A Decade of Wonders and Wanders

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“The sea, once it cast its spell, holds one in the net of wonder forever.”
~Jacques Yves Cousteau~

Last year was an important milestone being in my tenth year of this intoxication, apparently, the lure of the marine world has never waned and after such time still the intoxication is very much alive. The allure is clearly stronger than ever.  And again, it always felt beautiful lifting me occasionally out of the realms of everyday into something otherworldly, getting into nature in the raw, somehow gaining a deeper sense of my own humanity in the process.  It is humbling and felt privileged to have explored in part the mysterious yet interesting marine world. This enriching experience had maintained my equilibrium.

Ten years wasn’t very long but the journey is long enough to realize that life isn’t what should be as planned by the Creator without experiencing the underwater realm. The planet is composed more than 70% water, unmistakably it must be understood deeply so that all forms of life shall survive. Getting into the water is the only means we humans will understand how fragile and important is our oceans for our subsistence.

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Just as it is, my dive trips were taken slow but persistently – one dive at a time so they say, learning from every descent and felt so blessed I sustained this madness. Last year, just in time for that anniversary I logged in my 200th dive! Although, exclusive in this country I have no regrets, being in the tropics I can dive whole year round without worrying about cold waters. And all these sites are slices of paradise without doubt, each of them have its own attractions and what a joy! Together with my buddy we searched the far corners around the islands, to our surprise there are lot of unknown sites in diving map that are at par with touristy ones if not more rich and astoundingly unspoiled – Bongao, Cortes, Maasim are just few of towns in Mindanao or Anini-y, Siquijor, Pandan in the Visayas – that have their own sanctuaries and have endeavoured marine protection awareness in their local communities. Or even watching the majestic Mt. Mayon over the horizon as you surface from a dive. And yes, always yearning to be back in this marine world heritage site in Sulu seas – the Tubbataha Reefs!

P1060799Diving, like any other sports requires good health and lean physique necessary enough if not to be agile for the rigors of dive trips. In other words I need to be conscious about choosing wellness which is more than about eating.  I just thought lugging extra pounds in my body is not what it take to be a scuba diver, being heavy is a no-no  for aquatic pursuits and that needs no explanation.  That’s victory for me in a way, I’m still using until now my dive gears I acquired after I got certified – after ten years it’s almost tattered but it’s more than proof that its purpose was maximized. It’s more than just economics, it’s an evidence of healthy lifestyle!  🙂

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Silence is something that has almost ceased to exist in this world, and diving become my escape, that deserted place where I could be silent and momentarily be in a different biosphere. You get down unto the depths and it’s absolutely quiet there apart from my own breathing, there is complete silence. Undoubtedly, the spirituality benefits of diving got me to the core, like that holistic consciousness of my existence, very few activities that could match this dimension. I admit and I mentioned this over and over again that diving has become my de-stressor after these years. I believe the Lord has led me to the restful waters that refreshes my soul.  The blue world has been and always be my inspiration in this journey. And I know I shall dwell in this perfect contentment for years to come!

A Nudibranch to Know

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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!

Love for the Blue!

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Pure lovely, right in Mantigue Island depths!

In my year-end dive, we discovered this reef as we went around in the island sanctuary, perfectly decorated with feather stars, whips, soft & hard corals. Very symbolic and a gentle reminder for our love of the ocean and marine world in general. Just needed keen eyes,  I was beaming when we spotted this corner!  🙂

We’re now into the swing of the new year putting in place each one’s agenda, may the force of love our motivation in our journey – our passions, dreams, and aspirations.

Indeed, the ocean is worth the love we could give. As Dr. Sylvia Earle puts it, ” No ocean, no life.  No blue, no green.  No ocean, no us.” Let’s keep the heart beating,  it’s time we return the love!

 

 

Electric Clams

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Hairy and bright, electric clams are just flashy!

The marine world is indeed filled with wonders, and this electric clam is just one of them.  Ctenoides Ales (scientific name) is a specie of saltwater clam, a marine bivalve mollusk in the family of Limidae. It is known by the names of electric flame scallop, disco scallop, electric clam and disco clam. The only bivalve known to have light displays, its soft tissues flashes light like a disco ball!

This clam normally situate itself on overhangs or crevices obviously for protection, secondly, the lighting effect is more visible in the dark.  Recently, we sighted the critter while diving in Cabilao Island, Bohol.  Our last encounter few years back was in Pescador Island, Moalboal.  So far, these are the sites where I found this rare flashy clams.

According to research, the explanation of this flashing light comes from reflection of the ambient light – the clam have a highly reflective tissue on the very outer edge of their mantle exposed and then hidden very quickly, so the change back and forth from the white reflective tissue to the red tissue creates the appearance of flashing.

 

Seeking Sipalay

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Colorful life in a different dimension!

Coming to the southern part of Negros Occidental has been in our agenda but its time-consuming trip via Cebu & Dumaguete kept me stalling the plan, it needed a much longer weekend and at least three days leave considering no-fly intervals after dives. Fortunately, direct flights to Bacolod from Cagayan de Oro (via Cebu Pacific) suddenly opened last summer, such advantage that could mean shorter travel time! Without second thought, I booked my flights over the third weekend of July for that long – awaited dive trip, I could hardly wait.  My dive buddy simply can’t resist not to join!

Once I landed in Bacolod, I had so much to discover and fill my cravings – especially that Bascon Café, Pendy’s & Tom Tom’s Cafe was just a stone’s throw from my hostel. My sweet palate succumbed to half-moons and napoleones – only the best at Pendy’s and get much filled with the generous eggs benedict at Bascon’s! J Such a treat!  The following morning I heard an early mass at the old San Sebastian Cathedral.

Artistic Diving

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Branching table corals this wide is common!

The town of Sipalay is more than 130 kilometers south of Bacolod, the aircon bus that I took crawled from town to town until we arrived after 6 hours, it was uneventful though the trip gave me a glimpse of the rural setting of the province.  The only production area I remembered was sugar cane fields but none for the staples.  I finally arrived at Punta Ballo after a trike ride, my host who waited & constantly sent me SMS while on the road, perfectly gave me a warm welcome. Artistic Diving Resort sat on a quiet spot in Campomanes Bay that has exclusive beach, most importantly it houses a 5-star PADI dive shop. I waited for that golden sunset but it didn’t show up, the skies were overcast that afternoon.

Angel caught up with me early the next morning giving him enough time for a quick nap to freshen up after the long ride from Bacolod, we were expected at 9am at the dive shop.

Eva’s Point and Toscana

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Giant clams in hiding!

We told DM Rogee that we are hoping to explore the wreck in the bay but it was raining in the past days so the viz wasn’t good enough. So, for our first descent he suggested for Eva’s Point which is located at the edge of Campomanes Bay. We geared up amid the drizzle hoping it won’t rain hard, with one Deutsch diver joining us.  The boat sailed shortly northward and dropped anchors twenty minutes later, the waves rocking us bit. We descend to a reef with scattered hard corals, a lobster hiding in a crevice greeted us

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Lacy nudi, Have you seen this before?

with its waving antlers, there were at least three I noticed. There were giant clams among the corals, nudis, wide table corals, crinoids, sea fans and sponges.  I lingered over soft corals with glass shrimps perhaps feeding on parasites, then a herd of shrimpfish with their synchronized swimming show.  There’s one nudi that caught my attention, a fat white bodice with black lacy pattern all over, it was something new to me. There were snappers, batfish, wrasse, triggerfish, trumpetfish, damsels, pipefish and more.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop, just going around the colorful coral field feeling its vastness.  Just as we passed over a sandy slope, our DM signaled for something floating, indeed it was the ghost pipefish appearing like brown dried leaf, it was alone. But a couple appeared also, I guess the area is a playground of the specie.  We lingered more and found Christmas tree worms and more clams and just before we surfaced sighted a crown of thorns.  It turned out that the visibility was good more than we expected.  I still had 100 bars when we ascend after 70 minutes!

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Turtles are simply adorable!

Our surface interval was unhurried and relaxing, spent accordingly for our late lunch and rest, and got back at the dive shop at 2pm.  We geared up once more aiming for Toscana which is located closer to the resort, another Deutsch diver joined us in the afternoon dive.

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Have you seen a ghost underwater?

It was just a short boat ride but the waters more rough, in our short briefing we join with DM Rogee while the Deutsch couple with the dive guide, we descend immediately after we rolled back unto a slope with vibrant corals.  We found a turtle resting on the corals, so friendly it didn’t swim away when we got near and so we had ample time just watching it and taking more photos!  There was these two jackfish which curiously followed us perhaps wondering what critters we are. J We found more clams, hydroids and sponges and variety of soft corals.  We went through a canal-like channel looking for critters but my attention was caught up making sure of a smooth passage never disturbing the spot. Nudis, sea cucumbers, anemones and sea whips also adorn the reef and it is as diverse with Eva’s Point.  We lingered over a wide coral area for our safety stop again absorbed with the colourful domain.  I still had 120 bars when we ascend after 54 minutes.

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An early Christmas greeting! 🙂

Both of the sites had remarkable coral reefs and diverse marine life, there are at least more than ten sites in Campomanes Bay excluding the two wrecks. Now, there’s very good reason to be back in Punta Ballo for more discoveries.  DM Rogee reminded us that the best time to visit for dives in the area is between November to May.

I guess not only for Punta Ballo, but Sipalay as a whole as we barely explored the city.  Indeed, coming for good reasons and waiting for the right time is a sound guiding principle in finding a destination. Yet, that golden sunset in Sugar Beach is tickling my curiosity.  I must be back in the city, it’s a promise!

Elusive Cowrie!

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Those are shells, cowrie shells!

We were coyly floating among the reef  near some crevice with soft corals, watching unmindful before us when suddenly our DM pointed something attached to the coral.  He poke carefully with his pointer and slowly it changes to white, and I was wondering what it was! It was our first encounter with such critter.

When we surface while still on the waters, I reminded the DM about it and told us it’s a cowrie shell. The black is part of the mollusk which slowly hides when disturb showing its white shell.  Such a wonder!

The shells of the egg cowries reach 12 cm in length. In the adult the mantle covers the entire shell and is black with raised yellow tubercles and white spots. The juvenile resembles a toxic species of nudibranch. Unusually the mantle is kept out most of the time, even during daylight. The egg cowries are only seen out at night, usually on soft corals. There is evidence that they are territorial and that they return to the same hiding place just before sunrise.

The egg cowrie feed on soft corals, and are often seen feeding on leather corals.

Diving in Mantigue Island!

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Away, deep down in this blue world…

After few weeks from our Mt. Hibok-Hibok climb I was back in Camiguin for a work trip, so the weekend was an opportune time for some break after that nerve-wracking week.  We agreed to rediscover and dive once more the islet off Camiguin coast, so Angel caught up with me in Mahinog very early on a Saturday.

Our cruise to Mantigue was challenged, the insurmountable waves tossed our small boat vehemently and I was thinking if we could just let the storm pass, but we are far from the shore already. The sun was brightly shining though, but I started to worry when the engine had trouble and stopped when we were still half way, what if? 😦  It was agonizing, the waves were fierce enough to sink us! Obviously, we made it to the shores of the island.

Black Forest

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Can you find the coral crabs?

We maneuvered a bit to the north side to take cover from the raging waves and so our DM decided to have our first descent at the Black Forest.  Another challenge was kiting up since our boat was too small to do it, the last and most practical was to do it on waters. It’s been long since I last did it, I hesitated at first but I remembered Mario (my mentor) saying it is the easiest way. So I went down first alone, I missed Mario at that moment because he always make sure someone will hold the gears for me.  My buddy was just watching me from the boat. 😦

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A star in the depths!

We went down to a sandy slope decorated with soft corals, it was surprising that the viz was reasonably good considering the waves we encountered, the sea as always is incredibly unpredictable.  So, we swam over variety of soft corals, hydroids, whips, crinoids with those fish juveniles wiggling over.  The turtles graced us, this time not just one but there were six!  Always, watching them gracefully swimming warms my heart. So with Angel, it is always his favorite specie but now he can calmly watch it swimming by without getting too excited, before he always ends up chasing the poor turtle! 🙂  We found also giant clams, coral crabs, sea cucumber, striped eel fish and a moray eel. We had a safety stop in the grassy sandy shallows and after 63 minutes ended in a shore ascent, swimming up to the white beach.

Marine Sanctuary

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This moray was too shy!

Our surface interval was spent for our late breakfast at Dive Special camp, and later to make most of our time, took a walk around the islet circumference discovering its other side.  The sun was brightly shining without any trace of a storm!  The waters was calm already, so we finally went in our second dive for the sanctuary which we originally aimed for those giant jacks!  We took a short boat ride until the side of the site with those floaters and geared up again in the waters. We descend right in the sanctuary, watching closely taking our time as we swam slowly but this time the viz gone dim and cloudy.  The variety of fishes have again surprised me, it was filled to the brim I must say.  There was a herd of giant batfish, school of midnight snappers, and most of all – the school of jackfish! They have grown in number and obviously in size, now real giants after four years we last saw them!  Again, we had a dose of turtles, five in all including a big one who swam from my back coyly as if wanting me to follow her, I watched it in awe.  There were banners, angelfish, chromis, damsels, triggers, fusiliers and those electric blue anthias darting, so colorful.  There was a scorpionfish too, banded pipefish and variety of giant clams.  As we move around, we encountered again the school of jacks, hovering as if not moving at all.  So peaceful and relaxing, how magnificent to just watch them!  It was a grand display of nature’s splendor.  We had a shore ascent again after having our safety stop in the grassy slope, the afternoon tide fiercely carrying us to the white sandy shore.  We had a total dive time of 57 minutes with our deepest at 20.4 meters.

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We had a dose of turtles!

Ending our two dives, we silently cruise back to the dive shop jetty in Mahinog with the waters perfectly calm. Have you been to Camiguin? If you can squeeze few hours, cruise to Mantigue and wander around, you don’t need to dive to relish its unspoiled charm. Its richness is in its simplicity and serenity!