Philippines underwater life from a different angle

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The Philippine Siren was ready for a very special liveaboard dive trip in the Southern Visayas!  A 10-days snorkeling organised by Lee Goldman, marine biologist and writer of the books: ‘Snorkeler’s Guide to Marine Life of the Philippines’ and ‘Marine Life and Natural History of the Coral Triangle’. Joel Simon and his organisation ‘Sea for yourself’ brought along some more happy snorkelers and we had the boat filled. We were super exited to get into the water with them and maybe pick up some more shallow water knowledge and appreciate the beautiful Philippines underwater life from a different angle. 

At Napantao, we wake up in new places is always refreshing. Seeing almost half of the guests out on the deck before the wake-up call, promised this would become a happy trip with only enthusiastic snorkelers. The first snorkel session was in perfect conditions: calm waters and sunshine. After two and a half hours of snorkeling, everybody was enthusiastically talking about a Banded Sea Snake a whole array of Anemone fish and the first nudibranchs. The afternoon snorkeling promised a lot more of these interesting and colourful creatures. To finish this fantastic first day of snorkeling, Lee Goldman gave a presentation about the history of the Philippines from a geological perspective.

The day started with a visit of two representatives of the Philippines base organization LAMAVE (Large Marine Vertebrates Projects).  Gonzo and Jessica came on board and introduced their marine projects, especially regarding the Whale Sharks. In the afternoon, thirteen guests jumped into the water for another fantastic snorkel. Two guests chose to make a check dive which proved to be nice and easy on a sandy area dotted with shallow reef. Joel gave a nice presentation before dinner and that made a nice closure of this lovely second snorkeling day.

While the guests were having their breakfast and watching the beautiful scenery of Southern Leyte, we arrived at our next destination: the lovely island Limasawa, which translates to: five wives. We facilitated two activities in the early morning: diving and snorkeling. Both groups experienced great stuff; beautiful hard coral structures on the shallow plateau, and a dramatic steep wall off the island. Some massive coral bushes and tube sponges could be seen and loads of Threadfin Anthias, and Purple Anthias darted on the reef margin. We spotted bearded scorpionfishes and a cute smiling banded sea snake. And to top it off, we saw one of our favourite members of the nembrotha nudibranchs family, the Chamberlain’s nembrotha.
We were anchored in a gorgeous bay with a beautiful backdrop of a lush overgrown steep island. We snorkeled and dived on and around a corner in the reef. Thousands of fusiliers and threadfin anthias were up in the blue. The stunning wall with loads of healthy looking sponges, hard corals, soft corals an in particular the Tunicates took our breaths away.
In the evening we had a very interesting and enlightening presentation on fish identification by Lee. He shared some very helpful tips on where to start looking in the fish ID books for a fish encountered on a dive or snorkel. Here’s the trick; start by looking how they swim, or perhaps don’t swim at all. Curious as to where this might lead? We’re happy to share it when you come to the boat.

During the night our captain Russell and chiefmate Paul motored the boat over from the province of Leyte to Anda on the Island of Bohol. The rest of the trip we make a big circle around Bohol in the province or Southern Visayas. First stop, as mentioned was Anda. Let me ask you this: What can you expect from a dive and snorkel site called Paradise Garden? Well, the site on the southeast side of Anda surely lived up to its name. An amazing wall, reef margin and reef top flat is what we encountered in the morning snorkel and dive. A seemingly endless supply of soft corals and a gentle drift made for a perfect combination. What a great way to start the day.
The second snorkel session of the day was on the reef flat of the site of Magic Wall. We found predominantly hard coral gardens and something very interesting: algae. Many people might not spend much time looking at that it, but you would be surprised to find all these cool creatures and fish living in and of this stuff. The snorkel again was a success with and we could log a black saddled snake eel sticking his head out, some squat shrimps and peacock tail anemone shrimps to name a few cool things we saw. We also found the beautiful egg ribbons of Spanish dancers and were happy to take some decorative photos of them.

After a very early wakeup call and a sturdy breakfast we got in the dinghies for something really cool: dolphin watching with Junior. We climbed aboard his Bangka – a local name for a boat with bamboo floats on the side. He’s a legend and spotted the dolphins for us.
For the first snorkel, we landed on the beach of beautiful Pamilacan and after a quick look around we walked right back in the sea to find loads of sea grass, sandy patches with coral bombies soft corals on the reef flat. Now check this out, we found: a snowflake moray, dragonets, a blunt end sea hare, quite a few razor fish, common egg cowries, tiger cowries, squat shrimps, heaps of juvenile black damsel… one of the guests summed it up accurately: “There was too much to see”.
The afternoon snorkel added more cool things to the list: damselfsh with eggs, jellyfish and seagrass filefish to new but just a few. We took the three divers out for a deeper session too and found two big broadclub cuttlefish hovering on the wall.
When everybody was back on the boat we motored over to Alona beach for the next day’s pickup for the Tarsier tour. While we were driving we listened to Lee’s very interesting presentation on fish behavior.

At Balicasag, we saw amazing things: green sea turtles – some of us spotted 4 or 5, midnight snappers, diagonally lined sweetlips a fantastic seaward reef wall and a gorgeous reef top margin. And there was more: schooling long-jawed mackerel, both girls and boys solar boxfish, hydroids and a gentle current leading us over all of this. In the evening we did some fish and creature identification with Joel. Some of the guests had ‘sent in’ pictures and we showed them on the big TV in the dining area. It really was good fun to share the knowledge and experience of the underwater life and Joel handed us some more knowledge with his presentation on corals. 

Late the previous day we had arrived at Cabilao and dropped anchor. In the morning after breakfast it was only a short boat ride over to our first snorkeling spot. Lee chose Chapel Point. For the divers it turned into a nice drift along the wall filled with soft corals and hard corals and some massive gorgonians. 
On the top the snorkelers had less current, but enjoyed being on an awesome reef margin. All the soft corals created a perfect habitat for the zillion anthias, and damsels, as well as plenty of other reef fish.
In the afternoon we snorkeled the south wall of PengangaI Island. This was a very special snorkel, because it took us over different kinds of habitats. Starting almost on the beach we first encountered mangroves, followed by a seagrass area. Swimming out, next there was area with lots of rubble and small coral colonies. Further on there was another different habitat, the back reef margin, followed by the front reef margin and finally the seaward reef slope. All of these habitats had their own structure and fish and creatures. Some of the highlights included mating pipefish, fire urchins, different kinds of filefish and some very cool crabs.

The first snorkel of the day was on the south wall of Pangangan again. The previous day we mostly spent our time on the reef flat, but the reef margin surely deserved more of our attention. So we dropped in again and immediately were taken by the beauty of the life on the wall. We swam in and out, zigzagging over the lovely site spotting strapweed filefish and bristle tail filefish, a massive banded sea snake and reeftop pipefish on the corals and pelagic tunicates and heaps of Jellyfish in the blue.
We changed over the daily routine a bit by moving the presentation – it was Joel’s turn, he talked about corals and the wars they fight amongst each other – forward to 4:30 PM which made it possible to do something really cool: a night snorkel session! Once again Cabilao, one of our favorite destinations, delivered, because what a great experience it was. We spotted: Berry’s bobtail squid, reef squid, saddled snake eel, wasp fish, Halloween hermit crabs, prawns, schools of striped eel catfish, a Spanish dancer and many, many crabs. Happy faces all over the place.

The last day of snorkeling for this liveaboard snorkeling trip was Gorgonian Wall. With a gentle drift from south to north we snorkeled all the way from the northern tip of the sanctuary up to the corner near the lighthouse. The wall and reef top flat are amazing; so full of life, color and diversity. Most Gorgonians that give the site its name hug the wall a bit deeper, but at some spot we could see and admire some giant ones.
Along the way north we spotted really cool things: a school of reef squid, yellowtail barracuda, a juvenile rock mover wrasse, heaps of gorgeous species of hard and soft corals, bearded scorpionfishes, and a handsome blue male solar boxfish.
It was a great last snorkel and after everybody was back on board again we set course for Mactan, Cebu.

What a great new experience it was for our Philippine Siren guests and crew!! We hope to see you on board again!

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