Diving Southern Visayas and Tubbataha! All in one cruise!
The Philippine Siren crew was ready to start the transition cruise between Southern Visayas and Tubbataha! 15 lovely guests accompanied us in the incredible liveaboard dive trip! Many of them were repeater guests and they felt at home again. The sea was pretty calm and ready to take us to Cabilao Island.
Waking up at Cabilao Island is always a nice start of the trip. The check dive was a great one at Talisay Tree. We had many colorful reef fish as the usual suspects with reef stonefish and a juvenile pinnate spadefish as the high light. We also found some plentigul of nudibran, a banded sea snake and a green sea turtle swam by with the beautiful soft corals on the wall and gorgonians in the back ground.
The second dive was at Gorgonian Wall. It’s just gorgeous and some guests even call this dive site the garden of Eden with all the soft coral swaying in the shallow. With the findings of 2 banana nudibranchs and 2 Denise pygmy seahorses, this dive site is just a winner.
The afternoon dive was at Light House, the dive site with the many green yellowish elephant ears. Big schools of fish were to be seen here: young yellowtail barracuda, fusiliers and golden batfish.
The night dive at Cambaquiz was just “crazy” according to the divers. The zebra lionfish, giant frogfish, reptilian snake eel, ringed pipefish with eggs, spider decorator crab, hermit crab, porcelain crab, anemone decorator crab and a dwarf octopus made a fantastic end of the first diving day.
We woke up to another lovely day of sunshine in paradise. Just before the wake-up call we had arrived at the picture perfect tropical island of Balicasag. This was our diving destination for the day. We started at the dive site Black Forrest where we found quite a few different nudibranchs. The macro photographers got their share with the lined nembrotha, the crested nembrotha and the kubayana’s nembrotha. But there were more nudibranch around: desirable flabellina, elisabeth’s chromodoris and a tiny reticulated chromodoris.
The second dive was at Diver’s Heaven, which we nicknamed Turtle Point. We found heaps of the hard-shelled boys and girls. While they were munching away on the juicy sea grass, we were able to get real close to them and have a good look at them. What great creatures these green sea turtles are, and how lovely it is to see them in their natural habitat.
The third dive brought along the southern part of the island was one teaming with life. Thousands of reef fish, such as threadfin and purple anthias, long-jawed mackerels and Fusiliers were racing along the reef margin. Two highlight were a scorpion leaffish and a bright yellow painted frogfish.
The night dive was another great one with a tiny, but notorious blue-ringed octopus out and about. Quite a few morays and eels topped it off and we concluded that it had been a great day of diving at Balicasag Island.
Although we had a good chance to spot a Whale shark (or two) in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park, we offered the guests the option to jump in at the Whale shark encounter area at Oslob.
After Oslob we drove over to Dauin on Negros Island for the rest of the day’s diving. We started the black sand experience with our traditional transition dive at the site Mainit. It’s a nice place to let go of the corals and get used to the muck diving of the volcanic coastline of Dauin, because there are still coral colonies set in a backdrop of and black sand slope.
The third and fourth dives were hardcore muck diving and the sites delivered; amongst many other things we spotted: thorny and common seahorses, a helmut gurnard, fingered dragonets, ornate ghost pipefishes, cockatoo waspfishes, tropical bottletail squids, bobtail squids and coconut octopuses. What a great place to dive Dauin is!
Half an hour before the wake-up call we started the engine and drove the boat over the second oldest marine protected area of the Philippines: Apo Island. We spotted big schools of big-eye trevally, many different kinds of snappers, sweetlips, fusiliers, surgeon fishes and barracudas. The third dive was over the vast coral fields on the west side of the island. The sloping wall is a haven for reef building corals, whereas the reef top is covered in fields of leather corals.
There were two more dives at Dauin on the schedule before we would set course to Cagayancillo and eventually Tubbataha Reefs National Park. We chose to dive The Cars and Pyramids, two dive sites with artificial reef; car parts on the first and steel pyramid-shaped structures on the second. Once again the number of cool finds was astonishing, here we go: peacock razorfish, ornate ghost pipefishes – white and black, robust ghost pipefishes, thorny seahorse, devil scorpionfish, orange-banded pipefish. You want more? Okay: juvenile painted and warty frogfishes and an adult freckled frogfish, bristle-tailed filefish, longhorn cowfish, schooling razorfish, spiny devilfish, pegasus sea moth, desirable flabellina, gloomy tambja and some tozeuma shrimps. All in half a day’s diving in Dauin. How about that?
After the two dives we straightened our backs, tightened everything on the dive deck and set course to Cagayancillo in the Sulu Sea. It was the official ending of the Southern Visayas season and the beginning of the Tubbataha season. We sailed into the sunset and were dreaming of the things to come, away from home for three months in the Tubbataha Reefs National Park.
At Cagayancillo, we dived at the southern wall and the southwestern wall. Because of their remote location these sites are hardly ever dived. The first dive was along the steep wall that flattens out towards a corner in the reef. The abundance of life along the wall was stunning, as were the coral diversity, especially on the sloping reef margin. Big schools of blue and yellow fusiliers, redtooth triggerfish, pyramid butterflyfish and curtains of damsels and anthias darted back and forward in the mild current. What really stood out were the vibrant colors and general liveliness of the whole scenery. Everything was moving and full of life. The second, and last dive of the day before we had to start moving again towards Tubbataha, was at a place we nicknamed Gorgonian wall. We spotted schools of bluespine unicornfish and chevron barracuda, along with numerous other usual reef suspects. We noticed that there were quite a few smaller fish that we don’t usually encounter in other parts of the Philippines, such as the masked grouper and the fire dartfish.
After the second dive we aimed for Tubbataha again and set of for the 12 hour boat ride to the park.
Welcome to Tubbataha! We had arrived at the North atoll in Tubbataha. A very gentle current took us on along the gorgeous wall on both our two first dives. It was a warm welcome with grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, black jacks, schools of blacktail barracuda and yellowtail barracuda, bumphead parrotfish and some hawksbill turtles and the resident blacksaddle coral groupers.
First dive of the next morning was Gorgonian Channel . On the nice and calm dive we spotted a marbled stingray, a big grey reef shark, some sleeping whitetip reef sharks and a whole lot of spiny lobsters. At one point we found 10-12 individuals hiding underneath one big coral structure.
The fourth and last dive of the day was at Amos Rock. Big schools of surgeonfish, together with scads and fusiliers shot past in different directions. Obviously the reef was patrolled by the whitetip sharks and some massive dogtooth tunas.
We started the engine to drive the boat to the South atoll for a dive at Ko-ok which showed a glimpse of its thrilling side with a glimpse of a scalloped hammerhead, and on the reef top plateau we encountered a massive school of bumphead parrotfish, a whole bunch of whitetip reef sharks resting under coral boulders, and a big school of big-eye trevally.
The beautiful wall of Wallstreet was up next, so we headed back over to the North atoll. We got in right on top of a school of bumphead parrotfish and it continued to become better and better. There were many whitetip reef sharks hunting together with grey reef sharks, giant trevallies and the odd dogtooth tuna. Surgeonfish racing by, closely followed by big schools of blue and yellow fusiliers. It was a very hectic and lively scenery, and when we came up some of the guests immediately requested to do this dive site again. A request we gladly honored.
After the dive we drove over to Southpark for some current action over the white sandy plateau. The scenery with the bright white sand with dotted with coral boulders and the clear visibility is really cool. Add quite a few resting whitetips in the sand and you can imagine that we had another good dive.
For the night we moored on the site Amos Rock, hiding for the wind and the waves but the weather forecast for the last days of the trip was promising.
Delsan Wreck. Remember that name, because it might become your next favorite Tubbataha dive site. It surely is one of ours. On the corner of the reef we spotted a massive school of big-eye trevally, and the patrolling grey ref sharks, whitetip reef sharks and some eagle rays flying by. Just above that a big school of yellowtail barracuda was chilling out in the current and on and on it went the whole dive through. At the end of the dive one group got an extra treat: we spotted a large silvertip shark being cleaned on a station. Really impressive to see this big guy hover, nose up, above the cleaning station, getting the full treatment.
Over to our next dive at Staghorn Point – loads of corals there, as one would expect given the name. The reef margin is just breathtaking with all the corals, sea fans and barrel sponges, covered in small reef fish. Again a huge school of big-eye trevally did some showing off in the shallows.
Next to our schedule was Black Rock area, one of our other favorite spots. We dived three very different dives we encountered: reef mantas, schooling harlequin sweetlips, oceanic triggerfish, midnight snappers, barracuda, yellowtail barracuda and great barracuda, four eagle rays flying in formation, green sea turtles, curtains of damsels, redtooth triggerfish, surgeonfish and pyramid butterflyfish, some enormous dogtooth tuna , dozens of whitetip reef sharks and grey reef sharks and two big nurse sharks.
We scheduled Shark Airport twice and made the diving day complete with a dive at Washing Machine and one at Northeast Wall. The first minute into the dive the name of this dive site was proven. We latterly had to make our way through the sharks to find the reef top edge to drift with the current. We witnessed the hunting of big-eyed trevally’s by sharks and along the way we were often in the middle of rainbow runners, fusiliers, red tooth triggerfish and at the end of the dive a school of milkfish in the shallow.
The first dive at Jessie Beazley Reef showed us a whale shark, a pack of dogtooth tuna was hanging on the corner while we were figuring out the spots with less current. We came up for breakfast and some cool shots of the Philippine Siren with her sails up.
The second dive of the day, and forty-first dive and last of the trip was again at Jessie Beazley. We jumped in at the east side of the corner, spotting numerous whitetip and grey reef sharks, as well as some huge dogtooth tuna. The other two groups preferred a gentler ending to the trip so they turned around and drifted along the gorgeous walls. We glided through big schools of black snappers and surgeonfish and spotted plenty of other schools of reef fish.
We climbed aboard the dinghies, and headed over to the big boat. While washing the guests’ gear we looked out over the vast Sulu Sea and concluded that it had been great to stick our heads underwater again in one of our favorite diving areas. Tubbataha Reefs National Park: we’ll be back!