We promised ourselves to be back in Antique, carefully planning the dates during summer to explore Maningning Island, our Austrian DM pledged to arrange a dive trip for us. Apparently, our penchant for off-beat sites got us again finding his offer irresistible! Thinking of unfamiliar destination tickled my curiosity.
DM Niki gave us lot of reminders and important to do’s, one of which is to arrive Pandan as early as 5:00am, the sail to the island have to be at 5:30am. The weather can be unpredictable so the return cruise needs to be early too. It was raining that night but we dragged ourselves from bed at 3:00am to make it to the diveshop driving from Kalibo. We made it though on the dot, it was drizzling when we arrived.
It rained but my worries fade out when we finally left the shores for the island, we sailed on a sunrise! Maningning is a barangay of Culasi but sailing from Libertad would only take two hours compared to five hours from its main town. In my mind, I was fancying the unspoiled underwater, pristine beach and the old lighthouse in the island Angel was aiming to visit! We fetch Mr. Romy of LGU Pandan as our escort who confirmed the cruise to the island, local folks have this innate sense for nature – you know, when to go & not to go. The waters was smooth enough as we cruised but halfway where we can see the island already, the boat turned back and our DM explained it would be risky to proceed and diving wont be possible even if we got there, worst was we could be marooned in Maningning and nobody knows when it would be safe to sail again! 😦
Detour in Libertad
DM Niki suggested having our dives in Libertad instead, there was no choice at the moment and he assured us that like other coastal towns it has equally diverse marine life. Thankfully, the waters was smooth near the coast. So, our first descent was at Pucio Point, we were still on the boat when a large herd of fish had a commotion few meters from us. I took it as a sign of a good dive opportunity.
Our companions were a bunch – DM Niki (Austrian), John (Australian), Mr. Romy (LGU Pandan) – all of them are old-timers in Antique coasts, so we were confident enough of our guides! We back-rolled, incredibly the waters was warm and no current and there was only silence and stillness deep down. It felt so good to back in the depths – after 12 long weeks! We roamed in the sandy slope, decorated with variety of soft and hard corals. All tropical fishes hovering peacefully over the reefs. There were jacks, groupers, triggers, damsels, sergeants, banners, angels and anthias. There was a lone banded sea snake wiggling and as if sniffing the corals and sands – I think it was hungry and looking for food. Funny was, Angel almost bumped with the sea snake! He was startled when the krait came near his face! These reptiles are generally not aggressive and therefore don’t necessarily pose danger to divers. We ended up after Mr. Romy rolled up the abandoned nylon fishing lines until near our anchor about more than five meters.
We sailed a bit for our next descent in Union, which DM Niki described as filled with boulders and overhangs. After an hour of surface interval we geared up for our mid-morning plunge, thankfully the sun shone up. I found crown of sea thorns, with the waters starting to warm up in summer, the specie multiplies faster. It was sitting pretty
on top of a coral crown, later I learned that LGU Pandan have conducted a massive harvesting of the starfish. The LGUs gave compensation to motivate locals in helping to control its multiplication, their imbalance population is a threat to the ecosystem.
The corals are massive in different varieties and tropical reef fishes obviously abound, again those juveniles wiggling peacefully. There were bivalves, sea cucumbers and nudis too. The crevices obviously became shelters and dwellings of the fishes. There were narrow alleys but avoided to get in deeper as it could disturb and possibly break accidentally the corals. There were crinoids, whips and hydroids scattered along.
Our lunch served as our surface interval before our final dives. We enjoyed the food coupled with stories from our host, it was worthwhile to note that the local government of Pandan and Libertad have actively involved in the preservation and protection of marine environment. Most of the barangays lies on the coast and fishing is largely the source of living in these communities.
So after a hearty lunch, good laugh and warm sun, we geared up again for our last descent at Taboc Sanctuary. DM Niki briefed us that there’s a cavern and we need to bring our torch. We immersed in the warm afternoon waters to a slope, down to colorful reefs. There were groupers, jacks, snappers and tropical fishes. We found too giant clams, sea cucumber, nudi and cowrie shell – not just one, but three in all near each other, perhaps they were family! We found also blue ribbon eels, two of them, dancing and willing in their burrow – it is seldom to find them in two’s. I’m still in awe, watching them with their mouth wide open, I wonder if it is speaking in a very silent way! 🙂 We roamed around until we got back in our anchor, spending our safety stop near the uprooted tree submerged in waters. It’s worthy to note that in 2015, a giant grouper (lapu-lapu) was washed ashore near this sanctuary, sadly it was dying after being trapped in the shallow waters, fishermen brought it in the surface and have it butchered and sold to a businessman. So sad…
It was a faux pas but we still enjoyed our unplanned dives in Libertad! I guess, Angel is unrelenting because he promised DM Niki to return next summer aiming again for Maningning. They agreed for the calendar date where the waters would be flat and summer is in full bloom. Obviously the island is unspoiled, promising a rich underwater life. Antique waters is below the radar in diving but undoubtedly have secrets yet to be unraveled, apparently coming back in the province is something to look forward!
Our refuge in Pandan was in Unterpertinger Place, a room & breakfast owned by an Austrian who speaks Deutsch. A comfortable & homey place recommended by our Austrian DM. The place has a garden and orchard, a perfect rural setting. Our food was prepared direct from their home kitchen. 🙂