PHILIPPINES

MALAPASCUA ISLAND, CEBU

An adventurous divers paradise

Season: Year round diving

Visibility: 10-20m/35-70ft

Water Temperature: 25-29°C/77-84°F


Thresher Shark (Ibrahim Roushdi)

Malapascua Island is world renowned as being perhaps the only place that you can expect to reliably see the often elusive and mysterious Thresher Shark. The island itself, which sits just off the northern tip of Cebu in the central Philippines, is a mere two kilometers long and a half kilometre at its widest point, hardly impressive in size compared to the underwater riches that you can find here. The population of about 4000 rely on tourism and boat building. Malapascua is not especially developed and the island only received reliable 24 hour electricity in mid-2010. Divers have only really been venturing to Malapascua for the last fifteen years and it remains well off the beaten track, a small, sleepy and unspoiled island with some marvellous diving right on its doorstep. There are no five star hotels or luxury spas here. Accommodations are small, family run guest houses with a very welcoming charm to them.

The dive sites around Malapascua offer a great variety of topography and biodiversity. Even well traveled divers can hope to discover something new under the water here. You can spend long dives on sandy “muck diving” areas seeking out strange critters, or drift gently along coral gardens, sloping reefs, walls, caves and even wrecks. A number of great sites are a mere five minute boat ride from the shore and for those seeking to go further afield there are regular trips to Gato Island which is around a half hour away. Even further afield is Calanggaman Island which is around an hour and a half away. Some of the areas with the most prolific soft coral will sometimes be subject to currents and periods of reduced visibility due to nutrient rich waters that allow these areas to thrive.

Bantigue

Bantigue is a macro enthusiasts dream. This shallow patch reef tapers into an extensive hard coral outcropping. One need go no deeper than 10 metres to discover a menagerie of shrimp, crab, nudibranchs and the usual complement of anemonefish to name but a few of the highlights here. At first you will not know where to start as the hard coral patches and rocky bommies that make a home to lizardfish, pipehorses and numerous anemone swim into view before you. Schools of catfish dart between the coral heads but look carefully as every now and again the cerianthus tube anemones light up the reef with what seems to be a ‘glow-in-the-dark’ centre of neon green or brilliant pink. Tomato anemonefish and Pink anemonefish can be found throughout the site. Nudibranchs dot the reef just as you least expect it. White-spotted Chromodoris and Diana’s Chromodoris are some of the more colourful residents here.

Deep Rock

Deep Rock has plenty to keep everyone entertained. An initial descent to around 15 metres yields a groove and spur wall formation replete with soft corals, hard corals, sponges and nudibranchs galore. Scorpionfish sit on the walls, cunningly camouflaged in the hard corals. It is easy to get ‘lost’ amongst the first few spurs as you inspect each corridor. On the sandy bottom are anemones at every turn home to Pink anemonefish, Clark’s anemonefish and Tomato anemonefish, but go ahead, as further down is a sandy chute seemingly leading to nothing but here lie a number of gorgonian sea fans, majestic in their pink splendour dotting the sandy bottom at around 22 metres. Here as well lie a number of larger anemones where close inspection will reveal various commensal shrimp shrimp. Dwarf Hawkfish lurk atop the staghorn corals but pay attention as they disappear as quickly as they sat still! A lazy u-turn to come back over the hard coral reef top makes for a pleasant end to the dive as you mingle with the smaller tropical reef fish before making your ascent in the blue. This is definitely one of the best sites!

Gato Island

Roughly a one hour outrigger boat ride from Malapascua is Gato Island. A visit here is a relaxed day trip with two dives and lunch during the surface interval. Gato Island is the top of a giant limestone pinnacle covered in jade green trees and bushes, but the real beauty lies under the surface! One of the best aspects of the dive site is the topography. Gato Island might look like one pinnacle but you will soon see that there are a number of submerged towers dripping with burgeoning soft corals of red, yellow, purple, blue and pink. Enormous boulders that have been cleaved apart by millions of years of wind and wave action create dramatic overhangs and swim-throughs. One of the highlights of the dive is a ‘golden grotto’. Between two pinnacles an overhang replete with yellow soft corals, yellow sponges and yellow hard corals makes for quite a sight! Tubastrea corals feed with their yellow innards ‘flowering’ to create a rich carpet of gold on red. It is definitely worth spending a few minutes to take in the splendour! There is even a smaller ‘purple passage’ where the soft corals and sponges flare out in shades of magenta, violet, mauve and crimson. It’s just like looking down a kaleidoscope! Further along the wall green whip corals of up to 4 metres long flick out into the blue. Look out for Whip Gobies and Xeno Crabs as you pass. Amongst the hard corals and seagrass, common seahorses drape themselves over coral fingers. In one of the larger overhangs White-tip reef sharks can be found snoozing, ignoring the inquisitive divers. One particular area named Nudibranch City will be a favourite for nudibranch enthusiasts. Black-margined Glossodoris, Celestial Phyllidia, Phylodesmium Briarum, Glossodoris Cincta and Ceratasoma sit neatly on the walls, perched on shells, draped over rocks and sitting pretty on hard coral fingers.

The guides at Thresher Shark Divers know the biggest secret kept by Gato Island and that is where to find the Harlequin Shrimp! These little beauties sit within a small hard coral and rock bommie at around 15 metres. After passing through a cave that cuts straight through the middle of the island, the wall gives way to a sandy slope. It is here that the guides will reveal their prized assets! They must be the most beautiful of all shrimp. One could imagine that they are sporting the latest designs from the catwalks of London, Paris and New York as it seems they are wearing layers of ruffled skirts, neatly blotched with navy and pink markings. Black and white banded legs enable the shrimp to meander gently over their rocky homes. Two orange marbled antennae look like the most modern of fascinators. Don’t forget to let your fellow divers take a peek too!

The Cave is an underground tunnel cutting through the middle of Gato Island. Torches are a must in here. Remember to turn around as you enter the cave as the light fades from turquoise to navy. Fin carefully through the spaces inside and check the walls for crab and nudibranchs. Once in the cave be sure to take the time to shine your torch all around you, for the sponges and hard corals here have made a busy and dazzling colour show over every surface. Often, reef sharks swim back and forth in the entrance, creating a distinctive silhouette against the blue. You might even find Bamboo Sharks secreting themselves amongst the crevices here.

Calanggaman Island

Located in the Palompon region of Leyte, and about 90 minute outrigger ride from Thresher Shark Divers, Calanggaman Island is the epitome of a paradise island. This tiny speck of an island has a stunning powdery white sandy beach, palm trees dot the shore and the sea recedes from the beach in various shades of azure and sapphire. The province of Letye maintains Calanggaman and its dive sites as a marine protected area. This tiny island serves as a home to many thousands of organisms as this seamount rises right out of the ocean with virtually no other land in sight; no wonder it is a busy little spot. The descent over the hard coral reef top down the wall and into the blue is highly memorable. The deep blue drops before you whilst the visibility is gin clear so that you make out schools of fusiliers, unicornfish and snapper way beneath you, whilst Moorish idols and Golden Sergeants escort you from the shallow into the deep. Bluefin Tuna and smaller barracuda patrol the blue. Your dive guide knows the highlights here and almost everyone is keen to see one thing – the Denise Pygymy Seahorse. She sits on a gorgonian sea fan at around 32 metres. The Thresher Shark Divers guides know where she is and patiently check each frond with a torch until they spot her! Not far away lurk the Ornate Ghost Pipefish, which at first might look like a strand of orange bush coal wafting against the wall, but you’ll soon see the small spikey outline and the neat little eye as this hinge shaped ‘stick’ floats from perch to perch. Photographers will be in a quandary…the macro lens is a must for the smaller critters such as the nudibranchs and numerous shrimp including bubble coral and commensal shrimp, but the splendour and majesty of the wall with its gorgonians, soft corals, whip corals and schooling fish will make for a series of dramatic images. As you ascend up the wall it is worth taking some time to rummage around what the top of the wall has to offer. Yet more anemonefish dot the hard coral garden at around 6 to 10 metres. Butterflyfish add bright splashes of yellow and silver over the reef. Your ascent may live as long in your memory as your descent. Curtains of tiny silver fish move too quickly to discern any detail. They seem to school in the thousands and accompany you on an incandescent safety stop as they stream back and forth in what appears to be endless droves. Two dives are sandwiched around a lazy surface interval with a barbeque lunch taken on the beach. It is not unknown for dolphins to be seen on the boat ride to and from Calanggaman.

Dona Marilyn

This wreck of the Dona Marilyn is a great dive both to the wreck enthusiast and to those simply wanting to admire the grandeur that a sunken ship taken over by the ocean represents. She lies on her side between 18 and 33 metres of water and is an impressive 99.7 metres in length! The Dona Marilyn was a cargo and passenger liner, launched in 1967 under the name Otohime Maru. Her final voyage was from Manila to Tacloban on the 24 October 1988. The hull is swathed in white and orange bush corals and whilst it is quite a sight to see a ‘ship shaped’ carpet of them, the real intrigue on this dive is to be found at the bow, the stern and the deck area, which now tips down into the sand as a permanent reminder of the unnatural angle that the vessel was thrust into as it met its watery demise. A number of batfish patrol the stern end, beguiling divers with their awkward sideways rolls and jaunty faces. Frogfish can be found on the jutting poles of the wreck and nurse sharks rest amongst the corals or swimming in and out of the portholes. Sections of the superstructure extend right out over the sea bed, now covered in dripping soft corals and encrusted with years of coral formation. One of the more thrilling descents on to the wreck is over the bow as the huge shape of the ship slowly becomes more obvious. From here you can marvel at the perspective as far as visibility will permit before making your dive along the deck. You’ll need to take a number of dives here, preferably on nitrox to get the best out of the wreck. Sitting on the sand and gazing up at and along the main deck area is a humbling experience as you take in the scale of the vessel, feeling somewhat like a shrimp under a Whale Shark.

There are various windows and openings into the ships interior that the inquisitive diver can pop their head into, however it is strongly advised that divers wishing to enter do so under the guidance of a Thresher Shark Divers guide. Inside the Dona Marilyn are a series of twisting passages. Thresher Shark Divers have installed a number of lines to make penetrations safer. The ship still throws up new yet sinister finds. Beds, shoes and plates remind the diver of the human toll here.

Quiliano

Quiliano is a delightful pinnacle jutting out from a sandy bottom at around 17 metres. Soft and hard corals cover the wall which rises into a busy hard coral garden, with plate and staghorn corals stacked tightly together, creating what look like giant ‘apartment complexes’ for a whole manner of reef fish!. Divers can make a very leisurely circumnavigation of the whole pinnacle or perhaps perform a figure of eight to take in the sandy bottom, the main walls of the pinnacle itself and the coral garden that makes up the shallower portion of the reef. Whilst meandering around the pinnacle, keep a look out for large chain moray eels secreted amongst the crevices, as well as beautifully striped hermit crabs seemingly wearing neat football jerseys! Commensal shrimp can be found on a number of the anemone dotting the sandy bottom. Moorish Idols parade in trains over the reef top which makes a pleasant end to the dive.

Ka Osting

Whilst offering divers an easy critter dive, it is quite possible that this dive site makes for a better night dive than it does a day dive. Without doubt, the highlight here is the Blue-ringed octopus. He is an elusive little fellow though and can hide away very quickly! Usually to be found on sandy patches in between the coral heads this small, beautiful yet potentially deadly creature makes for a great photograph with his brilliant blue rings contrasted neatly against his cream coloured suit. Hermit crabs of varying sizes with their googly eyes on stalks scuttle briskly from one hole to the next, their spindly legs able to quickly waltz them in any direction. Small squid stand strikingly under the beam of the torch as they glow a neon green, blue and silver, hovering magically in the water column. Crocodile fish do their best to blend in with the sandy bottom but the more observant diver will notice their drooping mouths and bulging eyes peeping from the sand. Be careful as these incredible creatures can bury themselves with alarming speed.

Chocolate Island

About a twenty minute boat ride from Thresher Shark Divers sits Chocolate Island. This busy, multi-layered site is often dived as an easy drift. The walls of the island give way to large boulders, each creating smaller habitats for communities of damselfish and butterflyfish. Descending to around 15 metres, divers can rummage though small trenches and across patches of hard corals. Enormous Purple-gilled Hypselodoris nudibranchs can be found here and be sure to check the whip corals for gobies and shrimp. On the shoulders of the wall are carpets of large anemone with their symbiotic residents – anemonefish – whizzing around and stamping their authority on their territory. They do get very close to divers and what is not to like about being eye to eye with these perennial favourites?! Several octopi can be found further out from the main island in the sheltered area where patch reefs are also home to cuttlefish, shrimp and crab.

North Point

This is one of those sites that you will rely on your guide/compass for! The range of life here will have you turning around and around in circles, moving forwards and backwards all over the extensive reef. The mooring line takes divers straight down to a large boulder at around 17 metres which is worth going over and around a few times before deciding on your first direction. The sea bed is replete with anemones, some in very bold purples and greens. Chromodoris nudibranchs are frequently spotted and on the whip corals xeno crab can be seen easily if you know how to look for the tell-tale bulge. Other highlights include the Much-desired Flabelina and tube anemones of every size and hue! Yellow-spotted Moray Eels poke out from inside rocky dwellings. Rumour has it that some of the Thresher Shark Divers guides know where to find the pygmy seahorses… At times this can be a satisfying drift dive as you just fly over the sea bed. Don’t worry about where you pop up; the boat will come straight over to get you! 

Dakit Dakit

Dakit Dakit could be considered to be the Thresher Shark Divers ‘houe reef’. Just a minute away in a shuttle boatie, this site is a fabulous playground for all divers. Two artificial reefs have been constructed from giant wires in the form of a Manta Ray and a Whale Shark, each one now a nursery for burgeoning soft corals, juvenile lionfish and reef fishes (including very very tiny anemonefish!) Various conservation projects have seen corals transplanted on to the structures and it won’t be long until the structures are completely covered over. Divers can really take their time circling these ‘reefs’ which lie at around only 10 metres. The other draw on this site is the series of twisting canyons and swim-throughs which at high tide make for a fun way to spend ten or fifteen minutes as you glide though the hard coral towers and overhangs, twisting and turning to select your preferred route back into the blue. An extensive patch reef connects the artificial reefs with the canyons. Hairy Frogfish have been seen here so keep an eye out! Cleaner shrimp are available for manicures all over the site so the patient diver can enjoy having their nails ‘polished’ by these inquisitive invertebrates. The flat and shallow nature of the site, combined with the fact that it is just full of things to see makes it one of the most photogenic sites of Malapascua.

 


Resorts

Liveaboards


Thresher Shark (Jeremy Cuff)


Pygmy Seahorse (Jeremy Cuff)


A diver enters a cave off Malapascua (Rachel Lee Horsfield)


White-tip Reef Shark (Jeremy Cuff)


Brilliant visibility! (Jeremy Cuff)


Bamboo Shark (Jeremy Cuff)


Decorator Crab (Jeremy Cuff)


The Randy Mandy dive! (Jeremy Cuff)

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