I began planning this trip over 3 years ago. The goal was to dive Tubbataha Reef, which is only reachable by liveaboard, and also include other diving destinations in the Philippines. Last June, I found there were openings aboard the Philippine Siren on the first trip of the season to Tubbataha, a 14 day cruise departing from Cebu and disembarking in Puerto Princessa. I decided to dive an additional week in Dauin [Dumaguette] prior to the cruise, and a week after in Mabini [Anilao].
I would not be disappointed. The first morning, as I had breakfast at the beach side dining area, the Philippine Siren sailed [?] right in front of me, teasing me. Dumaguette is known for its muck diving, and it contains a ‘target rich environment’. On my first dives I was elated to capture an emperor shrimp atop a nudi, 2 groups of ornate ghost pipefish, one - four reddish black, the other three green around the same crinoid, and infant frogfish. I soon learned if you saw an orange dot on the sand, most likely it was an infant frogfish. I would also encounter more ornate ghost pipefish, along with robust, and rough snout varieties. The coastline in the area, around most of the resorts, are buoyed to designate a ‘marine protected area’, most have an ‘artifical reef’ and to keep fishermen from them. The artifical reef can consist of old sunk bangas, tires which form a pyramid, and junk equipment, trucks, etc. I would also make two day trips from Dauin; one to Apo Island, for an exciting ‘drift’ dive, and two additional dives to enjoy the reef full of soft corals. The other day trip was to Oslob and Sumilon Island. Oslob is noted for its whalesharks, which the fisherman attract for the divers and snorkelers. Sumilon is similar to Apo for its drift dive and reef. After the week, I boarded a ferry for Cebu, where I met up with my daughter and boyfriend.
We boarded the Siren in Cebu, motored overnight to begin our dives at Cabilao [off Bohol], followed by Balicasag [off the southern tip of Bohol] for some beautiful reef dives, highlighted by a proposal and a mola mola at Balicasag. The next morning I was back at Oslob, with a GoPro, taking video of a belly of a whale shark as it passed <2’ over me. Back to Dauin for the remainder of the day , Apo the next, then back to Dauin [night dives not allowed at Apo]. Had 2 fantastic night dives there, including cuttlefish, bob-tailed squid, and various other creatures of the night. Two last morning dives in Dauin before motoring 20 hrs, with a brief stop for two dives at Cagayancillo, then on for another 12 hrs to Tubbataha.
Tubbataha consists of two atolls, and a spit of sand in the middle of the Sulu Sea. The depth off the atolls is 5,000+ feet, resulting in some sudden and dramatic thermoclines. The changing tide causes abrupt changes of water level in the lagoons, and can result in down currents [easy to detect by the sand and plankton streaming downward in front of your mask]. Because of the remote location, night diving is forbidden [but still get 4 dives/day], along with any other water activity other than diving. Also, diving within the lagoon [nursery] is forbidden. The topography for all the sites are similar, a wall starting at 30’ going to 120’, to a shelf, which then drops to ‘the locker’. There are vertical crevasses and over hangs to explore. An SMB is a must, and the boat will rent a Nautilus for 1E/day. Tubbataha’s attraction are the pelagics, sharks; white-tip, reef, nurse, hammerheads [in the blue], marbled sting rays, tuna, schools of jacks, an occasional whaleshark, and manta. We were the first divers to return to Tubbataha since June 2015 [the diving season is limited to March 1 – June 15], so many of the pelagics would stay close, until the tank banging started. Total for Tubbataha – 5-1/2 dive days, 22 dives, then a 12 hr crossing to Puerto Princessa.
Final stop Anilao [Anilao is still used today, although most resorts are located in Mabini]. If you have to choose between Dumaguette and Anilao, take Anilao. Phenomenal muck diving, on par with Lembeh [I need to get to Ambon], also reef diving available. I spent most of the time in the muck. I’m still trying to classify all the different nudi/slugs I shot. When I booked accommodations, I requested a quote from the resort. The quote I received was for a ‘private’ boat & guide, which I’m convinced, was the way to go. While it cost a little bit more, the guide will take/show you whatever you request, and some things you never dreamt of. Example, there are nudi-s which live inside soft corals. I would see my guide combing his fingers through a soft coral, and when he found one, he would gently remove and place it on a rock, for me to photograph then, return it to the coral when I was finished. On my first day, the first 2 dives were on the same site, there were 8 bangas there. I was told the site had been discovered in front of one guide’s house two months earlier. Totally muck, 6 frogfish [4 hairy], mimic & coconut octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, mantis shrimp, ornate & robust ghost pipefish. The next 4 days, I was amazed by the all the different creatures I was able to photograph. At the end, I ended up giving my guide my laser pointer, I had him use to point out the things I couldn’t see/recognize. The resort had only booked him for 5 days, so for my last day I dived with the other guests at the resort. We went back to, Hydie’s point, where I had started the first day. As I was taking video of a blue-ring octopus, I see this green dot about 4 feet in front of me. It was my old guide, he came over and we shook hands.