Ghost Fish!

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To an ordinary eye, these  are just two dried leaves floating over the sand

Let me start my post for this year with amazing sea life, a special find in my last dive in 2016, a specie which never occurred  to me until we ascend and asked our DM what it was. It was just fortunate I took a snap descent enough for posting.

Have you encountered a ghost fish in any of your dives?

I think they got this name as they are sometimes suddenly found or seen in a particular place and they only stay a few days or weeks before they disappear mysterious like a ghost.
They are extremely seasonal and are mostly found only a few months of the year. Furthermore, in the current they move perfectly along with the moving arms of the feather star so that they are as good as invisible. A lot of reasons thus why they are so hard to find.

We swam up the sandy slope drifting with the current preparing for safety stop, when our DM pointed out these two brownish matter. Pausing for a moment watching intently and wondering what it was but suspecting it was something I should not ignore. Then hastily snapped two photos.

At once glance, it can never be suspected as fish. They barely moved but swayed and drifted with the afternoon current which was an intelligent camouflage as dried leaves. I suspect the big one is pregnant evidenced by its bulging mid-body probably the tummy.

The marine world is definitely filled with wonderful creatures, miraculously it appeared before us when barely ten months ago in our dives at the bay we never found any ghost pipe fish. There was much abundance you never know what you find in your next dive.  It was a perfect surprise for us!

Oslob: More than Whale Sharks!

The friendly domesticated whalesharks in the waters of Tan-awan in Oslob town have drawn so much curiosity from tourists, foreign and locals alike. In short, all people heading to this town in Southern Cebu are in search for the gentle giants. This once sleepy town is now bustling with travelers and obviously economic activity flourish, thanks to the biggest fish!

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Fishes and  crinoids take refuge in wide gorgonians!

This coastal town however, has a more than to offer in terms of marine life and that’s where we set out in July for a dive trip. We arrived aboard a bus from Cebu City filled with tourists, all of them aiming for the whalesharks. My blue diver heart cried  in protest for this unethical and disrespectful interaction with marine life. They are supposed to be in the wild swimming in the depths.  It was so pathetic…

 Island Treasure

If you have traveled down south of Cebu, you will never miss Sumilon Island along its coastal road in the southeastern tip of Oslob. It is a 24-hectare (59-acre) coral island off the coast of Bancogon. It is the first marine protected area in the Philippines; created as a marine sanctuary in 1974 under the guidance of the Silliman University Marine Reserve of Dumaguete City in the nearby province of Negros Oriental.

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Just watching electric blue anthias was calming enough!

We arrived early at Brumini Resort, earlier as expected by our DM and we still had enough time for coffee to perk us up after our sleepy bus ride. It was another exclusive dive for me and Angel, no other divers for the day since everyone was out for the whale sharks!  We set for the island a little past 8:00am, unfortunately the picturesque sandbar I was hoping to see was nowhere, it was high tide then.  Not far were trigger boats heading for the whale sharks point, not one or two but many!

Our first descent was in Landscape Coral, some sandy slope hosting a variety of tropical fishes such as anthias, groupers, goatfish, herd of bannerfish, butterfly fish, triggers and more. Surprisingly, a black tip shark appeared vaguely from my point! A herd of mackerel neatly piled themselves and paraded before us, such a sight! And there was cuttlefish and as I slowly came near hoping for photos, it swam backwards curiously watching me. 🙂  The golden and blue anthias wiggling over corals were so engaging, watching them silently was perfectly calming.  Then, as we float weightlessly, something unusual came floating towards me, I almost wanted to reach out to touch. It was a transparent specie appearing in shape of fish, floating and just drifting though the waters, it was a strange encounter!  We drifted until we got to a wide coral field, the current becoming intense when we got in a corner to the depths. We finned endlessly as we slowly ascend watching the coral field, holding hands to be sure not to be separated as we swam back for the boat nearby.

We asked our DM to have our surface interval down the waters over the sandbar, if it was low tide we could be walking on its white sandy surface or just lounge on its white beach. There were lot of people on the waters as well as in some kind of waiting shed in the rock cliff, for the guests I guess. We tried to gather the trash floating before us brought in by the rising tide, if only all the people out there could take one trash at a time, it will be free of all the eyesore in a flash.  If only…

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There could be many forms of life taking this wide gorgonian as their abode!

Our next descent was in the marine sanctuary, which was again perfectly rich with diverse marine life.  There was trumpetfish, silver jack, triggers – well, I was eyeing with the titan trigger making sure I won’t attract his attention! 🙂 The golden and lilac anthias were there again contently wiggling over the green corals. There were bivalves also, barrel sponges, cucumbers and colored anemones.  The giant sea fans in yellow and blue also decorated the area.  The banded sea snake slithered along perhaps looking for prey.  We passed crevices and overhangs curiously looking for macros. I found four nudis in just one location, perhaps they were a family.   I sighted boxfish, puffer fish, goatfish, banner fish, moorish idol, angels and damsels.  I sighted also a herd of sweetlips swimming coyly, so absorbing just watching them.  We got to a wide coral area for our safety stop curiously hopping around.  After 48 minutes, I still had 120 bars of air when we ascend.

Reflections

Getting into the depths is far better than feeding and swimming with the whale sharks on the water surface.  The depths of the island or Oslob for that matter, has much more to offer.  Apparently, Oslob is more than the whale sharks, its depths held much more interesting marine life!  As we rode our transpo going further south, I was reflecting how long can they sustain the poor butandings entertaining numerous people everyday. This practice has greatly disturbed the ecosystem.  I wish the people of Oslob reflected on this…

Will you interact with Oslob whale sharks this way?

Photography in Marine Environment

The marine world is in-arguably amazing and is filled of many wonderful specie, again and again a lot of us desired to take all the memories in photos.  It is understandable, you might not encounter this interesting animal next time and if you might, who knows when.  The present world is becoming photo obsessed and many including us divers are influenced with this social media trending.  However, we all have this important responsibility in preserving this beloved vast blue beyond. Photography under water if not judicious is undoubtedly a real threat to marine life.

Here are few do’s and dont’s while shooting that avant-garde photos in the blue beyond:

  1.  Do have good look around while resting on the bottom. Even its only sand, you might about to crush nudis or seahorse.
  2. Do capture behavior by knowing your subject, reading books and studying marine life.
  3. Do make sure your camera/housing is neutrally buoyant. There are plenty of float arms available in the market. This can help also if you accidentally drop your equipment.
  4. Do secure all dangling equipment, streamlining is the key as we have been taught from the start.
  5. Do use common sense when choosing subjects to shoot at night.
  6. Do place the welfare of plants and animals and the care of the environment over the need to get any shot
  7. Don’t even think of taking a camera underwater if you are a novice diver. Wait until you get the advance course and maybe 50+ dives! 🙂
  8. Don’t insist on taking pictures if the subject is inaccessible.
  9. Don’t add unnecessary stress to an animal who is already stressed. Be discerning in using flash, it can’t be denied that constant flash is taking toll on any subject.
  10. Don’t harass animals on night dives, avoid flashing directly your torch on them.
  11. Don’t feed the fish! This is very basic….
  12. Don’t force animals into behavior just to get a shot. Again, don’t touch any fish for that yawn effect. Such gesture is actually telling you to go away. So be sensitive!

In my diving novitiate years, I prefer having no camera at all because I can observe marine life better and I have other more important issues to attend to like the basics and protocols. Diving is simpler with less accessories. My first point-shoot camera came two years later when I felt I was ready for such task underwater. It’s true, nothing beats having photos of amazing finds underwater. But after it was flooded, I got my second point-shoot camera a year later with no rush, which I’m using until now. It was serving its purpose I guess, I got decent photos for my write-ups and I  am happy with it.  The point is, the welfare of the marine world is important than the fleeting desire to get photos. 🙂

The truth,  marine world would be perfectly thriving and safer without the photos!

NB.  Adapted from Asian Diver Mag, Colors of Asia Edition

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!