Not bad, not bad at all, we thought!
Departing from Malapascua, the Philippine Siren crew welcomed on board a happy group of divers all ready to dive in Malapascua and the Visayas! Our first diving day began at lovely Calanggaman Island. Picture a perfect stretch of beach in a turquoise blue sea and you’ll probably come up with something looking like this little dot on the map, South of Malapascua. We dived two dives and found longnose hawksfish, orangutan crab and the first nice nudibranchs of the trip. The afternoon and the night dives we did at Chocolate Island where the highlights included the soft corals, Spanish dancers, starry night octopuses and a swimming big black giant frogfish.
Dive day two began at Malapascua’s famous Monad Shoal dive site where we encountered thresher sharks and where we had some close up shots of a very tranquil resident eagle ray. The following three dives we did at Gato Island. We started off with the dive site ‘The Tunnel’. We not only saw light at the end of the tunnel, but also five white tip reef sharks. A thrilling and awesome experience!
Nudi lovers got their fair share at Gato: Blue Dragons, T-bar Nudi’s and lots of Chromodorises and Headshield Slugs. The lovely colors of the endless soft corals on the Island’s walls really made it a top of the bill night dive. We encountered Spanish dancers, some of which had the cool emperor shrimps crawling on them.
We got up early again the next morning for three thresher sharks at Monad Shoal and after this refreshing morning dive we headed for Deep Rock for the second dive. This pinnacle is really gorgeous with its colorful soft corals and its resident giant frogfish. And don’t forget the beautiful purple Hypselodoris. After the Deep Rock dive the captain started the engine and we went on the longest leg of our trip, a 15 hour boat ride to Moalboal.
The two morning dives were reserved for the dramatic walls and soft coral plateaus of Pescador Island. An abundance of life and color awaited us under water. Fish everywhere: big schools of damsel, fusiliers, snapper, sweetlips and anthias in all the colors of the rainbow. On one of the numerous tube sponges we spotted a huge green giant frogfish and our guest Achim found a very handsome yellow warty frogfish that we considered the find of the day. In the afternoon and evening we respectively dived the sites Dolphin House and Sanctuary, finding a huge Turtle, different kinds of Pipefish and mesmerizing unfolding basket stars in many different colors.
We started the day of with Sardines. Not for breakfast, but in a big bowl in Moalboal’s waters! An estimated 7-8 million little Sardine friends put up an underwater ballet for the divers. The rest of the day we dived the walls of the coastline of Moalboal ending off the day with a crazy night dive at Panagsama Reef with an endless amount of night shrimps bombarding our dive lights.
Travelling south from Moalboal our next stop was over at Dauin. Favorite amongst our dive guides, the muck diving on the black sand coast line in this town near Dumaguete is fabulous. The dive sites Kabayo Point, Atmosphere Reef, Secret Corner and San Miguel lived up to their reputations. A short list of the day’s catch: flamboyant cuttlefish, thorny seahorses, robust ghost pipefishes, an 18+ mating ritual of rock shrimps, scorpion leaf fishes, and seven baby or juvenile frogfishes – including a youngster hairy frogfish.
Apo Island was our following days’ dive destination. In a few words: an incredibly healthy reef covered in hard and soft corals as far as the eye can see. On top of that the usual reef suspects in abundance; schools of damsel fish, anthias, surgeon fish, snappers, fusiliers and the odd sweetlips. Throw in some chubby sea snakes and a hawksbill turtle here and there, and you summed up Apo’s west side. We also dived the site Chapel, where the divers were amazed by the walls filled with hundreds of thousands of tunicates, many of them covered with alien-like skeleton shrimps. Back to Dauin, we had more frogfishes, flamboyant cuttlefishes, candy crabs and at least seven very friendly and curious sea snakes in the night dive – a little bit too curious for some. They came swimming right up to us and our dive lights.
Another full day of muck diving at Dauin made our photographers and videographers more than happy. It seems to be ornate ghost pipefish season at the moment and those guys really are fantastic models. Furthermore we added the rare halimeda crab, an Ambon scorpionfish and a very handsome leafy filefish.
Oslob and Sumilon Island where on the day’s schedule. Whale sharks in the early morning, and fast drifting over Sumilon’s great underwater landscape before even having had lunch; how’s that for a great start of the day? The original plan was to leave the area after the morning dives and head for Balicasag Island. The night dive wasn’t bad at all! Plenty of fish action by large schools of reef fish and some rarer reef dwellers: bull hydroid crab, an bright orange frogfish and two berry’s bobtail squids, one of which was 0,5 -1 cm small.
The next day it was safe to move over to Balicasag Island. And what a dive day it became: close ups of green turtles, hawksbill turtles, giant frogfishes, a tiger snake eel, zebra and other morays and five different kinds of nembrotha nudibranchs. And the list goes on: a juvenile ribbon eel, courting dartfish, a school of big eyed jacks, and a heron’s ardeodoris egretta. Not bad, not bad at all, we thought.
To finish the diving part of the trip, we did two dives at Cabilao Island. A rushing current on one of the corners of the island at the dive site Lighthouse made the soft corals flourish and got all the fish life jumping. There was lots of action in the big schools of fish. The last dive was on the steep Gorgonian Wall. Denise pygmy seahorse, a Bornella Anquilla Johnson – or reindeer nudibranch – and a banana nudibranch made this a fruitful dive. Ending the dive in a gentle swell on the colorful plateau, we waved the Philippine underwater world goodbye.
We headed back to Cebu after the dive, cleaned the gear and the guests started packing. After a cocktail on the sundeck at sunset, a BBQ dinner and a good night’s rest the guests disembarked the Philippine Siren on Sunday 14th February, Valentine’s Day, hopefully to return someday (very soon!).