Philippines: From Bizarre to Wonderland

Tubastrea corals blossom at San Agapito within the biodiverse Verde Island Passage


Ask anybody about diving within the Philippines and they’re going to inform you about all of the star sights: Wrecks, whale sharks, thresher sharks, and Tubbataha roll off the tongue, however this expansive archipelago of seven,641 islands has extra than simply the standard high-profile suspects. With the nation being the epicenter of worldwide marine biodiversity and with virtually 9 % of our planet’s coral reefs, we had been positive we may discover one thing a bit left of heart, one thing extra exploratory and off the standard diving path.

Embarking from Anilao, a mere two hours’ drive from Manila Airport, our journey on board the mighty MV Solitude One would take us on a seven-day safari exploring the lesser-known dive areas round Romblon, Tablas, and Puerto Galera, earlier than ending within the 4,400-square-mile Verde Island Passage, extensively thought-about the richest and most biodiverse marine space on this planet—to not point out the island at its heart being my namesake!


Beautiful sea followers make the Verde Island Passage house


Ghosts within the Evening

Our first cease was Romblon. We had solely ever heard about Romblon from a fellow photographer good friend who had lengthy desired to witness the holy grail of all nudibranch species, Melibe colemani, in any other case generally known as the “ghost nudi.” First found in Mabul, Malaysia in 2008 by Australian naturalist Neville Coleman (1938–2012), this unusually translucent, gelatinous creature is scarcely seen by probability. It’s important to be exceptionally fortuitous to search out it, not to mention {photograph} it, besides if you’re in Romblon.

The night was blessed with excellent situations for an evening dive on the unassuming home reef of the Romblon Seashore Resort, a brand new resort on the outlying island of Logbon meticulously established in the course of the pandemic by acclaimed underwater photographers Jim Chen and Lynn Wu. Tonight was about discovering and photographing one factor, Melbe colemani. We had been lucky to be joined underwater by the resort’s guides, giving us the absolute best probability to search out and {photograph} this peculiar creature.

Materializing from out of nowhere, like ninjas in the dead of night, we had been lured to a small space of Xenia coral, the Melibe’s meals supply, cautiously approaching what resembled a small jumbled assortment of “snotty” string. Its vaporous physique wavered within the present; it was as if with any slight exhale or motion, the Melibe would carry off and fly far, far-off. It took a substantial period of time to grasp what it was we had been truly . Which manner was it dealing with? The place was its mouth and its rhinophores? Did it actually have a head? A photographic problem to say the least, however we had been keen about this obscure and unusually lovely creature.


The uncommon and delicate Melibe colemani at evening within the macro haven of Romblon


Butterflies of the Sea

An estimated 3000 nudibranch species exist throughout our planet’s oceans. Their kaleidoscope of colours, shapes and lavish dance strikes have earned them the identify “butterflies of the ocean.” However there’s one particular critter in Romblon that really epitomises this identify: Cyerce nigra, or tiger butterfly. A sacoglossan (sap-sucking) sea slug of the Caliphyllidae (Polybranchiidae) household, it lives on Romblon’s shallow, sandy bottomed algae fields and is a prized discover for tremendous macro photographers.

At lower than half a centimeter in size, this little slug was tiny! It wasn’t till we captured it on digital camera that we appreciated how treasured and delicate it was. Dressed up in its ruffled ballgown, it crawled off its algae onto the white sand, its plumage (cerata) dancing again and fourth at mercy to the present, wavering to provide us a sneak peak of either side of its elaborate costume. On high, tiger stripes; under, leopard spots in reverse. Might there be something extra lovely?

Whereas the ghost nudi and tiger butterfly are positively the celebrities of the present in Romblon, the home reef on the Romblon Seashore Resort will maintain photographers entertained for days on finish. Lembeh sea dragons, minuscule blue medallion crabs, sweet crabs, and sashimi shrimp—the dimensions of a sashimi grain of rice itself!—all make this home reef house. You’ll be assured a brand new discovery on each dive.


The uncommon and exquisite Cyerce nigra on the shallow white sands


The shy Lembeh seadragon is one other Romblon jewel


The Massive Blue Gap

Some of the tempting issues about liveaboard diving is the exploratory facet and the prospect that just about anyplace you set your masks within the water can result in an unimaginable expertise. Having the competence on board to journey that little bit additional, this curiosity led us to a web site our dive guides had been informed about within the very northeastern tip of the close by island of Tablas. Right here, the Punta Gorda lighthouse stood sentinel, marking a vertical descent right into a spectacular blue gap. How this gap shaped is a thriller, however it’s, no doubt, essentially the most treasured underwater panorama on the reefs right here.

With a leap of religion, we descended into the eerie, deep gap, our eyes fixated on detecting any glimpse of sunshine on the base of the shaft. On our descent, timid cardinalfish took refuge in opposition to the cavern’s partitions. The exit appeared infinite to succeed in, as the present from under vigorously welled upwards, slowing our descent and conveying the feeling of skydiving.


A diver hovers on the exit cavern of the blue gap at Tablas Island


Exploring the colourful white corals on the slope of the Blue Gap dive web site


As we lastly reached the exit chamber at 100 toes, there was little question that this was a really ethereal and atmospheric place. We paused to look again up the shaft to the floor and loved the vista of the divers descending from the sky above. This strikingly lovely, vertical cavern, which lured us deep into the gloom, launched us out into the blue and on to a vertical outer-reef wall of raging comfortable coral. We now understood the place the up-current was coming from as we witnessed the profusion of Anthias dancing on the wall.


The colourful comfortable corals on the wall of the Blue Gap dive web site


Reefs of Surprise

No matter the place you may have dived on this planet, the gin-like waters of Puerto Galera don’t disappoint. It’s believed that over 800 species of nudibranch have been recognized right here up to now 20 years, however it’s the nutrient-packed currents enriching the world’s labyrinth of sentimental coral and sponge gardens that actually impresses. In Puerto Galera’s protected coral backyard coves, fairy basslets boogie to the mercy of the present. Set this in opposition to a backdrop of jaw-dropping shade and you’ve got some very fairly diving.

The world additionally harbors some fascinating shipwrecks. Purposely sunk to turn out to be a synthetic reef, the 100-foot hull of the Alma Jane, a cargo ship scuttled in 2003, makes for an alluring dive. Whereas components of the deck have since collapsed, you’ll discover the wreck encrusted with a rage of psychedelic comfortable corals and harboring resident frogfish, mantis shrimp, nudibranchs, and varied education fishes. The wreck itself presents a fascinating photographic alternative.


A diver over the bow of the eerie Alma Jane wreck in Puerto Galera


Fish college on the stern of the Alma Jane wreck


Heart of the Heart

Of all of the dive areas of the Philippines, the Verde Island Passage is arguably the richest and most biodiverse. In 2005, a examine by Dr. Kent Carpenter, IUCN World Marine Species Evaluation coordinator, and Victor Springer of the Smithsonian Institute, declared the Philippines as “the middle of marine biodiversity on this planet” and the Verde Island Passage because the “heart of the middle of marine shorefish biodiversity.” Positioned on the apex of the Coral Triangle, the Verde Island space was declared to have the very best focus of marine species, having 1,736 overlapping marine species over a 40 sq. mile space, and the very best focus of marine life anyplace on the planet. The diving right here greater than lives as much as this fame.


A diver explores the colourful coral coves of Puerto Galera


On the pinnacle dive web site of San Agapito, positioned simply off Verde Island, marine life is flourishing and rampant. The best affect on this underwater wonderland is the energetic and energetic currents that whirl and eddy across the reefscape, replenishing a myriad of vitamins that gasoline the world’s profusion of species. The topography of this underwater panorama is arresting, with secret passages, rocky outcrops, and hanging sheer vertical partitions that present the substrate for a various vary of coral species to blow up. The positioning endears itself to pelagics and a large number of macro critters.

Education jacks, redtoothed triggerfish, Anthias, and fairy basslets are assured, together with frequent appearances from quite a few turtle species and sea snakes. Make sure to dive this web site when the present is asserting itself to witness the labyrinth of beautiful Tubastrea corals (solar corals) blossoming in opposition to a sea of redtoothed triggerfish and Anthias. Pinnacle websites like this certainly have their challenges on the subject of managing the present, however the rewards are wealthy for those who dive with goal and care.

There isn’t any doubt that once you journey within the Philippines, anyplace you descend within the blue provides up a treasure trove—that’s what makes the lesser-known and extra exploratory sort dive safaris like this thrilling and intriguing. Whereas this a part of the Philippines doesn’t get the eye of its star-studded neighbors, the alluring wonderland of coral reef techniques, the weirdly obscure critters, fairly shipwrecks, pinnacles of abundance, and secret holes of blue left us speechless. Our seven days right here had hardly even scratched the floor!


Tubastrea corals blossom as the present runs wildly at San Agapito within the Verde Island Passage


Planning Your Journey to Romblon, Tablas, Puerto Galera, and the Verde Passage

Methods to Get There: Entry to diving this space is from the acclaimed muck diving and blackwater diving capital of Anilao, an roughly two-hour drive from Manila. Philippines Airways companies Manila’s Ninoy Aquino Worldwide Airport every day throughout greater than 40 worldwide routes all through Asia Pacific, Europe, the Center East, and North America.

When to Go: Whereas the most effective time to go to the Philippines is in the course of the dry season from December to April, don’t disregard a go to in the course of the southeast monsoon season (June to October). The fact is that rain right here is massively unpredictable and you can be shocked at how unimaginable the climate may be. We visited in late August and skilled heat sea temperatures, clear sunny skies, clean seas, and nice visibility underwater. There’s additionally the additional advantage of fewer divers right now of the yr and we had unique entry to the dive websites.

Who to Dive With: Though it’s potential to go to these locations utilizing land-based operators, endeavor this journey on the MV Solitude One is a straightforward choice. The fame of the vessel, its crew, and avoiding home flights and in a single day ferries when you may have diving and digital camera gear positively appeals. Initially rebuilt from a 171-foot steel-hulled service provider vessel, the MV Solitude One’s full makeover was fully tailor-made to divers’ wants. The vessel caters to a most of twenty-two friends in 10 well-appointed and extremely spacious rooms. Photographers are additionally effectively catered for with a beneficiant and well-equipped air-conditioned digital camera room. Providing 4 dives every day with their staff of very skilled native guides, you can be assured to search out the various elusive critters, and simply navigate the ever necessary currents of the Verde Island Passage that give the world its astounding biodiversity.

In case you are a tragic for macro images, you can even think about extending your journey with some land-based choices. Set on a fairly white sandy seashore, Romblon Beach Resort caters to divers in slick oceanfront rooms. With a home reef providing an abundance of weird marine life, knowledgeable digital camera room, ocean view restaurant, and infinity swimming pool, you’ll really feel proper at house right here.

In the event you’re on the lookout for issues that go bump within the evening, you’ll discover a myriad of otherworldly beings on the Solitude Acacia Resort in Anilao, the place the migration of unfamiliar beings from the twilight zone as much as shallower depths supplies the right alternative for blackwater diving and images.


A tiny spider crab hides among the many coral in Romblon



In regards to the Authors: Anita Verde and Peter Marshall have a ardour for the planet’s wild locations, and thru their pictures and narratives hope to encourage higher appreciation and safety of the pure world. Based mostly in Melbourne, Australia, they’ve skilled backgrounds in tourism technique, environmental sustainability, and authorities relations. When they aren’t underwater or on a mountaintop, additionally they work professionally as strategic consultants, advising governments and trade on sustainable vacation spot planning and growth, funding attraction, authorities relations, model technique and advertising.