Southern Visayas: for real macro lovers!
This week the Philippine Siren liveaboard was chartered by our friends from Bluewater Travel. They all came to join us for a diving adventure in the Southern Visayas that was centered around underwater photography and videography. It promised to be a great twelve days on and in the water, and straight after a lunch we started the engine and set off for Cabilao Island where the next day we would do the first dive of a total of 40 dives during this trip.
We back-rolled in at the Cabilao Island’s dive site Talisay Tree for the first dive of the trip. During this check-dive straight away we encountered great seascapes with flourishing soft corals on a great wall. Next up was Gorgonian Wall where we found a rare yellow denise pygmy seahorse and a banana nudibranch. And with the banana nudibranch being around, we weren’t surprised but very happy with spotting some orangutan crabs. Most guests where amazed by all the soft corals on the shallow plateau and loved spending a fair bit of the dive in only 5-7 meter of water. There was a bit of a challenging current during some of the dives, but going with it, it became a fun ride along a stunning healthy reef. Other spotted highlights of the day where: two very cute bright yellow giant frogfishes sitting next to each other – feet against feet – on an elephant ear sponge, schooling barracuda and a very pretty stonefish.
We started the day with a nudi dive – Nudibranchs that is. We spotted a whole range of nembrotha nudibranch members: kurbayana’s, crested, chamberlain’s, miller’s and lined nembrothas. The second dive of the day was a turtle dive: many green turtles sleeping, munching on the juicy sea grass or just playing around. While we swam from one turtle to the other, we came across three giant frogfishes; two black ones and a really huge brown one. The rest of the day brought us: a warty frogfish, a massive bowl of big-eyed jacks, a tiny juvenile octopus, lots of different crabs in the night dive and pristine healthy reef. We logged a great day diving and a great diving day.
To ensure a good nights’ rest the captain anchored in front of Alona Beach, on Panglao Island the night before. There we were protected for the waves that can shake up things around tiny Balicasag Island. So in the morning at 6 AM we went back to Balicasag again for another day of diving this tropical gem. In a fine example of on board democracy the group (unanimously) voted for diving the Nudibranch dive and the Turtle dive again in the morning. This being a photography group they saw the opportunity to practice some more on these great subjects and improve their shots. And they did!
This was the day’s frogs-catch: a cute black painted frogfish, a swimming brown giant frogfish, and two extremely handsome warty frogfishes. A perfect day.
We started the day early for a whale shark dive in Oslob, encountering at least three individuals. They made for some great shots and underwater footage. After a nice breakfast we headed for Dauin and Apo Island region for three days of very diverse diving. The dive sites Atmosphere, Kabayo Point and San Miguel delivered. We spotted numerous cool kids on the block. Here’s just a selection of a seemingly endless list: thorny seahorse, orangutan crabs, a whole range of different kinds of baby and juvenile frogfishes, flamboyant cuttlefish and some tropical bottletail squids. Some of the guests called the nightdive ‘The Best Dive Of My Life!’
We took off for an exhilarating fast drift dive in the morning at Apo Island’s Coconut Point dive site. We raced over the coral overgrown boulders en swung around big chunky sea snakes. Ad some giant trevally to that dive log and best be assured it was a great morning exercise. The following two dives at Apo Island were all about corals; ancient hard Coral formations on the walls and slopes and waving soft corals on the shallow plateaus. The underwater photographers and videographers really got the best out of their wide angle lenses. The night dive was back at Dauin where we found scorpion leaffish, shortfin lionfish, grand pleurobranchs, flowers flatworms and a nice big guy bobtail squid.
Six of our guests opted for an alternative for the night dive. We brought them to lovely Atmosphere Resort where they enjoyed a sunset cocktail and celebrated a great day and a great trip so far.
In the early morning dive we spotted numerous ghost pipefish of different species. Ornate ghost pipefish in different colors, an adorable roughsnout ghost pipefish and a very rare white robust ghost pipefish. Some of the ornates were actually releasing their eggs, which led to awesome pictures, and one guests remarked: ‘A once in a lifetime chance to take pictures like this’. What a beginning of a dive day.
It seems to be frogfish and pipefish season, because the rest of the day brought us the whole range of baby, juvenile and adult frogfishes: painted frogfish, hairy frogfish (!), giant frogfish, warty frogfish and more pipefish family members: robust ghost pipefish, orange banded pipefish, ringed pipefish, winged pipefish, cleaner pipefish, and more ornate ghost pipefishes and roughsnout ghost pipefishes.
Overnight we drove the boat over to Moalboal area on the west coast of Cebu Island where we would dive the next day and a half. We started the Monday morning off with gorgeous Pescador Island. This little gem can easily be fully circled in two dives, which we did. We took some time taking pictures in its cool cave, named Cathedral and the second dive we spend on the shallow plateau amongst millions of small reef fish. It surely felt like a celebration of sea life.
In the afternoon we were back at Moalboal’s coastline where we dived its reef for the famous resident Sardine bowl. We jumped right on top of it and got treated with some action. For the full 60+ minutes of the dive the bowl exploded around us like underwater fireworks.
Before heading off to Malapascua area in the afternoon, we had two dives still near Moalboal. First up was the dive site Sanctuary where we spotted some cool cats: crinoid squat lobsters, emperor shrimps, a reef octopus, a school of razorfish and some very delicate porcelain crabs. The artificial reef dive site Airplane Wreck was up next. Daniel, one of our guests, showed his modelling skills and swam inside the wreck for the others to take some crazy and funny shots. After the dive we kicked back and relaxed for the 16 hour boat ride to Malapascua and our last 2,5 days of diving.
Another very early wake-up call for our guests, because the thresher shark dive at Monad Shoal dive site was on the schedule of this lovely morning. At 5:25 AM Shu went around knocking on cabin doors and at 6:00 AM the first group hit the water. The waiting game at the cleaning stations didn’t result in success. No Treshers around. We did spot some other cool stuff though: a Devil Ray, five Eagle Rays, and a glimps of a big white tip reef shark. Despite the absence of our long tailed friends, the spirits were up because for the three remaining dives of the day we were off to magnificent Gato Island. At Gato we were treated on all the good stuff: six white tip reef sharks, blue dragons, t-bar nudibranchs, lovely headshield slugs, flabellinas, spanish dancers, sponge crabs and an albino stonefish, to name just a few of the highlights.
We got up early again for a tresher shark dive. Sadly enough we didn’t encounter one. We spoke with local dive guides and were told that they hadn’t seen a tresher shark the last week. We did see some other cool stuff though: we had a nice long swim with two eagle rays and I saw a glimpse of a devil ray. Deep rock was up next and we had a great colorful dive around this underwater pinnacle. We found great nudibranch and its resident black giant frogfish. The afternoon and night dives at Chocolate Island brought us: strong currents and limited visibility, but also: ringed pipefish, pygmy cuttlefishes, dragonets, three spanish dancers and a starry night octopus.
Callangaman is a great little island south of Malapascua. It was the location of the last two dives of the trip. Masks were filling up all the time, not from leaking, but from the tears being cried that the end was near. Despite the haziness in the masks and the blurry red-eyed vision we did find some pretty cool stuff though: longnose hawksfish, flabellinas, huge black coral bushes, gorgonians and lots of wide angle lens photo opportunities. We surfaced with happy faces. We got back on board and started off back to our home port in Mactan, Cebu where the guests disembarked the next day. Sending them off with hugs and smiles, hoping to see them again someday above, or under water.