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.
This invertebrate is an active predator and is known to aggressively chase its prey, which it detects through its excellent sense of smell.
The giant Triton is known for relatively high speeds, especially for a snail.
They feed on other snails and sea stars, most notably the crown of thorns starfish (COTS), Triton isthe only natural predators of this destructive starfish.
The specie was considered extremely important to reef health and is given legal protection particularly in Australia.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 coagulatesin the presence of small amounts of bacterial toxins and is used to test for sterility of medical equipment and virtually all injectable drugs.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you frequently dive in the Philippines, chances are you have encountered a ribbon eel, usually in blue color gently peeking and swaying from its burrow. Normally the specie is found on sandy patches like the garden eel as they create their hole in the sand.
The ribbon eel (Rhinomuraena quaesita) or Bernis eel, is a species of moray eel, the only member of the genus Rhinomuraena and is normally found in Indo-Pacific ocean
Ribbon eels are carnivores, preying on small fish and other marine creatures. They can attract their prey with their flared nostrils and then clamp down on them with their strong jaws and retreat into their burrows.
They are usually seen with only their heads protruding from holes in reefs, amongst coral rubble on coastal reef slopes or in sand and mud of lagoons. It can stay in the same hole for months or even years.
The ribbon eel is the only moray eel that is protandric, which means that they can change from a male to female (protandry) should it become necessary for survival of the species in their area.
All juveniles are born male, generally in jet black with a yellow dorsal fin. The adult males are blue with a yellow dorsal fin.
As the adult male reaches full size (approximately 1 metre), it begins to turn into a female, and turns yellow. It will then mate, lay eggs, and die within about a month. Due to this short lifespan, female ribbon eels are a relatively rare sight.
Females are yellow with a black anal fin with white margins on the fins. So, they are not all different species, they are just differently coloured, according to sex…. which they can change during their lifetimes.
The ribbon eel grows to an overall length of approximately 1 m (3.3 ft), and has a life span of up to twenty years.
Rarely did I encounter ribbon eel in group, mostly alone or in couple which I quickly presume that couples are male and female. In my encounters, generally all were blue with yellow dorsal fins, the latest of which was in Samal Island. I remember there was once I sighted a black one (juvenile) while diving at Red Sands in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental.
I love blue ribbon eels with their blue and yellow color, so harmless gently swaying over their burrow. Their sequential transformation in terms of color and sex held so much wonder – such an interesting life cycle! Now, here’s hoping to encounter a swimming eel out from their hole or a female one, I guess I need to be keen for a yellow ribbon eel next time!
Nudibranch (Nudibranchia) or simply called nudi in diving community are wonderful creatures, with odd shapes and vibrant colors one can’t miss them as it crawls on soft or hard corals among the reefs. They are lovely to behold and if you are sensitive on micro and subtle critters, these animals are exceptional.
Here are few facts I gathered about this lovely animal:
There are over 3000 identified species of nudi, it would take too wide and long to encounter them all
They are color blind or generally have poor vision and can only distinguish dark or light lumination
Nudis are hermaphroditic, which means capacitated with both male & female reproductive organs. Being solitary in nature, it needs to maximize their mating ability for reproduction
It has very short life span, it can only live not more than one year so there is no chance to encounter the same nudi in the next dive
They got their colors from their food, it has the ability to absorb and incorporate the tint & shade of their prey into their tissues such as anemones or sponges
Generally, it’s not for human consumption – often referred to as “butterfly of the ocean” due to vivid vibrant color and their intense toxicity – generally their loud color is a warning sign!
I love nudis and my dive won’t be complete if I don’t find one, I would conclude that the particular reef lacks the necessary as habitat for the critters and so not healthy. And I would reflect that perhaps I went too fast not to notice if there was one. With more than 3000 species, one can imagine how vast and mysterious our ocean can be!
Still our penchant for seeking less known sites is limitless. As we all knew, the island province of Bohol is a gem, it is undoubtedly replete with many wonders. Last year, we felt so blessed after diving in the town of Anda – it was incredibly rich we regret discovering it just lately. So, we were off again to the province and endured multiple mode of transport to reach the town of Loon, finally cruising to this tiny unassuming island one weekend in September. It was a plane, ferry, bus and tiny boat ride all to Cabilao Island. The island has been in my list years back but the arduous trip that won’t surely fit on a weekend deterred the schedule. Recently, Angel discovered reaching the other side of Bohol via Tubigon, definitely shorter and cheaper than via Tagbilaran! So, as soon as I got back from the July rendezvous, I booked my Cebu tickets for this trip.
All in a Rush
Another hectic weekend awaits us, so things were all in a rush but thanks God all our transport connections went fluidly as planned. We were catching our breath as we do not want to be late, Europeans are time conscious and it is discourteous to keep others waiting. We arrived and welcomed warmly at Polaris Dive Resort just in the nick of time, enough to have a quick but relaxing breakfast and gather ourselves for the day’s dives. DM Jun assured us not to rush, we were informed that three couples (all Deutsch) were booked for the day obviously we were arranged to join them.
The location and amenities of the resort was impressive and exactly what one needs for an escape, add diving and that’s perfect haven for me. J We geared up after the preliminaries and piled all eight divers in the boat for our first descent at the Lighthouse, which was a short 5-minute ride south of resort shores. We dropped unto a sandy slope filled with soft corals down to a wall, we chance upon a colony of garden eels which quickly hid in their burrows when we got near. I’m always fascinated with them, and again I paused and waited they would come out again, they did slowly inch by inch! We stumbled on macros – few nudis, glass shrimp and a crab mimicking on soft coral. Every turn we peek on corals for critters. The highlights for me was the yellow
frogfish perched on a large plank of yellow rubber coral surrounded by crinoids, adapting its yellow surroundings. I waited it would yawn, but it only opened its mouth a bit perhaps catching some air, at least it was not upset with our intrusion in its abode. It was a good subject directly facing us, so the Deutsch divers feasted for photos! We explored more – the perennial clown fish forever teasing over anemones, ghost pipefish like dead leaves (!), stonefish and nudis again. Then over a sandy part, our DM pointed out a couple of black/white organism clinging on rubber coral, poking a bit it went white all over – it turns out to be an egg cowrie! We linger for our safety stop over a sandy slope covered with corals and sea grasses and found last minute a stonefish, hairy crab on bubble coral and a herd of striped eel fish. We separated from the group and ascend by ourselves in the shallows towards the shore, after 90 minutes. I still have 60 bars with 29.7 meters as our deepest. So far, this was my longest bottom time!
Our surface interval was spent for our light but relaxing lunch of penne pesto pasta and korbis soup, we had enough time too for some breather in our cottage. The quiet surroundings under the swaying coconuts and trees with blooming hibiscus would surely lull you to sleep. J I have to drag myself from the rattan duyan for our next dive at 2pm.
The afternoon descent is at The Chapel, which is nearby too parallel the resort shores. It is located near a small chapel which according to DM Jun where fishers drop-by before setting off to fish. Our DM promised a diverse marine life in this lowly site. Indeed, we dropped off on a colourful reef where in few minutes we found the electric clams, they lurk on overhangs or crevices and emit somewhat vibrating lights from their opening. Angel pointed out to me a shy moray with its head barely out from its hole, it didn’t like our intrusion. L Then a harlequin shrimp barely noticeable clinging on soft flowery coral, glass shrimps on anemone, another minute shrimp on flat hardened surface over anemones, few nudis – critters were everywhere! We went on a swim-through with our DM carefully navigating getting a streamlined test, it was perfectly smooth! A lone silver barracuda was teasing us, wondering where its companions are. Damsels, groupers, triggers, sand perch, wrasses, chromis, fusiliers, butterfly fish, angels, anthias and more. There was this adorable blenny peeking from its abode as if giving us a hello, its curiosity was endearing. We were having our wrap-up as we get off for our safety stop, when a large herd of striped barracudas appeared in view. We swam quick before we lost them, it was incredible that at five meters we got a full view of the herd! J I still have 80 bars when we ascend after 73 minutes. It was wonderful, with lot of sightings and diverse environment we were more than an hour underwater for both dives. My heart was filled with gratefulness for all the discoveries.
We pass-off for night dives and choose to unwind at the patio savoring the twilight glow and eventually had a quiet alfresco dinner listening to the waves behind us. The day was just full deserving a good night’s rest.
Leaving the island wasn’t complete without attending an early mass at the Centro, exploring the shoreline towards the Lighthouse and Punta Baluarte Eco-Museum. It offers a lovely view of the sea minus the crowd and modern development, just sheer island charm and unspoiled serene setting.
Hidden, idyllic and purely designed for unwinding, another unmatched destination just waiting to be explored and enjoyed is Cabilao Island. Actually, it’s more than just a destination, it’s an experience!
My itinerary for this trip
Last night flight from Cagayan de Oro to Cebu, 740pm – 50 minutes
First trip ferry to Tubigon, 445am – 2 hours
Van ride to Mocpoc, Loon – 1 hour
Habal ride to Pier – 15 minutes
Boat ride to Talisay, Cabilao pier – 10 minutes
Habal ride to Polaris Dive Resort – 10 minutes
Return trip has same route leaving the island early, to catch the last flight to Cagayan de Oro from Cebu
With the above itinerary, there is a need to stay overnight in metro Cebu
Ferries for Cebu-Tubigon route & vice versa has several trips daily, in Cebu they sail from Pier Uno
Polaris Dive Resort is a self-contained homey environment friendly resort which houses a 5-star PADI dive shop, lies in the western side obviously offering daily sunsets
The tiny triangular island of Cabilao off Loon town is literally surrounded with at least 14 dive sites