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) which is 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 and qualified divers are very welcome. The rest is history. I was accepted as a CCC Expedition scholar in October 2017!

It was only in November 2018 that I finally travelled 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 a far away 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 rule.  Our meals were venues on stories, accusations, confessions, jokes, or the critter for the day’s dive nomination, and laughter… 🙂  Seriously, it was hard work and not for the faint-hearted, diving have standards and protocols, whether boat or shore dives. I gained htirty 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, 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.

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

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!

Savoring Sipalay

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I rejoice every moment of peace in marine world!

Spontaneity… It sounds exciting to me especially if it is about travel and my last dive trip in April was one. Although my mind was set to revisit Pandan in Antique province to conquer the ever elusive Maningning Island, we succumbed to Sipalay City as alternative destination. Our DM was not available and the weather was unstable.  It was another long trip as it was necessary not to waste my ticket to Iloilo City from Cagayan de Oro. Took the early ferry to Bacolod, endure the long bus ride to the southern most town of Negros Occidental, until finally we had the tricycle ride to Punta Ballo at our refuge in Artistic Diving Beach Resort. The long day was filled with good tidings though, the morning rainbow while in Iloilo pier and the afternoon rainbow at the white beach were enough to cheer us up and took it as a promise of wonderful trip just like in the past.

Punta Ballo

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Somewhere over the rainbow!

Taking refuge in a dive resort while diving is always advantageous, there is no rushing to commute going to the site and there’s no need to carry heavy wet gears back to camp.  Artistic Diving Beach Resort sat along the west coast with an idyllic white beach, so the sunset always beckon at the end of the day. It has at least 14 dive sites including wrecks, and is just nearby Campomanes Bay. After eight months we were back, there was much to explore and we barely covered this unassuming city in our last visit.

Dive and Swim

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Punta Ballo is full of dive sites

After attending the Sunday mass at the city center and taking light breakfast, we gathered up our gears and met up with DM Dick at the shop.  And again, it was an exclusive dive for us! We aimed for MS Jojo for our first descent, it was a short twenty minutes boat ride to the bay. This boat was a small cargo ship for copra and other produce that sank in early 1980’s, they said exploring the wreck is somewhat tricky. It can be murky down there even during sunny weather, and so we were hoping that we could get at least a glimpse of the wreck. We back rolled and hold on to the buoy line together descending slowly until at 20 meters we saw obscurely a huge mass. We were very fortunate that visibility cooperated us and we tried not to disturb the water hovering carefully trying to cover as much as we can. Perhaps I was so distracted, I only saw a lionfish but never the spadefish that normally dwells on wrecks.  We lighted our torches but there wasn’t much to see, penetration was not allowed inside the wreck, the entire hull was still intact. We were biding our time until my NDL went down to 1! I signaled for ascent feeling sorry that it was too short and was just indeed a sneak peek underwater.  Later on, I learned from my computer of my bad profile, I still had 90 bars of air with my deepest at 32 meters after a bottom time of 36 minutes.

After an hour for our surface interval, we geared up again for our next descent at Miami Beach which was a lot nearer from the diveshop, it was another boat dive. We descend the slope while maintaining our left shoulder towards the reef. We caught sight of an artificial reef of concrete slabs filed on top of the other.  Indeed, it became a shelter and refuge of variety of reef fishes, we saw like two or three mounds of slabs all filled with fish.  There were glass shrimp, violet hairy shrimp lurking in soft corals and juvenile lion

P1060903fish. There was a field of corals decorated with wiggling fishes, floating around wandering the waters. I sighted a COTS taking refuge under the corals. Just when we are about the ascend, we noticed a large lobster with its wiggling antlers.  I still have 100 bars air with bottom time of 56 minutes with 26.9 meters as deepest.

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Artificial reef became a rich shelter of marine life in Miami Beach

Trek, Swim and Sunset

We ended our dives early enough to explore more of the city which were in our last trip. One good thing about Sipalay is remaining idyllic and still devoid of distracting structures that seemingly hide the natural beauty of places.

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Overlooking the horizon from Perth Paradise

We hired the trike we had in the morning when we went to church, for our afternoon get-away.  Somehow, the locals always knew what to see, where to go next and what not’s.  Our first stop was at Perth Paradise Resort, we went around the floating catwalk wondering those hills on the waters like fjords. We climbed the steps up the topmost level at the pool admiring the stunning view.  The afternoon was scorching so we didn’t linger on but instead left hurriedly and sped off to Tinagong Dagat which was indeed hidden. It was all trek from the gates, crossing the rickety hanging bridge and climbing up the hill to the viewing deck.  The view was stunning again, the green mountains over the blue waters – it was all glorious!

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Watching Tinagong Dinagat from the hilltop view deck

There’s one remote beach that tickled my curiosity since I first came in Sipalay but unfortunately left hanging for next visit.  I was imagining the reddish horizon over the waters as the sun sets.  Unbeknownst to us, going to Sugar Beach was not an easy one. The dirt road was potholed so the ride was a bumpy one as we sped off to catch the colorful sunset and finally hopped to a short boat ride crossing the river to reach the area.

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The colorful beauty from Sugar Beach, how magnificent!

And indeed, everything was crude – place was utterly untouched by modernization. We were able to explore a bit as we waited for the sunset, and swam enjoying the warm afternoon waters. Purely idyllic, almost devoid of people and there was no rushing as we watched the horizons turning from golden, to fiery reddish, orange until it mellowed to pinkish.  Such wonderful display of nature.  It was already dark as we rushed back to the city center and finally, to the dive resort.

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You can never miss the sunsets of Punta Ballo while in Artistic Dive Resort!

If given a chance to be back south of Negros Occidental, it would be Sipalay, the rural and picturesque attractions coupled with diverse marine life is a perfect combination.  It could only take a rich underwater world for me to love a city or a “punta” for that matter!

Carousing in Moalboal!

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Millions of sardines, the immensity is a phenomenon!

It was a quick decision to revisit one of my favorite destination in Cebu province, initially we were aiming for an offbeat town in Southern Leyte but unfortunately, the lone local dive shop was fully booked for that weekend. We made quick arrangements on our favorite hostel and dive shop in Moalboal but then again, all were fully booked. We ignored the hindrances though, coming to this favorite town southwest of Cebu was a joy. My last visit was yet in June 2014!

The last minute changes made me scrambling from a quiet lunch with friends, it was already past 2pm and everything else went as a whirlwind – tickets, packing, gears assemble, so on.  By 8pm, I was already on board the boat sailing for the night to Cebu.

Travelers always trust things will work out well as you arrived the destination, and it sure did. As long as you are open-minded and make most of what is available at hand. One last bahay-kubo was the lodge  for the night and our friend DM at Cebu Dive Center offered us one dive in their house reef for the coveted sardines run, it was good that one dive guide was available for that afternoon. The arrangement worked well and it gave us time to see other sites.  🙂

White Beach (Bas Daku)

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Got away from the crowd to get unobstructed view of the sunset!

For the many times I went to Moalboal, I never got the chance to visit the area and Torsten (of Moalboal Backpackers Lodge) described it as a wonderful spot to relax and watch sunset. It was low-tide when we got there, the shores was wide and long enough for the walk but unfortunately it was too crowded. So, we had the walk, sat at the beach, watch people, watch the sunset and in the end, had a dip and quick swim in its warm waters!  🙂

Aguinid Falls

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Therapeutic morning dip at the falls basin!

The town of Samboan is 60 kilometers away from the lodge and almost two hours bus ride, so we woke up early for the trip south. Indeed, the early bird catches the best view! There was no crowd, no noise just the sound of the gushing waters! Yes, the short walk and climbing the four levels was a sure test of agility and strength. I love the early trek and swim at its basin with the majestic falls behind us. It was a wet morning adventure!  🙂

Sardines Run

 

 

DM Cameron (of Cebu Dive Center) was just good-hearted to arrange with another diver for our afternoon dives, one dive was truly not enough for me but it was better than none considering the long trip. The afternoon waters was turbulent as it was moving for the high tides, it was hard to keep steady as we wade for our entry.  At 15 meters though, we had a grand show of million sardines. It clouded above us, as we swam coyly in the warm waters – so beautiful and surreal! It was amazing, a nature’s wonder that can not be explained.  For a time the swarm was in the deep in Pescador Island, but now it’s in the shallows right next the shores. Maybe, the fishes knew that they can survive well away from the predators. Yes, the spot is a protected area and fishing them is illegal! I knew I will get back in Moalboal for the sardines again and again.

The brief get-away was a carouse but never in a noisy and lively way as in a party, but it’s about enjoying nature’s gifts in it’s most simple, relaxed, spontaneous and unaffected way. The wonderful dive was just I needed during the Moalboal visit. After we bade goodbye to our host, we left for the city thankful that our traspo connections went fluidly.

It was late when we arrived downtown Cebu, rushing but still had enough time for a relaxing dinner at La Maison Rose.  C’est la vie!  🙂

NB. All photos courtesy of my favorite dive buddy.

 

On a BySide!

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Grand Central Terminal

I was on my way looking for the Flatiron district in Manhattan, my few remaining hours in the city should be maximized to the fullest.  The reason why I transferred to a hostel in Chelsea area and left my refuge in the past days at Jersey City. It was past 7pm but summer has illuminated well the street, in fact not a common condition back home. It could have been dark already, and most likely I wont venture searching a spot in a strange city. Lugging my backpack, I was determined to find this unusual building, cautious yet relying a bit with google map. 🙂

So, I was lost a bit but not worrying because I know I will surely find it in the end. Unexpectedly, as I was silently treading West 21st Street, the familiar dive flag sign caught me off guard. Yes, I was passing a dive shop by my left side  – I grinned from ear to ear like my face would split in half (sorry, I’m exaggerating)! I wasn’t expecting to bump a dive shop right in Manhattan, it was a total surprise. I silently touched my dive computer which has been my travel buddy for this trip.  My feet just brought me there to brighten up after a hectic day.

I peek a bit through the glass windows with a smile and left with quick steps for my destination. Scuba Network Manhattan was a lovely sight to me as a diver!

The sun was still bright when I got to Flatiron Building, unfortunately it was obstructed by Marshall’s ads installation, so it wasn’t a pretty sight for photos. I ended up at Madison Square Park sitting on one of those park benches, watching passersby, taking my time until it got dark.

It was just a beautiful day!

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My refuge in Manhattan!
 

Finding Solace in Samal Island!

It was a random decision to book dives in Samal to quick start 2018 dive trips, it was like a homecoming after few years of skipping the island. And it was heartwarming that DM Maeng of ScubAqua (formerly Davao Scuba Dive Center) is still there to cater us.  It felt nostalgic recalling memories in my prior years’ dives with them, unfortunately new dive guides were engaged for that weekend.  That same warmth and kindness that I cherished before comforted me during the trip.

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Colorful corals, juveniles swimming before us – perfectly calming!

The cheery weather greeted us for our cruise to the island from Sta. Ana port, the boat was full-packed with guests – only few were divers though, most were aiming for the beach either to just swim or snorkel.  We were assigned to DM Toto for the day together with a newbie American diver, it was reassuring since we were not crowded and we could have more time to slow down and be mindful as we went through the reefs.

Our first descent was in Coral Gardens, we sank unto a sandy slope filled with corals decorated with wide gorgonians but we stumbled upon few crown of thorns star (COTS), I frowned watching them as the waters shall get warmer during summer, in no time they could multiply and eventually will devour the corals.  I glance over a branching coral that was turning whitish – I was wondering if it was bleaching! A sea cucumber had a minute emperor shrimp on its back probably feeding from parasites, some sea star, worms, clownfish over anemones, and a variety of juveniles spreading above us as we went around. Then a blue ribbon eel appeared from its burrow gloriously stood its ground as I took some snapshots – always fascinating as it darted but never leaving its hole!  Then we lingered over the colorful coral field just feeling the warm waters hopping over the reef hunting for critters, until we had our safety stop as we got under our boat for our ascent.  I still had 100 bars after 58 minutes lingering over the gardens!

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Emperor shrimp on a sea cucumber back!

We cruise a bit to Babu Santa beach for our safety stop, there were few changes since our last visit but thankfully it is till devoid of concrete and permanent structures, it has still its wide beach with few huts for guests, with its blue and clear waters!

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COTS at rest, soon to devour the corals nearby!

We cruise once more heading for Talikud Island for our last descent at Mansud Wall, it was past 4pm already and thankfully the viz was clear and there was no current.  We descend with our left shoulder towards the wall, the reef is filled with soft and hard corals, wide sea fans and obviously bursting with marine life. There were nudis, COTS (!) again, lots of juveniles – anthias, damsels, chromis, wrasse, fusiliers and lot more.  They spread before and above us as, watching them peacefully swimming was a great consolation – there was pure silence.  We had gathered trashes as we went around, and we lingered again over coral field for our safety stop until we ascend after 54 minutes. We cruised back to Sta. Ana wharf feeling refreshed after the dives!  🙂

This little piece of paradise has been renamed to Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS) but for me, it is still Samal Island, in the early days popularized by Pearl Farm but now there are a number of resorts all around this small city. It has remained bucolic and unassuming yet booming and blooming for all of us to revisit, explore and enjoy!

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A family of anemone fish!

Travel Notes

  • In the early days of this intoxication, Samal waters was a favorite and has been our playground. My dive buddy earned his open water certification through Davao Scuba Dive Center.
  • Davao City, my entry point to Samal island is 8-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro
  • ScubAqua is probably the cheapest with PhP 1500.00 rate for 2 dives inclusive of equipment, boat and dive guide. The shop is conveniently located at Sta. Ana wharf.
  • Staying in Davao City rather than in the resorts in IGACOS is more economical, also the city has much to offer to your liking.