dive we sailed drove back to Dauin where we dropped eight guests off at Atmosphere Resort for a sunset cocktail at their lovely bar and pool. The other guests joined the night dive at San Miguel. Both groups had a great time; be it with a nice longisland icetea, or with: juvenile frogfishes, Japanese shrimps, ambon scorpionfishes and a bunch of tropical bottletail squids and two hairy frogfishes.
Before setting off for the first leg of the long journey to Tubbataha Reef, we still had two dives in the Dauin area at the sites Cars and Ceres. The two artificial reef sites have got some crazy stuff to offer to our divers. The car parts and the big truck tires at the sites are nicely covered in sponges and corals and offer great hiding places for small critters and fish. Our guest were lucky to have booked this trip in this specific season, because it turned out to be right smack in the middle of ghost pipefish season. And the neighboring sites topped it all off with a hairy frogfish and a flamboyant cuttlefish, to name just two other highlights.
After the two dives Captain Russell smiled a big broad smile and started engine and we were off for a 21 hour crossing to Cagayancillo, in the Sulu Sea between Dauin and Tubbataha Reef.
We had a bit of a sleep in and arrived at Cagayancillo just after breakfast. The 21 hours of non-diving were more than enough for some of the guest and they were all eager to get wet again. We dived the South wall of the island first, and found a healthy reef with lots of massive gorgonian sea fans and heaps of schooling reef fish darting around. The second dive was at the Southwest wall of the island where everybody was stunned by the amount and enormous size of the gorgonian sea fans. We found some usual and unusual suspects in the sea fans: ornate ghost pipefish, longnose hawkfish and a zillion cleaning shrimps. It made it even more special to us realizing that these waters are hardly ever dived. With everybody back on board we set course to Tubbataha Reef, which was another eleven hour boat ride.
Just after 05:00 AM we arrived at the North atoll of Tubbataha Reefs National Park, and half an hour later Shu went knocking on cabin doors for the wake-up call. Rise and shine and welcome to a beautiful sunrise over the endless horizon. We got the 97.000+ hectare of the National Park for ourselves, because it turned out that we were the first and only liveaboard in the area. Everybody was excited to go diving and was craving for some fish action. We jumped in at Shark Airport and were treated on whitetips and a grey reef shark, three marbled rays, and some hawksbill turtles drifting along with us. It was a nice introduction to the dives to come the next few days.
The site with the thrilling name Washing Machine kept it quiet, and it was a nice gentle drift dive with sunbeams hitting the perfect white sandy bottom and the coral formations.
After the two following dives that day we added some pretty cool stuff to our logbooks: more grey reef shark, whitetip sharks, hawksbill turtles, and large schools of surgeonfish, sweetlips, bannerfish, damselfish and redtooth triggerfish. All in all an explosion of life and we concluded that it’s fantastic to explore this healthy reef and national park.
In the early morning the captain drove the boat over to the South atoll of Tubbataha Reef where we would spend the day doing four great dives. The early morning dive was at dive guide Donato’s favorite Tubbataha site Delsan Wreck. The current was easy going and we found out why our local dive hero likes the site so much: great hammerhead, (baby) grey reef sharks, (pregnant) whitetip reef sharks, and massive schools of chevron barracuda, surgeonfish and big-eyed jacks. Add a very curious dogtooth tuna to that recipe and you have a great dive full of action. For the second morning dive we tried our luck at Staghorn Reef. We drifted along its gorgeous soft and hard corals and spotted a tiger shark, some whitetips and big schools of midnight snappers and longfin bannerfish. The afternoon dives added the following to the day’s catch: nurse shark, mother whitetip reef shark with two youngsters, plenty of patrolling grey reef sharks, three marbled stingrays and more curious dogtooth tunas. It was a fine day!
The third day at Tubbataha was completely reserved for Black Rock and the neighboring dive sites. We started the morning with six eagle rays, a nurse shark and a manta ray. All through the day the mantas kept showing up and showing off. During lunch we were entertained by three mantas that were circling the boat on the surface. They were having lunch too. They glided through the water and pirouetted under the surface, exhibiting their skills. Yes, we were impressed. The same thing counts for the large pod of spinner dolphins that came close to the boat and rounded the corner of the atoll.
It turned out to become a great diving day full of action around the corner of the atoll. We experienced that everything was moving, be it with the strong currents or against it like plenty of sharks did. Big schools of batfish, giant trevally, redtooth triggerfish and sweetlips all made it an impressive display of synchronized swimming skills.
How was your morning? Well, manta rays, a great hammerhead, a big nurse shark, a baby grey reef shark and numerous whitetip reef sharks and a massive school of big-eyed trevally and a school of bumphead parrotfish – I would say: ‘At least Fantastic!’ For the second dive we headed for Wall Street, which is a dramatic steep wall with overhangs and lots of different sizes and colors of Gorgonians. The current we encountered was too strong to stop and search for pygmy seahorses that are supposed to hang on to the sea fans. But every down side has an upside: the fast current made the dive a nice drift dive with lots of fish action. After lunch we headed for land and visited the Tubbataha Park Ranger Station. During the two afternoon dives we found: marbled ray, african bombatos, walls filled with gorgonians, and a very cool kid we don’t see that often, a whitemouth moray.
For the last full day of diving we headed over to the North atoll’s Malayan Wreck dive site. We made another fresh wake-up dive with a medium sized adult and two very curious juvenile scalloped hammerheads and a small manta ray in the early morning. This was followed by a dive at the North part of the wreck, where we encountered a whole school of approximately 15 hammerheads, as well as some nice big schools of reef fish. The day continued to bring us nice stuff, such as a very cute small blue-spotted stingray, quite a few sleeping whitetip reef sharks, a marbled stingray, and a nurse shark. After the four dives we moored on one of the two buoys and enjoyed our last smashing sunset over the atoll. At 03:00 AM we left for Jessie Beazley Reef where we would do the last two dives of the trip.
Dive #41 and the second to last one of the cruise at Jessie Beazley Reef was a memorable shark dive. Here we go; this is what we stumbled upon: plenty of whitetip reef sharks, a nurse shark, a grey reef sharks, a silvertip shark, a thresher shark and a whale shark. It made for big smiles at the breakfast table. After a bit of a rest everybody geared up again for the last dive of the trip, which was a great relaxing dive on the dramatic wall of Jessie Beazley Reef. The steep wall with its overhangs, crevices and sandy slopes house a lot of whitetip reef sharks. They’re all over the place, resting on white sandy patches in the shade of the wall. We ended the dive with 20 minutes on the edge of the reef where the corals explode in the sunlight. The gentle surge made the soft corals wave at us goodbye. Back on the boat we started washing and drying the gear and our guests started packing their bags. Later that day we had a nice sunset drink on the sundeck and a last evening barbeque.
After having spent almost two weeks diving together in the Southern Visayas and Tubbataha Reef we all concluded that this was a very special trip and a unique itinerary. We hugged, shook hands and patted backs and hope to see the guests back on board of one of our Siren Fleet yachts someday!