Balicasag Island Again

Balicasag Island, west side near the Marine Sanctuary

Coming back to this island was never remote, actually Bohol in itself can never be ignored, you will want to come again and again.  Far from being flashy and ostentatious, its simplicity and serenity always draws one who seeks serenity in bucolic environment.

After 16 months I’m back to explore once more its colorful depths together with my favorite dive buddy, nothing could be more interesting to kickstart dive pursuits this year with a new site to explore for him.  I could smell the sea waters as I cruise to Tagbilaran from Cebu to catch up the schedule for Balicasag, it was getting late as the Oceanjet departure was delayed for 30 minutes.

Other guests were already waiting when I got to the diveshop which I found unpleasant, I don’t want to be waited upon. The divemaster was considerate enough and I was grateful.  All of us six divers (all other four were foreigners) piled up on the speedboat having each our own compartments, the sight of blue skies and blue waters was comforting enough to set the tone for the dives.

Yellow sea slug, rare specie
Yellow sea slug, rare specie

Our first descent was at Divers Haven, DM Rene briefed us to limit depth at 25 meters, I was hoping to encounter again the giant napoleon wrasses.  We descend to sandy slope where tropical fishes abound – angels, banner, sergeants, cardinals, sweetlips, fusiliers, butterfly fish, damsels, chromis, anthias, clown fish and more. Few macros – sea slug, nudi, coral crab and cleaner shrimp were great finds too. Then a group of jacks and green sea turtle graced us, with Angel chasing it again for photos!  The humphead wrasse was nowhere in sight.  We had our safety stop on a wide coral area decorated with more juveniles, feather star, hydroids and other invertebrates – such a colorful sight! Our DM lingered on the corals gathering something.  We learned later that snails locally called as “tapok-tapok” is eating away the corals just like what COT is doing.  We ascend after 61 minutes with air still at 100 bars.

Overhangs filled with variety of gorgonians

Our boat moved towards the west side of the island near the sanctuary for our surface interval, about 100 meters away from the beach, its white sands gleaming from the hot sun.  The tiny island is a sight to behold!

Crab on bubble coral
Crab on bubble coral

Back rolling again for our last descent, we need to limit our depth at 25 meters again and to have our left shoulder to the wall. We got to the wall and drift with the mild current until we got to overhangs with variety of large sea fans in different colors. Spend some time inspecting some of the crevices for macros. Few trevallys and groupers passed obscurely but not the giant wrasse that I wanted to see again.  Tropical fishes abound – trgers, trumpet, lizardfish, scorpionfish, bannerfish, angels, damsels, cardinals,anthias and more.  We found a large turtle with a remora on its back near the corals but swam away fast when it noticed us near.  DM Rene summoned as we got to the coral area as he found the snails, indeed the corals went gray. The tapok-tapok colored pinkish-brown gathered in group fed from corals leaving them dead, we gathered too handfuls of the disastrous snails.  We ascend after 66 minutes still having 60 bars of air.

Blue skies, cottony clouds, soft breeze - felt good...
Blue skies, cottony clouds, soft breeze – felt good…

The blue skies, wisps of cottony clouds, blue waters and the mild afternoon sun as we cruised back to Panglao was comforting, the sea air in my lungs and skin felt good.  We only had four hours in the island, two hours of which in its depths but the marine encounters was calming enough, I wish I could have stayed longer.  The adage is true, sometimes one needs to fly and cruise the seas to savor rare mystical moments so brief it seemed just fantasy.  Indeed my recent dive at Balicasag Island was purely whimsical, but never gibberish at all, it was another moment to treasure with my favorite dive buddy.

There has been lot of changes of the island since I first came seven years ago, and have been hearing so much about abuse and destruction in the surrounding reefs.  But I was glad, the marine sanctuary was guarded by Philippine Coast Guard (PGC) auxiliaries, we saw few boats mooring there for sure part of the protection efforts for the MPA.  Although I don’t know when but I sure will be back, there are still other sites to explore in the depths and I have been wanting to trek the whole island and discover its surface – surrounding white beach, the lighthouse and the locals.  Perhaps one summer day  I will, when I won’t be in a rush…

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