Batfish

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 Platax teira is common in Philippines waters

This is one the species most typically associated with the description of ‘batfish’. Also belonging to the Ephippidae family, the Platax tiera (or longfin batfish) can be found across the Indo-Pacific region, often enjoying the surroundings of shipwrecks, floating seaweed, anchored boats and mooring ropes.  Juveniles don’t look much like their adult counterparts, but are masters of mimicry, pretending to be leaves or even flatworms to hide from predators. Platax tiera are omnivores, eating algae as well as invertebrates, plankton, corals and anemones. They are curious fish, often schooling with other species and approaching divers to present a fantastic photo opportunity.

Yes, we found this specie in Coron wrecks, they came near as if asking for food and followed us just like a pup. Our latest dive gave me an opportunity to interact again with this curious fish. As soon as we deflated our BCs, they were there swimming coyly as if waiting for us.  As we navigated around, another batfish followed us all the way through until we had our safety stop. It was our company silently watching us, so amusing!

The above photo was taken at Olango Island, Cebu

Anda: Discovering a Diving Paradise

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Green turtles are abundant in Paradise Garden!

As divers, our adventurous spirits often spur travels to exotic dive spots. I was clueless though when we went to this northeastern town in Bohol, Angel suggested for this destination after finding a dive operator near the beach.  As a diving destination, Anda is unheard of but being a coastal town facing the Bohol Sea, most likely marine life can be rich and diverse.  This town is a corner land mass appendage in the eastern tip of the province facing Mindanao. Obviously, cruising to Jagna from Cagayan de Oro was an advantage, it was time and cost saving and I arrived much earlier for our engagement.  Angel has moved frantically our dive schedule in the afternoon owing to his route delays.

It was drizzling and downcast early in the morning but gloriously turned sunny in mid-day,  we were full in the afternoon and we needed a warmer atmosphere for the three dives unto the night.  Angel choose a 5 star PADI shop but was located farther from the downtown, Blue Star is an upscale resort facing the endless blue seas. It has manicured lawn, small pool, well maintained dive shop and exclusive but impeccable resto that offers international cuisine.  There were no other bookings so it turned out again as an exclusive dive for us!  The Deutsch owner entertained us briefly and were turned over to DM Karl after confirming our gear needs and signing up the required waiver form.   DM Karl was too encouraging of our dive site choices including the long-awaited night descent.

Cornucopia of Critters

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This friendly turtle posed for me, it didn’t get away when I came near.

All the sites were nearby, and for our first descent we cruise shortly to Paradise Garden seated at the corner of the bay, our DM warned us of current at the turn of afternoon low tide. We descend to a slope decorated with corals, hydroids, whips and feather stars until we got to the wall fully covered with abundance of hard and soft corals.   There were jackfish, triggers, snappers, banner fish, angels, moorish idols, anthias, even bivalves, and lots of juveniles. We drift with the current until we got to a wide colorful coral garden, and a turtle appeared. One, two, three, four until I lost count as I got occupied steadying myself from the current. I was so oblivious as I watch a turtle sleeping among the corals when our DM signaled for danger, I was almost touching a stonefish camouflaging near the swaying orangey corals.   Angel said there were more than ten turtles!  Indeed, it was replete with diverse marine life. It wouldn’t be called house reef of the resort for nothing.  We ascend after 60 minutes too glad for all the sightings!

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Reef wall filled with diverse marine life!

We stayed on the boat for our surface interval watching the blue horizon of the afternoon skies, while our DM told stories of dive sightings. We agreed to descend from one site, then cover one more site until we end the second dive. I was more eager as he mentioned cavern and the rare frogfish.  So we descend to a wall covered again with corals, and navigated with our left shoulder towards the wall. Floating weightlessly feeling the warm waters, we watch the yellow damsels and chromis wiggling over the reef wall.  Until we got to overhangs and crevices, we were in for colorful surprises! There were nudis – a pair of green-orange, bleu dragon, then fat yellow banana nudi – it was my first to see one. Then, not so distant was the two yellow frogfish!  The site was abundant with gorgonians in yellow, blue and violet. We find at least seven bargibanti pygmies and minute crab clinging to violet

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A wide coral field with wiggling juveniles hovering!

seafan.  We sighted barrel sponges, banded sea snake, scorpion fish, stone fish and one more turtle.  We passed the cavern but there were no more snappers but still the fish life was diverse and abundant.  We drifted to a coral area which I believe part of Paradise Garden, for our safety stop, hopping and hovering over the colorful corals with the juveniles wiggling peacefully.  So calming…  We ended our dive timed at 62 minutes!  We cruised back to the resort for surface interval to relax a bit before our last dive.

Dream Deep & Dark

Our last night dive was like four years ago, searching for mandarin fish but we went home without finding one. The mandarins has been tickling my curiosity, after an assurance from our DM of sure sighting, we tried to quench the yearning to find one.  So, at sundown we geared up and had our last descent for the day at the Wonderwall. We went down to a slope over a patch of colored dead corals.  The water was quiet, warm and balmy – just perfect for a calming night descent. We navigate slowly and cautiously, careful not to disturb the waters and our lights low. And there, I found one lurking under the corals, the colorful pattern of its body almost alike the dead corals. Then, there was another one crawling  or slowly swimming down the corals, I watched intently and waited it would go up for the “mating moment” but it was almost eternity. Alas, while I was silently observing the fish, Angel alerted with signals of his missing cam! We flashed our lights immediately for the search, which alerted our DM. I think almost half of our time was done for the search, until I noticed we were left alone in the dark deep.  After awhile, we got light signals from the surface like –“there’s something here and it’s okey!” – such a relief.  We finished off but went up too fast for the 5 meter safety stop, my dive computer went greek! I was sure there were lot more to find in the dark but we have to end, we finished off the ascent holding hands careful not to lose from each other.  We must do night dive again next time.

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A pair of colorful nembrotha kubaryana nudi!

Our two long day dives and momentous night descent was just impressive, the sightings were beyond my expectations and without doubt the underwater paradise of Anda is more than worth seeing again.  Diving in Bohol now would not be limited in the island sites, mainland province has a gem for diving. Diving in Anda was perfectly finding a psychedelic marine paradise!

NB.  Sorry, no photos of mandarin fish. 😦

Salpa Maggiore!

It was a rare encounter while we were diving in Sumilon Island in Oslob, Cebu. It happened quick as I have seen something transluscent floating towards me. Watching and wondering what it was, I managed to snapped few photos.  Almost tempted to touch the specie, I changed my mind thinking it might some kind of poisonous.

Searching some materials revealed this mysterious creature. Salps may look similar to jellyfish, but they are more closely related to marine vertebrates including fish.

Although they are mainly transparent, the bizarre creatures have gills and a heart. Like other tunicates, their bodies are encased in a sac-like structure, which has an opening at each end. As water pumps in and out of the openings, or siphons, Salps are propelled through the water. Filters inside their body sift through the water and collect their food, which consists mainly of algae and phytoplankton.

As reported by Plankton Chronicles, Salpa maggiore can grow to around 10 inches long and often travel in large groups, or chains. As they are asexual, the creatures are capable of producing their own offspring to form the massive chains. While part of a chain, salps use electrical currents to communicate and synchronize their movements.
Read more at http://www.inquisitr.com/1104937/salpa-maggiore-mysterious-translucent-fish-identified/#wtSSJjslXOOHrOD9.99

It was surprising to find one in waters of southern Cebu as they are commonly found in cooler waters of the Southern Ocean. It was my first time to find one after diving some time in the Philippine waters.

Have you find this specie whilst diving or snorkeling?

The Allures of Antique

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Every dive is like celebrating the ocean wonders and consequently proclaiming the exquisiteness of God’s creation.

We were back in the province this summer, it was unplanned.  My mind was entertaining the thought of the possible sighting of giant humphead wrasses in Pandan, my buddy got some secret information from a local.  Trusting and believing it was a reliable source, we changed plans and cancelled the Ticao Pass prospect.  My personal objective was purely economics, diving in Masbate was way expensive and requires two to three days leave on my part, weekend is practically out of order.  For me, time and expenses are always of the essence. It was a good decision in the end, there were changes of my Legazpi flights so I got it cancelled at no cost with a full refund!

Pandan Depths

It was a long road to Pandan, having flown to Iloilo we need at least four hours to reach this northern town. Yes, another offbeat dive destination and I was grateful there was available dive operator in the area.  Our dawn bus ride went fluid alright, traversing interior towns passing Banga, Kalibo, Ibajay until we got off at Nabas intersection for Pandan. We arrived at the diveshop before our appointed time and enough spare for the preliminaries. Our Austrian DM explained that it started raining already and we were lucky for a sunny Saturday but the waters could be bit hazy. There were no others booked for the day so it turned out to be an exclusive dive for us.

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Anemone in bloom surrounded by wiggling juveniles and guarded by clownfish family

Our first descent was at Mag-aba Deep Wall, it was deep indeed but the plan was at 32 meters and I guess there was no need to go much deeper, it was rich and colorful even at 25 meters.  It was bit hazy with suspended particles but still vibrant as it is! There were large sea fans in yellows and orange lining the wall, there were crinoids, barrel sponges and nudis. We inspected crevices, search around and float weightlessly. We found triggers, sweet lips, snappers and the colorful wiggling juvenile anthias.  Of course, the anemones with the playful clownfish caught my attention, trying for some photos but it was still hazy and not enough light.  We ascend after 55 minutes, with my air still at 80 bars, my deepest at 31.9 meters.

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This colorful reef has in every inch filled with life!

Out surface interval was spent on the boat as we move to our next site, DM Nikki entertained us with his stories mentioning offbeat sites islands away.  But there was no mention of the giant humpheads, perhaps he has no knowledge or maybe it was just a myth. Suddenly, it went downcast and started to rain with the matching lightning. Our interval went longer as we waited for the sun to shine again, but nil.  DM Nikki hesitated for the next descent with the weather condition, the rain stopped but it was still dark. It’s our take if we want, but in my mind it was a long trip and definitely one dive isn’t enough! Angel was hesitant too but I needed his consent, after a little prodding he agreed but warned not to go far from him. My face was splitting with a big smile. Lah!  🙂

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I was imagining Medusa’s head!

We splashed for our last descent at Patria Aquarium, and it was giving me hint why it was so called as such!  🙂 The good thing is even if it was stormy, the water was warm and calm, there was never any hint of current. We descend to a slope decorated with corals and resident fishes until we got into fish traps, I do still cringe seeing one underwater.  It was sort of abandoned but I saw a long trumpet fish trapped inside, I watched and wondered how long would it take the poor trumpet to get out.  We swam taking our time watching the anthias, snappers, damsels, banded wrasse and the perennial variety of clownfish.  There were blooms of anemones around, there was a shrimp couple lurking in a crevice with its long antlers waving. I summoned Angel to come over for my finds, he was  watching me from afar. There were fish everywhere more than I can count and name all, it was so peaceful. The anemone bloom took my time away, just watching the colorful animal surrounded with wiggling fish other than the clowns. I hovered round and round and I stayed longer in that small colorful reef with active marine life. Indeed it was like an aquarium! Unmindful of time, I was stunned my NDL went down to 1 minute at 13 meters, left with no choice but to swam up slowly.  We ascend after 62 minutes with my air still at 80 bars.  It was good and what a waste if we allow ourselves to be intimidated with the dark skies!

Seeking Serenity

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A piece of serenity….

Aiming for Seco Island as side trip the next day, we rushed to Tibiao after our dives and spent overnight at Fish Spa. Arrangements were made, all we need to do is drag ourselves out of bed for the 4am boat cruise departure. But alas, there was no sign of life when we woke up the next morning , it was dark and quiet. Obviously, it was cancelled and we went back to sleep.

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Trekking the hills was part of Malalison Island experience!

We opted to proceed to Culasi for Malalison Island, another gem in Antique sought by many.  Cruising to the island is easier being organized by local tourism office, but like other tourist destination it becomes over crowded. The white beach is packed by weekenders, old and young alike.  We went beyond the waterfront and trek the hills (with a guide) under the sun, the surroundings become brownish, the greens withered from the summer heat. The hills are not alive yet still fascinating in a way!

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Perfect for swimming or just lounging on the white beach…

Trekking the rolling hills in its midst offered serenity, only a handful went for the trek. It was bit arduous but discovering the other side of the island was rewarding.  There was another white beach, secluded and had a fantastic view. It was not crowded, just perfect for swimming. Perhaps, some other time we can frolic and just relax, even stay longer in the island. We sat silently watching the horizon, watching people until our boat came to fetch us.

No giant humphead wrasse and no Seco Island but it was sure a captivating trip to Antique!

Disclosures

DM Nikki gave us discount in our diving bills because he found us “nice”, maybe he meant we are well-behaved or courteous.  He offered us to come back again next summer  for diving and overnight camping to an off beat island!  🙂

This trip was like driving through going full circle of the province south-north-south, having Iloilo City as my point of entry and exit.

Our Seco Island cruise was cancelled as there were no boatman willing for the trip, it was the town’s fiesta that day!

THE BLUE WHALE

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Photo courtesy of http://www.biganimals.com

QUICK FACTS

The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)is the largest animal that ever lived on Earth. They can grow to 30 meters, weigh up to 181 metric tons and live 80-90 years.

Status:

Endangered (World Conservation Union Red List) due to rampant whaling in the 1960s.

They feed mostly on krill (tiny shrimp like animals) and can consumer around 3.6 metric tons in a day.

They belong to the baleen whales. Baleens are fringed plates of fingernail-like material attached to their upper jaws.  They feed by swallowing mouthful of water and expelling these through the baleen which acts as filter that trap the krill.

Blue whales are graceful swimmers and cruise the ocean at more than eight kilometer per hour, but accelerate to more than 32 kilometers an hour when they are agitated.

Blue whales are among the loudest animals on the planet. They emit a series of pulses, groans, and moans and it is thought that, in good conditions, blue whales can hear each other up to 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away.

THEY ARE ENDANGERED

Their huge size does not spare them from human threats.

They are threatened by boat collision. Dynamite fishing, marine debris entanglement, plastic trash pollution, chemical and sound pollution.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP SAVE THEM

Help spread awareness about conserving and protecting our marine resources.

Report illegal fishing activities.

Reduce your plastic waste.

Help document presence of whales and other large marine life (do this from a safe distance).

Hotlines:

Maritime Police                               0927 893 4993
Coastguard (Dumaguete City)     0915 112 8823; 0929 674 2380
BFAR                                                    0926 357 2278
DENR                                                   0905 595 9149

A campaign of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines

Lost in its Comfort!

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This dwarf puffer fish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) was lost in the comfort of this wide giant gorgonian, perhaps it swam directly in the midst of humongous fan and was trap in a maze like in a net! I caught up with it while swimming in a wall in the marine sanctuary of Sumilon Island, Cebu. Another example of symbiotic relationships in marine world!

Have you been in the depths of southern Cebu?

Cortes: The Kujaw Pride

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Lush sea grasses, corals and marine plants…

Our quest for off beaten sites is still going on, that spirit of curiosity is never put to rest and so we continue to explore and hunt from island to island.  And most often such locations are remote, far-flung and most likely unheard of in terms of tourism radar. The town is off the national highway en route to other Surigao Sur municipalities. It is practically off-road, a separated land mass like an annex facing directly the Pacific Ocean.

I met up with Angel in Tandag after sleepless rides and again, it was another long trip for almost ten hours.  Saturdays or weekends for that matter are always in a relaxing mode for the town folks but fortunately there were people in the Tourism Office just beside the Kujaw Diveshop, perhaps due to forthcoming national elections.  We waited for our contact Archie (an LGU staff) who made arrangements for the day’s dives, he lives in a barangay outside the town.

Kujaw Depths

Our first descent was in Poblacion, it was yet high tide, but water movements shifting for the low tide was intense, carrying one back to the shallows, finning hard was necessary and it was just exhaustive!  The visibility wasn’t good enough, there had been rains in the past few days and it was fortunate that it was sunny! We found pipefish, Moorish idol, angels, triggerfish, snappers and unicorn fish.  There was these three snappers who were inseparable and keep by side near me, perhaps they were siblings and was wondering what kind of black fish I am.  🙂  And there was a herd of barracuda somewhat obscure from my point, which Angel tried to swim after, I thought it was trevally! We went around, found a patch of branching corals, and the white sand ripples underwater brought by the water movements.  After 45 minutes we ascend, our deepest at 18.2 meters.

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A field of branching corals obviously competing with one another

Our surface interval was spent on the boat, Jun and Ramil (our guides) have lot of stories about Cortes and its efforts in the preservation and protection of its marine environment. They were all praises for their Mayor (vehemently against mining), they recalled that dynamite fishing was a common practice even in neighboring towns. Now,  the surrounding  waters is teeming with fish life.  The fisher folks need to observe the spawning season, strictly no fishing is allowed during the period and they perfectly understood the reason.  The local government labored for the information and education campaign, respectively livelihood projects were initiated for the people.

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Giant clams abound in the area

Our second descent was in Uba Marine Sanctuary, the current was still moving as the water recede for the low tide. There were rock formations, some cavern and crevices.  There were variety of anthias, clown fish and herds of yellow breams.  There was patch of sea grasses, which I keep holding on as I went around, the waves current is pushing me back.  We went round and round in the shallows. After 63 minutes, I signaled for ascent as the tide movements was getting rough.

Kujaw Side-trips

After checking in our refuge, we make most of the remaining time in the afternoon.  We were aiming for the Laswitan Lagoon, the town has been known for this natural wonder. The gigantic waves from the Pacific whip up the rock formation along the coast, creating like Falls.  It was not in season anymore so what we got were clear pools trapped by rock formations.  The good thing was it was calm and so serene, it was not filled with people.   It was already late, but our guide still made us to Lubcon Falls. Just a bit off the highway near the boundary to next town, a small dirt road led to this small falls.  Its cold waters was refreshing enough after a long day.  It was almost dark and it was all to ourselves, our dip was quick but the sound of the gushing waters was a calming assurance of nature’s peace and tranquility, like a soothing balm for weary souls.

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Such a welcome from a purple/yellow tree worm!

Everything in Cortes is about simple living obviously not yet spoiled by technology advancement and so called development.

Unconsciously I mentioned Cortes as my latest destination in one of work chitchats and they were asking where? Sometimes even locals are surprised such unheard town can have wonderful marine environment.  I almost joked it is in Mexico!

NO, this obscure town is not struggling for visibility, but the sincerity of the local officials and the cooperation of its people have made this community compliant to sanitation, environmental preservation & protection issues that are required for coastal communities.  Cortes has been afforded numerous awards including the Para El Mar MPA Award as one of the most outstanding MPA in Mindanao (for Uba Marine Sanctuaty). This humble town is undoubtedly worthy for a visit, you wont go home empty -hearted!  🙂

Travel Notes:

  1. My route for this trip:
    To Cortes:         CdeO to Butuan by AC bus (10PM) – 4.5 hours
    Butuan to Tandag by ordinary bus – 5 hours
    Tandag to Cortes by multicab – 30 minutes
    From Cortes:     Cortes to Tandag by multicab
    Tandag to San Francisco (Agusan Sur) by AC van
    San Francisco to Butuan by AC bus
    Butuan to CdeO by AC bus
  2. Lodgings available in town are limited to Kamalig (home stay) and the guest house of Philippine Independent Church, advance bookings necessary.
  3. Dive bookings are handled by Kujaw Diveshop, a LGU operated diving facility housed just beside the Municipal Tourism Office. They have boat, complete diving gears, tanks and compressor for air refilling
  4. Other natural spots in town worth visiting are beaches, caves, Lubcon Falls,  and  Laswitan Lagoons/Falls in which the town is known for
  5. Single motors and habal-habal are available for hire for transport needs.
  6. Kujaw is a Surigaonon word for kuyaw (Visayan) which means dreadful, horrible, alarming, appalling or shocking but for Cortes in a positive way
  7. The Kujaw Team who assisted us in our trip and whom we are grateful were Archie, Jun, Ramil and Elpedio