Wonders in Moaboal

I am a firm believer as a diver, that the underwater has always surprises in store so that a certain spot can give one different sightings every dive. The underwater realm is a stash of dynamic organisms, today and tomorrow’s encounter is never the same. A decade of diving has taught me so, the wonders of marine life can never be exhausted.

Millions of Sardines!

Indeed, coming back again in any dive sites gave new encounters which can never be compared from the last. Let it be marine creatures, new acquaintance, locals, or even circumstances where one can reflect lot of good things are always in store in every situation. My dives this year were few, yet our destinations were undoubtedly our favorites and probably few of the best in the country.

It was a last minute decision to return in Moalboal last October, as usual I had the last word where to go as there was no previous plan. I needed to go away a little farther and it was a random choice to revisit South Cebu. We were so blessed that our arrangements went smooth – our home Moalboal Backpackers Lodge for accommodation, and Savedra Dive Center for the dives.

Swarm of these juveniles…

Isla de Pescador

Our 5am bus trip from the city allowed us a very early arrival in town, giving us ample time to relax and prepare for the dives.  The town was all in motion as we got in Basdiot, weekends like any destinations are full and bustling with tourists.  The cheery weather lifted my spirits, forward looking for wonderful encounters during the day. We were welcomed warmly at the diveshop, the wall chart indicated that we belonged to Lyndon’s (DM) group on our first dive at Pescador Island!

Aboard the Seastar, we sped through the surf, the lowly island looming before us as we got nearer and in 15 minutes we dropped anchors.  Few boats already moored indicative of other divers ahead of us. Our DM briefed us of the current, so from northeast point we should drift to the northwest but first we need to cross against the current until the wall, navigating with our right shoulder against the wall. I informed Lyndon that I wore a brand new wetsuit and it might affect my bouyancy, he assured that he would bring extra weight in case it is necessary. And it was fierce indeed, I have always avoided swimming against current. It was exhaustive!

Watching from inside the Cathedral

Every inch beyond was filled with so much life – from echinoderms, hard & soft corals to swarming variety of fish – there was so much colours! I kept myself close to the wall as I searched for some critters just floating until we got to the Cathedral! It is a cavern with holes, and getting inside with keen eyes you were like staring a large monster face! We linger a little longer inside just watching the illuminated holes, trying to absorb its grandeur, how magnificent! There was a stonefish, giant clam, bivalves that snap as you got close, and a lot of linkia laevigata. There were turtles and we found a huge one sleeping on a crevice, while we left it alone, unfortunately another group of divers came and poke the poor animal. 😦  The wall has few caverns and lot of crevices that were undoubtedly shelter of various critters. We ended up at the northwest end of the island, actually half-circled Pescador. Thankfully I didn’t have trouble with my new wetsuit.  Maybe if we got to dive here in the future, we will reverse the route to get the full circle, without the current of course! 🙂

Sexy shrimps, can you see them?

We cruised back to mainland and while halfway on the waters, to our surprise a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins appeared and sailed alongside our boat! They lingered for a little while to everybody’s delight, until finally we sped our way to the shores with all our smiles. The warm sun, sea breeze and salt waters spraying on us was pure delight.

Sardines Shoal

Since I first came in Moalboal decade ago, we always aimed for the sardines and this trip was no exception. The house reef was listed for our second dive in the afternoon, and it was an exclusive dive for us! Our surface interval was more than enough for our quick bites and relaxed a bit longer before we got back at the dive shop, just a few meters away from our hostel.

The sardines was all around us!

We geared up excitedly but our DM changed the plan due to the afternoon current, instead of a shore dive we shifted for the boat. So, we sailed shortly to Panagsama Sanctuary and descend there and drifted for the shoal eastward immersing in the warm afternoon waters. We maintained our depth in the shallow reef along the Basdiot shores scouring the bottom for trashes. We gathered some plastic debris, thankful there wasn’t much when the area was filled with many settlers and establishments just few meters from the shoreline. In spite of this, there was much marine life in the area – sexy shrimps lurking on soft corals, ornate pipefish, nudis, lobster and juvenile frogfish! We drifted until we got into swarm of big eye scad, there was lot of them swerving and shifting direction as we moved along. There were other fish specie that came in schools also, and to my mind they knew and learned that being in cluster commanded force and they were less threatened.

I kept looking up until in an instant a dark patch clouded over us, the sardines shoal was upon our very eyes! Like a magic but for me, it’s purely mystical. I know I will never get tired watching again and again such incredible marine sight. 🙂 How majestic are His creation!

Nudibranch!

We kept floating mindful too of other fish in our midst, there were five barracudas that tried to invade the swarm but wasn’t able to penetrate at all. And how marvelous that they could go that shallow, barracudas are generally deep sea dwellers! We still linger floating until we reached the end of the stretch, Lyndon signaled accordingly to turn around and went against the mild afternoon current. Angel and I immersed much longer finning coyly with the massive sardines’ swarm above us, engulfed myself few more moments of wonder until our DM signaled for surface which we both agreed. We ended up at the front of the dive shop entrance channel. Angel helped me with my fins as we walked back to the shop with our gears on. I guess even with the current I still felt energized with such wonderful encounter, it was for me another relaxing experience with the phenomenal sardines. I could only wish they would remain to have Panagsama as refuge, shelter and home forever.

The sardines clouded over us!

We capped our day with a big dinner in Marina, yet many times our encounters for the day came into our chats until we retired for the night.

Moalboal will always be our favorite destination for diving, its wonders endlessly captivated my soul. That brought home how amazing the marine world is and why it’s worth protecting the rich biodiversity we have in the country or this planet, for that matter.

Travel Notes:

  1. Leaving Cebu City at 4:30am by bus, one can reach Moalboal before 8:00am still having enough time for 2 dives during the day
  2. Tricycle to Basdiot costs P150.00 for special trip, otherwise P20.00/pax for ordinary trip
  3. Be sure to book your accommodation and dives before heading to Moaboal to avoid trip hassles
  4. Sardines Shoal can still be encountered through snorkelling
  5. Pescador (which literally means fisherman) got its name being refuge of fishermen during inclement weather.

Bucas Grande: My Island, My Home

Serenity is where home is…

There are places you wanted to come home to even how far and remote it could be. A place where one can find comfort surrounded with green and blue waters listening the crashing waves, yet secluded from great structures. Bucas Grande Islands has always been my favorite get away.

After a lull of almost two years, I was back in the islands. There was no plan actually, my summer was void with trips except my farm visits. Things just fell its place, randomly our good friend in municipal tourism gave a ring and my travel buddy just pop up to visit the islands. My mind drift off to serene waters, blue lagoons, green environs, patch of white beaches, the nocturnal crickets singing, and the crashing waves that lull me to sleep. Simple pleasures that can be savored only in these remote islands.

We arrived Port Hayanggabon in time for lunch, so had a stop in a seafood shack while waiting for our boat. Lot of new structures sprouted at the port since my last visit. We found our boat and wasted no time for the cruise amid the waves, smiling our way as the sea breeze blew on our skins cooling the hot afternoon. And headed straight to tourism center for some pleasantries with our hosts and picking up where we left off since our last meeting.  After more than ten years there has been changes to cater the growing number of tourists and crew, and in a way surprised of new structures around the area.. The old tourism center almost dilapidated gave in to a larger shack with wider receiving area, surrounding ramps, platforms and docking area. There’s a floating cottage and floating restaurant nearby – well, I was wondering about its waste disposal!

Rushing up to get most of the remaining afternoon and the low tide, we head straight to Sohoton Cove – the mystical maze of islands covered in green foliage. We entered smoothly, our boat maneuvered perfectly with no hesitation or doubt. Once inside, I still had that same feeling of wonder like getting into a different realm, into another world – a city on the waters! We did our homage in Hagukan Cave, swam the warm waters glad of the super low tide, most importantly it was all to ourselves, such perfect timing! That rock in the middle was all to ourselves to stand on, as we view above the rock formations. I skipped the Magkakaub Cave, it was bit crowded. Angel did the climb and the plunge perfectly. 🙂 It started to drizzle as we did the last round and finally headed for the exit and in few minutes we were back in the center.  Later, we hopped to Puyo Island but decided to settle for Marka A Island for a swim.  We picked up few trash from the shores as we went around, the good thing was because it was already late, it was all to ourselves again.

We had a relaxing dinner back at the center, all the crew and tourists called it a day so we were left in tranquility, savoring again the serenity of the islands. The crickets started to chirp in the dusk. The center is now lit with few colored bulbs, a new improvement I guess as they were able to generate energy supply from few solar panels installed.

Unfortunately, Cinnamon Island where we had our lodgings for the night were full of guests so we missed its relaxing mode like it used to be. The crashing waves though, muffled the laughing and singing of the people.

Time was too limited, the next day though we revisited few sites we love. Our first agenda was the Tojoman Lake in search for the sting-less jellyfish, but there was none and instead looked up as brown giant bats started flying above the trees. We paddled around and our boat guide led us to Lubogon Lagoon, we found few juveniles silently floating the waters.  Tiktikan Lake used to be operated by fishermen coop, more structures were now at the entrance, bigger shack, slides, catwalk, platform and diving board. The interior lake itself was maintained but was deserted when we got there after a short trek, more people preferred the fronts which offered diving from heights.

La Fortuna was our last stop, the small strip of white beach at the front was an attraction but more was in store for us.  We trek for ten minutes for Bubon Lagoon, we have explored this secret nook before but now went beyond watching the placid waters. We kayaked around the lagoon, the lush foliage covering karst cliffs reflecting on the waters was purely a relaxing sight. It was all to ourselves! We’re on the run, yet we snatched few minutes to swam and play at the beach as we got back in the front.  Clottie joined us without complaining, this cute curly pup goof around with us, I gave her a bath but didn’t like it! And we enjoyed Raffy’s fresh buko, enough to quench our thirst and made us full!

We had late light lunch back at the center with our hosts, had brief pleasantries and finally bid bye. It was so short.  We cruised the afternoon waves for the port, again the sea breeze blew gently on our skin as we watched the vast blue sea before us. So brief, yet it felt so refreshing!

Last Note

It’s now more than a decade since I kept coming back here and I am glad that the islands have maintained its pristine waters and still free from trash. As we get around hopping to our fave spots, my keen eyes noticed few scraps which I pointed out to our boatman, in turn he assured me that a team was assigned for such task on a daily basis. The lesson I learned from the locals was that, getting the community involved to protect and preserve their invaluable resources was an effective strategy, they understood that nobody would do it for them except themselves and its protection is their ultimate mission if not to sustain this nature’s gift for their livelihood.  The coastal communities around the islands understood well that natural resources is always worth of care and preservation for the next generation.

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.

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!