By Angel C. Juarez
A Post written in Health & Home, August 2016 issue
In my continuous chase for offbeat dive sites in the country, I got a chance to explore the underwater treasures in Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. Heading to Barangay Mantangale with my perennial dive buddy Ate Claudia from Cagayan de Oro City one day I was enthralled with the unspoiled beauty under the waters of this laid back municipality. Indeed, the place is one of the most underrated dive spots in the country. While most tourists frequent Balingoan only as a jump-off point to Camiguin Island, for some like us, it is already a destination. It is a small piece of underwater paradise that will definitely keep us coming back again and again.
Balingoan is two hours north of Cagayan de Oro City, unknown to many, the waters around this small town that stretch toward Camiguin bustle with vivid underwater life. Without a doubt, Balingoan is one of my favorite place in the Philippines for scuba diving for two reasons: its rich marine life and the absence of tourist traffic that popular dive sites get. This means Balingoan is generally unspoiled and unexploited!
One of Balingoan’s known diving spots is Sipaka Point. Its sloping white and sandy bed is an ideal site for students and divers of all levels. It is a perfect site for macro photography as well. Ten meters down Sipaka Point is beautiful reef adorned with colorful corals and crinoids, and home to small tropical fishes and marine creatures. Fishes like anthias, wrasses, angelfish, pufferfish, anemonefish, lionfish, groupers, and eels abound in the reef. So do lobsters, cuttlefish, glass and harlequin shrimps, and different species of nudibranches.
Not far from Sipaka Point is Talisayan Shoal, a ten minute boat ride from the coast of Mantangale and a known spot for the colorful mandarin fish. It was already sunset when we descended down into the vast coral area of Talisayan Shoal. Armed with underwater torches, we maneuvered around the area on search for the rare mandarin fish. We saw the usual tropical reef fishes and other macro species such as shrimps and crabs, but not the rare mandarin fish. When my torch ran out of battery, we ascend for our safety stop. Darkness had already enveloped the surroundings as we sailed back to the shores. When I look into the water, I saw glowing bioluminous organisms as they were washed away by the boat. Indeed, the sea is a vast mystery and humans will never completely understand the life beneath.
Three years after our first dive affair with Balingoan. We returned to its depths to experience and explore more of its treasures. It was Banaug Shoal this time. It wasn’t my first time to dive here but I was excited as it were my first. We left for Banaug Shoal by speed boat. This shoal is the house reef of Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort (MADRI), which for me is one of the best house reefs I have ever dived into. The diversity of marine life in this dense space is unbelievable and the explosion of underwater colors never ceases to amaze me. Snappers, butterflyfish, moorish idols, boxfish, trumpet fish, leaf fish, trigger fish and a lot more species graced our dives as well as sea slugs and other macro species. They all made the small reef, carpeted with soft and hard corals, their home.
After our surface interval, we sailed from Mantangale to Lapinig Island, the islet in front of Balingoan Port. It looks dull and boring on the surface, but what’s underwater is a different story. It’s an action- packed world down there! Not minding the mild current, we gradually descend on a sandy slope hoping to see manta rays. There are reported sightings of manta rays in the site although not regular. It wasn’t our lucky day though, as no manta ray showed up. But the usual reef and macro species such as striped fish, trumpet fish, nudis, bristle worms, and others that I don’t know by name, made the dive an awesome one. Soft and hard corals, sea fans, feather stars and sponges also added color to the scenery. Sadly, some trashes scattered around the place due to its proximity to the port and residential area. We ended up fishing out trashes, turning our dive into a clean-up drive!
Looking forward to coming Back
My Balingoan dives are truly memorable and I look forward to more underwater explorations and discoveries in the town. The sea is a deep stash of treasures and surprises that I won’t get tired of exploring. I can’t wait for another rendezvous with underwater creatures of Balingoan in the years to come.
Angel C. Juarez of http://www.lakwatsero.com has been my dive buddy few years back. I met him nine years ago during a Coron trip, four months later he became a certified diver. We have a lot of common favorite dive destinations and Mantangale is just one of them. Our last dive in the area was just this February 2017.