Adoring Apo Island!

After a successful mission at Coral Cay Conservation, I was aching to be back in the waters for my quests. There was no definite plan though, but I need to get immersed again in a more relaxed environment in my own terms in my grand element. And what a better way to start my diving year with my dive buddy in one of the outstanding community managed marine protected area in the country.  It’s been more than three years since our last hop to Apo Island, after a relaxing sojourn from Siquijor, and again it was diving and snorkeling in the sanctuary. I could vividly remember the turtles silently grazing the sea grasses as I watched them while floating in the shallows, it was a lovely sight!

Linkia Laevegata!

We took the long route by bus from Cebu City to the southern tip of the province in Santander town taking the ferry from Liloan Port.  Arriving past 4am at the port, I succumbed to my drooping eyes for few minutes before we took the 4:45am first trip to Sibulan. While cruising, the waves tossed us fiercely and I begun to worry that the waters would be too rough for our dives. Approaching the Sibulan port was hard, and coming up to the port was even harder. Perfect timing was necessary, you need to run up the gangplank before another big wave tossed up the ferry. It was a good way to start the day for some adrenaline rush to be wide awake!

After a tsokolate-suman painit at the tiangge which we loved, we rushed to Harold’s Dive Center and felt relieved that our dives went as scheduled. To my surprise, we were a big pack for Apo Island that day, the Chinese and Koreans dominated the bunch. We were all in two full mini-buses!

Katipanan and Chapel

The waters was rough indeed slowing our cruise to the island yet the sight of wide blue seas lifted my spirit, I was hoping to see again the friendly turtles.  There were diving boats already when we got there and to my surprise, many snorkelers were scattered already in the waters. The waters got crowded and I was sad thinking of the turtles, sea kraits and juvenile fishes in the sanctuary, the pressures of the disturbance in their habitat could cause much damage. I was hoping it wasn’t on a daily basis.

This friendly turtle allowed us to get near, it wasn’t an intrusion!

We were joined with an Australian and Chinese, four divers in one DM was good enough. The larger bunch of Chinese divers were in different groups. After setting up our gears, I was glad our DM reminded us for the buddy check before jumping off, I admitted we overlook this necessary protocol often times.  The water was still choppy though it was sunny, but the cold waters felt good as we jumped in. As we waited for the other two newbie divers, we beg off for descent as the waves were surfing up and could waste my energy. Holding hands with my dive buddy, we immersed and quickly seek the depths from the rough surface. Yes, down there it was calm and safer as I expected.

Before I always mistook this as anemone, but no. It’s a Mushroom coral!

Katipanan as I vaguely remember was teeming with life, wide coral fields decorated with juveniles. Indeed, it is healthy as it was before but I didn’t see much fish life but large swarms of juveniles were visible. Surprisingly, my favorite garden eels came into view but not without Angel pointing it out to me. Their bodies half-way up poking from their holes on white sandy area, perhaps eyeing for food but as soon as we get nearer they went down slowly.  Few stood their grounds and I paused momentarily, I just love watching the eels! We found a turtle resting above the corals, not moving even we got near. The turtles in this island are generally friendly, perhaps they got used already to human visitors!  I was taking my time while floating weightlessly, just as it is, while it was choppy at the surface, beyond it was all serene and relaxing.  It was a surprise there were group of jacks that graced as we swam around for the coral fields, a banded sea snake appeared also wiggling among the corals which we promptly evade. 🙂 We had our safety stop over the corals until we got near under our dive boat. We had 21.5 meters as deepest with 42 minutes bottom time.

A common sight on healthy marine environment, juveniles over a colorful coral field!

We had light meals that served as our surface interval, it was bit windy though and staying on the boat felt cold. The waves getting fierce in the afternoon, the waters more choppy.

The boat moved to the Chapel for our last descent, finding refuge in another dive boat as the waves tossed us. Again, we waited for the two divers after we had the giant stride – the waves kept tossing us and I practically stayed near my buddy for safety.  It took forever waiting for them, but as soon as we got down there was silence and the current was just mild. We were on coral fields again, just flourishing beating each other! Different hard and soft corals abound the area, there were nudis and my favorite moray eel appeared for me too, it was a giant one. The gentle turtles again – well, it won’t be Apo island without the turtles!  We roamed the colorful coral fields just near our dive boat until we had our safety stop. We ascend still with 110 bars after 55 minutes bottom time.

Found some nudis at the Chapel

The two relaxing dives were just perfect, after the works during the expedition it was what I needed. No pressures, just purely at peace with my favorite critters wanting to connect with them in their natural habitat. The marine environment of Apo Island is healthy as of now but I am not sure if this can be maintained. I was bit troubled of the large swarm of snorkelers and even divers, such bulk of disturbance is surely detrimental for the marine life. I fervently hope the community shall be mindful of the risks and inevitable impacts in a better perspective.

Looking up for the sunlight, can you see the turtle?

We silently cruise back to the shores of Dauin, bearing the cold winds and salt water spraying us from the fierce waves. Again, the cruise took forever but felt relieved that the shores was very calm.  Angel and I flashed a wide smile as we talk about Casablanca and Sans Rival as we drove back into the city.

Dumaguete City, pure lovely in every way!

Finding Triton Trumpet!

This is exactly similar to what we found in the reef.
Photo courtesy of http://www.oceana.org

My dives during the CCC expedition led me to surprising encounters with marine critters, especially that their field base is nestled within Sogod Bay which is just one of the richest marine environment in the Philippines. We were having our second survey dive of the day doing outward for the fish survey, it was in pretty normal conditions, no current and animals were contentedly calm. I was scouring my side for the target species and unexpectedly this large shell came into view, I tried to come near but getting conscious that invertebrates was not our aim for the descent, time is always precious during survey dives! But the sighting was too rare to ignore, I tried to get Manon’s (our Project Scientist) attention – she was too absorbed as she was leading our mission. I pointed it out and she was surprised too! The intricate pattern of the its shell was just beautiful. We both came nearer and she signaled to record the sighting. That was my first encounter of a giant Triton in its habitat surrounded with other animals and I was wondering of its contribution to the marine ecosystem.

Here are are few facts I found at www.oceana.org about the specie:

  1. This invertebrate is an active predator and is known to aggressively chase its prey, which it detects through its excellent sense of smell.
  2. The giant Triton is known for relatively high speeds, especially for a snail.
  3. They feed on other snails and sea stars, most notably the crown of thorns starfish (COTS), Triton is the only natural predators of this destructive starfish.
  4. The specie was considered extremely important to reef health and is given legal protection particularly in Australia.
  5. The giant Triton reproduces through internal fertilization, and the female lays her sticky eggs on the sand, where they quickly become covered with sand and other material, protecting them from potential predators.

Unfortunately, because of its valuable and attractive shell it is collected at many places around the world, they are often sold in shops or markets in popular tourism destinations in the tropics such here in Philippines.  Gladly, that night during dinner as we were discussing the day’s activities, the giant Triton was nominated as critter of the day and was voted by majority!

NB.    The giant Triton was sighted in Nueva Estrella Norte, a fishing community in Pintuyan, Southern Leyte where a marine protected area (MPA) was just established.

The CCC Expedition

Check out dive at CCC house reef with my roommate Jemimah who hailed from Queensland, Australia.

Coral Cay Conservation is an internationally renowned and accredited conservation specialist dedicated to providing the resources to help protect coral reefs and tropical rainforests throughout the developing world. 

Since 1986 CCC have run over 20 successful conservation projects in more than 10 different countries around the world involving more than 10,000 volunteers, training several hundred scholars and publishing more than 300 key scientific research papers.

Across the world, CCC have had several internationally notable accomplishments such as the introduction of several Marine Protected Areas including the creation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belize; The Danjugan Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary for Negros, Philippines in 2000; The Limasawa Community Managed Marine Protected Area for Southern Leyte, Philippines in 2008.

http://www.coralcay.org

Marine conservation and protection is undoubtedly becomes a passion for many,   everyone is becoming conscious of the environment and for people who loves the ocean, always believe that it needs necessary care not only for the present but more importantly for the future generation. Inside me, I felt and thought that my effort for these issues was only a minuscule of what was necessary of the vast waters around us. The seventy percent water that comprises the Earth is unimaginable and sustaining this important resource from all forms of risks including global climate change is very challenging and gargantuan for that matter.  The Earth is in dire need right now of human intervention.

It was in September 2017 that I stumbled from the internet after curiously searching on marine volunteer works, about Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) based in London, UK with a field base in San Francisco, Southern Leyte.  So, I carefully browse the information from their website believing that their target participants were foreign nationals only, consequently inquired if they accept local residents for the programme. The reply was good news, scholarships are offered to local residents with matching screening and qualified divers were very welcome. The rest was history. I was accepted as a CCC Expedition scholar in October 2017!

It was only in November 2018 that I finally traveled to Southern Leyte for my engagement, the year was filled with challenging tasks and I was only available in the last few weeks of the year.  Such a long wait, yet the excitement was coupled with apprehension as I would be working with total strangers in an obscure remote town I was not familiar with.  I chose the long trip by land which was an adventure by itself, cruising to Visayas through Lipata and San Ricardo route was one of the routes I was searching on and wanted to do, long before.

I found it an advantage choosing the last batch team for the year, it was lean period and so it wasn’t crowded. The pace was fitting for me as I need to absorb the lessons deeply, the follow-up exams were not easy, both underwater and on computer.  The lessons were to prepare the volunteers for the survey works, identifying the substrates, invertebrates and target fish species correctly so that only accurate data were provided for the study in establishment of marine protected area.  The community were involved also and participated in  gathering data and raising awareness for marine conservation understanding.

The four-week stay in Barangay Napantao was full – household chores, lessons, exams, dives – Sundays however, serves as off-gassing day as a rule. Our meals were venues for stories, accusations, confessions, jokes, or the critter for the day’s dive nomination, and laughter… 🙂  Seriously, it was hard work and definitely not for the faint-hearted, diving have standards and protocols, whether boat or shore dives. I gained thirty five (35) dives during the expedition including one night shore dive at the house reef, again I would say it was hard work. Yet, I was grateful I was given the chance to work for a cause for the marine world. Perhaps my contribution was too trivial, yet I learned so much more about marine life and environment, most importantly gained scientific skills. The encounters were memorable and truly enriching. Indeed, we can only protect what we love. Obviously, the CCC team and other volunteers made my stint possible and a rewarding one.

The bruises, stings, scratches and scars I got during the expedition will soon disappear and  forgotten but the memories and gained insights will surely linger on.  Surely, we can only have good intentions for what we love and for what we need to protect. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I am one proud CCC scholar!

NB. Photo credits to Mr. Gareth Turner, Field Base Manager during the period. The expedition base is located in Napantao, San Francisco, Southern Leyte within Sogod Bay.

October Fever!

So after being away and organizing a lot of issues when I got back, the depths was my most urgent agenda. Six months were just so long. More than anything else, I need the waters in preparation for the expedition in Southern Leyte.

Through all these years, MADRI (Mantangale Alibuag Dive Resort, Inc.) has been my refuge whenever I need a plunge without getting far, and of course not incurring much expenses. I am always grateful because they’re just a call or text away, even if there were no other guests I got accommodated. So one Saturday morning of October I head for Balingoan to quench my salt water craze, and I was alone. Obviously, it was an exclusive dive for me! 🙂

Just hold on…

The favorite and most wanted site at the shop was none other the house reef at Banaug Shoal, as I said again and again I’ll never get tired of coming here. I was welcomed by Sir Dong which later joined me on the first dive, it felt good to be back once more, just like a refuge. The waters were bit choppy as we sped off, there was current and so I seek safety through the line for the descent. And there was silence, into another world…

This black snapper followed us like a pup!

After lunch which served as my surface interval, we head for Bugtong Bato near Sipaka Point. Although I visited the point few times in the past, I have blurred memory of this big rock emerging off the coast of Sipaka. It can be seen from a distance as you approach the boundary between the next town of Talisayan, from the surface it looks desolate, barren and devoid of life. But underwater, it depicts a different picture, so colorful, very diverse and teeming with life!

Our descent was shallower as we aimed to circle around the tiny rock isle, it was entertaining and spent a good 60 minutes just awed with its abundance.

So diverse and teeming with life!

The two dives just made my day, I was still in high spirits as I packed my gears preparing to leave. One important thought was, MADRI will always be my home as I can always come in its fold anytime and they all welcome me with open arms and for sure, open hearts.  A home for my diving needs decorated with a relaxing view of the blue seas with Camiguin island as backdrop.  So picturesque! 🙂

Speaking of Camiguin!

Two weeks later, catching a bus too early we head off to Balingoan with my dive buddy but went further beyond, cruising to my favorite island. 🙂 The sunny cruise lifted our spirits while watching the surrounding blue waters and Mantigue Island at a distance. 🙂 Our host (Camiguin Soul Divers) warned us to be on time as there were other guests for the day.  Our transpo connections went fluidly and we still got time for coffee with our dive master when we got to the shop located at Looc, Tupsan. The good news from Jenny was, the island was temporarily closed to public and only dive boats can get to Mantigue which meant it’s not crowded and no waters disturbance during our dives!

Giant clam hiding…

It felt good to be back when just ten months ago (December 2017) we had our year-end dive in Mantigue Island and set foot to watch sunrise at White Island. We were back just in time when lanzones (buahan in dialect) were still abundant as the festival just ended. You know, you can only find the sweetest lanzones in Camiguin Island!

Our first descent was at the Marine Sanctuary as we were aiming for the jacks, we went south meeting resident species – the giant batfish swimming coyly, green turtles, snappers, etc. There was giant clam, the crown of thorns lurking under the corals without doubt slowly feeding from polyps.  There was only a vague group of jackfish hovering above but not actively swimming in unison. The perennial anemone fish graced us before we ended our dive.

An anemone fish family!

We descend again on the other end of the Marine Sanctuary on the sandy bottom passing over the coral fields, we had a dose of turtles around the area. There was one who was unmindful of our presence, it was some kind of sleeping hiding its head under the crevice. It was not moving even if we are so near trying to get its attention, so endearing I wanted to pet its back! We continued floating around feeling weightless, grateful being underwater with critter friends – turtles, batfish, jacks, triggerfish, anemone fish, and more. The abundance of the sanctuary was pure blessings.  We cruised back to the dive shop shores ending our day dives but not the fun we had in the island.

Oh, it was sleeping! 🙂

Dear Camiguin, I will come again!

Crustacean or Arachnid?

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Have you encountered a horseshoe crab? Few months back, I sighted one while we walked along Cockle Cove beach (Chatham, MA) and was wondering what it was!  It had a hard shell like a crab but has a tail, by appearance it formed like a ray but with hard externals. It was dead though as we found it partly buried on the sand. We found few more shells around in different sizes. The next day while on trail at Hamblen Park (Welfleet, MA), we found more on grassy wetlands. It was lifeless though, but bigger and still complete I thought at first it was alive. My sister said it’s not edible but never dangerous. I have never seen this animal in the Philippines.

Here are few interesting facts about the specie, I learned it’s not alien in Philippine waters and just one of many significant critters in marine world.

  1. Horseshoe crabs are actually not true crabs at all, being more closely related to arachnids (a group that includes spiders and scorpions) than to crustaceans (a group that includes true crabs, lobsters, and shrimp).
  2. Often called “living fossils,” horseshoe crab ancestors can traced back through the geologic record to around 445 million years ago, 200 million years before dinosaurs existed.
  3. There are four species of horseshoe crabs that exists today, viz.
    a.) Atlantic horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) lives around the Gulf and eastern Atlantic coasts of the United States.
    b.) Mangrove horseshoe crab (Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda) and the Coastal horseshoe crab (Tachypleus gigas) have similar ranges. They live in parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
    c.) Chinese horseshoe crab (Tachypleus tridentatus). This species is found in parts of the eastern Pacific Ocean.
  4. This animal is harmless in reality, although some people viewed them as dangerous due to its spike-like tail. The horseshoe crab’s tail is used primarily to flip the animal upright if it is overturned.
  5. Horseshoe crabs are known for their large nesting aggregations or groups on beaches, the male fertilizes the eggs as the female lays them in a nest in the sand.  Most of this nesting activity takes place during high tides around the time of a new or full moon.
  6. The young and adult horseshoe crabs spend most of their time on the sandy bottoms of intertidal flats or zones above the low tide mark and feed on various invertebrates.
  7. Horseshoe crabs are an important part of the ecology of coastal communities. Their eggs are the major food sourceof migrating birds and these birds evolve to time their migration to coincide during spawning activity.  Many fish species have been observed feeding on horseshoe crab eggs in Florida. Adult horseshoes serve as prey for sea turtles, alligators, horse conchs and sharks.
  8. Horseshoe crabs are also extremely important to the biomedical industry because their unique, copper-based blue blood contains a substance called “Limulus Amebocyte Lysate”(LAL) that are chemically used to determine the presence of toxins. This compound coagulates in the presence of small amounts of bacterial toxins and is used to test for sterility of medical equipment and virtually all injectable drugs.
  9. Horseshoe crabs are marine animals, which means they live in salt water. The eggs are laid on the sand, when hatched the juvenile stay on shallow water where they are protected, like estuaries until they reached two years old. After two years, the now-adult horseshoe crabs can move into deeper water. Adults are found at depths ranging from 100 feet deep to more than 600 feet deep.
  1. They can and do swim, but for the most part they simply walk along the bottom since this is where their food is located.Its main diet consists of worms as well as mollusks, which are animals with a soft body, no spine, and a hard protective shell. Clams are the most common mollusk in the horseshoe crab’s diet.

There are three species of horseshoe crabs that can be found in the country; the Mangrove, Coastal and Chinese but unfortunately haven’t encountered any yet so far. I could only wish I will see one in the sandy bottom in the depths. Actually, they are endangered species in the Philippines and I think the remaining resources needs to be protected and managed.  They are very important in biodiversity conservation and plays an important role in the marine ecosystem.

NB.  Above facts were resourced from http://www.myfwc.com

Love from Cape Cod (Part III)

We drove to the northernmost tip of the Cape, Provincetown is where the historic first landing of The Pilgrims of the so called New World. I love this quaint town, so picturesque actually.

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White wash buildings were common in the town!

It has maintained its idyllic and rural setting and I believe its inhabitants never felt pressured to adopt modernity extensively. It is said that the residents felt violated with their privacy with the influx of tourists during summer. The town is filled with old buildings, art galleries, coffee shops & restos, seafood shacks, gift & souvenir shops and even thrift shops! It’s that kind of setting where you can just walk about the whole town, when you feel tired you can just sit on one of those benches around and you can grab something nearby if you need to munch or quench your thirst.  And we practically went around, my sister insisted with the unique shops and we didn’t miss the shell shop at Commercial Street, the friendly owner showed us around and it was interesting that she had visited Philippines twice and still planning to be back!

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Almost surrounded by waters and definitely part of the network of marine sanctuaries in the Cape, this northern town housed a center for coastal studies with on-going research on the Stellwagen Bank, an underwater plateau of sand and gravel historically important as a fishing ground for more than 400 years.  The region is rich with maritime history and teeming with life, it was designated as national marine sanctuary in 1992. Provincetown is very significant in the whole territory of Cape Cod.

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Waiting for the signs of whales!

Lastly, the highlight of my trip in the Cape was the whale watching cruise based in Hyannis,  I was not expecting or even planning for it, actually it was expensive. But my sister thought I love the marine world, Gary facilitated for the trip with the Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises as we drove to Barnstable. It was a more than two-hour cruise hosted by a marine biologist who has been on the research team for more than two decades (if I hear it right!). During the trip, the naturalist narrated about the Stellwagen Bank and extensively explained the whales species that normally migrated by season, it is the feeding ground of this animals during summer. The blues skies and the blue seas lifted my spirit even if I was in the midst of total strangers, the waters was perfectly balmy after out of the realms for many weeks!

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It took an hour before the first sighting, the host calling out – 1 o’clock!; 11 o’clock!; 10 o’clock! – the watchers shifted position now and then. We were at a distance when a humpback breached!  It was so quick, I just watched in awe, obviously no chance for photos! 😦  There were few more sightings, always shifting when the host called out the position.  You could hear the swooshing and the spray of salt waters up like a fountain, which they explained that the animal was breathing! The whale according to the naturalist was doing zigzag route down under, perhaps viewing the animal from their gadgets.  Many times, the whale showed its tale like waving for us, my position was not favorable for a wider view of the tale so my photos was somewhat obscure. It was too fast, I got stunned I merely watched the sight in awe! Truly, it was a wonderful experience!

My Cape Cod trip will never be forgotten, as they say, “it’s for the books!” but more than that, it’s for my heart treasured forever.  I may never get the chance again to be there but the memories was an important experience and a special part of my marine world learning in the Atlantic front. There was just abundance of life!

Love from Cape Cod (Part II)

Needless to say, vacation at Cape Cod costs a fortune, this exotic place definitely demands a price. But the Lord provided for everything through the generosity of my sister and family including the children. After more than two decades of waiting, I finally made it. Indeed, there is always a right time for everything!

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The summer house at Wellfleet!

The few days we had at the Cape was about getting around, while we were staying south of Chatham which has its own waterfront we spend more time at Wellfleet. My sister’s family revisited them to show me around, the children grew up coming in these spots almost very summer. Definitely, it was part of their childhood memories and always a joy for them to be here.

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The Salt Marsh is one good find at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, we started the trail from Uncle Tim’s Bridge crossing the Duck Harbor Creek to Hamblen Island overlooking the mudflats, where few birds took refuge and perhaps searching for shells, crabs and grasses for feeds. Then found a horseshoe crab by the side trails, unfortunately it was lifeless. It was my first encounter of such specie, it’s not edible though. There‘s small clearing near the bridge ruins at the creek, where one can sit and watch the view which at the time was all green, the rushing waters was also an attraction. Crabs, shells and other crustaceans dwell by the tidal marsh, a natural habitat for them. The locals on the area supported by the government have endeavored for its protection and preservation.

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The Cockle Cove Beach was facing the Nantucket Sound

The Cockle Cove Beach was just near our Air B&B abode in Chatham, for me it was more than just a spot for pleasure. The beach was just a short drive with my niece and nephew and fortunately the parking was free when we went there! The warm waters from Nantucket Sound is perfect for swimming but there were no beach-goers, only few people were there taking lessons for SUP and windsurfing.

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Yet, I was more interested of the seagulls hovering, unbelievably flying low with few landed along the sand picking with the sea weeds, it was surprising they stood their ground while we passed by looking for shells. Just few meters above was Mill Creek where we sighted thousands of hermit crabs and other crustaceans inhabiting the mudflats, a multitude were crawling by the creek side. The cove is without doubt part of sanctuary network in the Cape, series of restoration efforts were mobilized also due to sand erosion in the area.