Apo Island: Point of Return

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Apo Island will always be a prime destination for diving!

After a wonderful hop to Siquijor, we cruised back to Dumaguete for retracing back what I have left behind five years ago. You know, there are few things you wanted to savor again after some time, those moments that kept lingering in your mind. The wait was over, smiling as I watch from afar the night lights at the city’s pier. The Saturday night festive mode gave us a warm welcome in the city.

If you are a diver and you travel to Dumageute City, chances are you are aiming for Apo Island in Dauin, one of the world’s best known community-organized marine sanctuaries.

First things First

After checking in and settled at Harold’s Mansion (Hibbard Avenue), we took a leisure walk finding our way to Rizal Boulevard, we can’t just put off for tomorrow our cravings! 🙂 Indeed, Sans Rival was overflowing with diners, we need to stay for awhile at the by-side to wait for a table. But our nut & dates dacquoise, choco cheesecake and concorde cake was too sweet and rich, and perhaps it was worth the wait! I guess I had a good night’s rest after the wonderful dives and sweets interlude at the boulevard. 🙂

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Choco cheesecake, utterly sweet!

We started early next morning for a mass, fitting to start our Sunday events – a thanksgiving and worship for the gift of nature from one island to another. How I waited for this home coming at Apo Island, the underwater scenery kept playing in my mind. Unlike in our travels in the past, it was our first time to have back-to back dives in two different locations in succession rolled in one trip!

Marine Paradise

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I will never get tired of turtles!  🙂

If there’s one individual to be grateful what Apo Island is now, it is Dr. Angel Alcala (of SU Marine Laboratory), his efforts paid off and the community’s participation is one great aspect that help greatly in the preservation and protection of its marine resources, emulated by other coastal communities in the country. Apo Island has been a renowned model in coastal resource management.

Our DMs picked us up promptly and we drove for about 45 minutes to Dauin, the short drive was a venue for “getting to know”. As usual, apart from names and addresses, the most common discussion is about dive sites explored. The Chinese couple was glad hearing about diving Siquijor, their next destination. They were just recently certified divers and were just ecstatic exploring new sites.

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Have you encountered garden eels?

Our first descent was in Chapel (because according to DM Richie, it’s near the chapel of the island), and as I expected, the rich diversity is imminent – field of healthy corals teeming with fish life. My favorite moray eel was peeking from her hole, perhaps unmindful as we passed by. We sighted variety of nudis, stonefish and when we got over a white sandy area, the garden eels at least ten of them, poking from their holes. I tugged Angel to get his attention but as we get closer, they all disappear! 🙂 So playful. The juveniles contently hovering the coral field, just like what we did. We lingered over the wide coral area – hopping, swimming, floating – feeling its vastness. The visibility was perfectly clear! We ascend after 44 minutes with my air still at 100 bars.

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Can you see the stone fish? 🙂

Our desire to step once more on the island’s shores was granted, the DMs announced that our boat shall docked near the sanctuary for lunch and the necessary surface interval! I was thinking of watching up close the granite rocks again near that small patch of white sands. But snorkeling in the shallow waters took my time away, it was a show while floating and watching in silence the rich marine life.

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A juvenile peacock lionfish decorated the reef!

Our last descent was just nearby at Katipanan towards south of the island, another richly decorated with diverse marine life. It is a steep slope but definitely with no currents during our dive, we hovered at first on a coral garden until we go deeper from the brink, our deepest was 21.5 meters. Apart from the tropical fish, we feasted with nudibranches and turtles! Again we lingered over a wide coral area obviously in perfect condition and corals just outdo each other in color and shape. We slowly ascend back to the flat sandy slope, still in oblivion I wanted to linger having more than enough air but our DM signaled for ascend. My bottom time was at 44 minutes with 110 bars of air.

So far, I explored only five sites in the island out of twelve, obviously the remaining seven are equally rich and diverse in marine life, a perfect reason to be back.

Sweet Nothings

Capping our wonderful dives from Siquijor to Apo Island was just proper, a kind of celebration for such gratifying moments in the depths. So, we had a lovely dinner in Casablanca (our favorite!) and later hop to next corner for coffee and pastries at Sans Rival. And we got home on foot exploring the calles despite the drizzle, perhaps to shed off our fullness and to catch the city by night mode in the streets.  How about that? 🙂 It was all glorious!

Apo Island – its enticement will make one promise for a return!

NB. At present, the island is home to over 650 documented species of fish and estimated to have over 400 species of corals. Most of the Philippines’ 450 species of coral can be found here, from tiny bubble corals to huge gorgonian sea fans and brain corals. Visitors and tourists pay a fee to enter Apo Island and to snorkel or dive in the marine sanctuary there. These fees are used to keep the sanctuary clean and in good condition.

In 2003, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium opened a Wild Reef exhibit based on Apo Island’s surrounding reef and marine sanctuary. In 2008, Sport Diver Magazine listed Apo Island as one of the top 100 diving spots in the world. (Credits to Wikipedia)

Snorkeling Wonders

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Sea turtles are a common sight in Apo Island!

Indeed, the Philippine waters for me is the best snorkeling arena. It holds never ending possibilities for water adventures. As an archipelago, it has long list of remarkable destination for snorkeling not to mention diving, from coast to coast and from one island to another. Just like diving I can do it whole year round without waiting for specific season, the waters just waiting to be explored. The first half of the year gave me opportunities to discover and rediscover marvelous realms allowing my body to float, relax and wonder in nature’s wild in the depths. And yes, the great depths will never exhaust its mystery, infinite as ever and it could only stir up one’s curiosity. My snorkeling expedition in the past months had fanned my increasing love and passion for the blue world.

Donsol for Whalesharks
Location: Donsol, Sorsogon

The quest for Donsol was finally realized in March, the long wait was compensated with wonderful sightings. It is however, an advance open water snorkeling – that’s how I described the rigidity of finding these gentle giants. It requires agility and speed, sharp eyes is also a must. I think the slow and inattentive would never see one, in a blink of an eye they were gone. Again, only the focus mind will experience the magic.

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The first whaleshark we encountered in Donsol was this big. Such adrenaline rush!

Donsol indeed is gifted by nature with rich waters that it maintained its breeding grounds for the largest fish. This once sleepy town suddenly become a flourishing destination and sought out by many, local or foreign.

Jellyfish Lagoon
Location: Bucas Grande Group, Surigao Norte

I went for a quick visit in Bucas Grande group in April to savor its homey environs and I was blessed to catch up the stingless jellyfish in Tojoman Lagoon. Although not yet in full season, their presence have warmed my heart, and added joy in my homecoming. I swam with them again silently, just floating side by side and watch them pulsating. I was wondering if ever they saw me, because they were never disturbed of my presence. My jelly friends were always there to welcome and swim with me. P1050180 Snorkeling in the emerald waters in the lagoon always highlighted my trip to the islands.

Apo Island
Location: Dauin, Negros Oriental

Perhaps, there is no other richer marine sanctuary I visited than Apo island, its shallow waters was teeming with marine life I can only find in the depths of other sites. We were lackadaisical in our dive plans in Dumaguete, we just trusted the diveshop so we left everything to them, our June dive trip was pure bliss! And it was a blessing again our dives were in Apo island, I remembered the rich encounters we had five years ago! So I had the opportunity to snorkel and explore its shores during our surface interval. It was much longer as we expected, our lunch break was more relishing after my wonderful sightings.

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The lovable sea turtle never cease to amaze me!

I got down from our dive boat, wade in the waters and swam in the sanctuary, allowing my body to float freely in the shallows.  It wasn’t long before I found many sea cucumbers scattered around in different species, size and color. Then beyond were two turtles, rummaging the corals around, eating moss and occasionally swam up for air. Such a beautiful sight! Perhaps I don’t look threatening, they were never disturbed of my presence as I watched them silently. I sighted banded sea snake also.  I can’t get enough of gliding through the waters and marveling at the corals, colorful fish and plants. There are over 650 species of fish and 400 different species of coral in the protected waters around Apo Island, which is why the island is such a popular dive spot – even included in the 100 best diving sites in the world.

Yes, it happened from north to south through the islands – in Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao! Have you gone to these sites? If you do, bring your mask & snorkel next time and discover how rich the waters right here in the Philippines arena!

NB.  Photo of whale shark in Donsol is courtesy of Angel 🙂

My Jack in School

School of Jacks

Diving for almost five years now, there has been lot of meeting up  with friends underwater – few astonishing, some endearing,  others surprising or mystifying but most of them so wonderful. The thrill of seeing these wondrous creatures has always been overwhelming, putting them in words is not enough, surely won’t give justice to describe how marvelous it’s always been.  Marine world completely blow me away, simply I fell in love with the underwater realm.

One of the species that I found magical and awe-inspiring is jack, a silvery fish belonging to the family of Barracudas, Tunas & Mackerels, Chubs, or Mullets.  Locally known as Talakitok or Trakito, the larger version is better known as Trevally.  As food fish, it’s superb and admittedly it’s one of my favorite. But I’m more interested of Jack out there in the wild, not on my dinner table. I better knew him in the deep, swimming coyly and gazing at me, at an arm’s length in his world.

Unity and harmony....

There are three remarkable spots so far where I had magical encounter with jacks – a large number of them or aptly described as in schoolApo Islandwith its great marine life and healthy ecosystem, was teeming with bigeye jacks in school.

Glassy eyes stare!

For sure, the local community’s effort in preserving and protecting the surrounding waters was not futile.  Lining up and swimming in unison in the blue before me – what a sight!

To survive in one-mindedness...

Right in our very own Mantigue Island in Camiguin, when I first dove at the sanctuary I never expected an encounter with jacks, no one mentioned it to me.  Awed, when silvery jacks appeared before me, again in unison swimming coyly, as if listening to the vibration of my own movements.

Jacks in Tubbataha Reefs

There is some kind of magic that this humble Trakito can bring!     Lastly, in the great Tubbataha Reefs, large school of jacks decorated a sandy slope after I got mesmerized with a whaleshark & reef sharks parade.  They simply appeared like a wall, those huge glassy eyes staring at you.  Even with current, they hung in mid-water with flawless grace.  Their unity in going to one direction, or how easily they shift in opposite direction in accord is mind-boggling, as if someone is in command.  The school moves with quiet order and control.

Such majesty in oneness...

There is a majesty and power in the movement of a unified mass, a kind of beauty and harmony that can only come from moving and thinking as one.  It is still a mystery to me, indeed how vast the marine life to unravel.  My jacks in school is just one of its wonders!

NB.  Photos courtesy of Angel, using Olympus Tough 8000 and PT 045 as casing

Finally, Apo Island!

Apo Island

Year ago, I went to Dumaguete for a planned dive at Apo Island but was bit perturbed when I was diverted to another sites in Dauin & Bacong – all in Negros Oriental.  I remembered calling up  Angel telling I dove in other sites though equally stunning but missed the famous Apo Island.  I promised myself to be back in Dumaguete for one reason: to dive at Apo Island hopefully soon with Angel!

After being disturbed with work schedules and activities I finally made it to leave CdO last flight on a Thursday night after a long day at work.  It was raining and flying to Cebu at night was something new to me, I usually leave early mornings. Arrived at my lodgings late already, but need to wake up early next morning for my early flight. I was glad I didn’t bump with anybody I knew at the airports!  🙂

Left early for my next flight the next morning, and we touched down Sibulan Airport as scheduled. Fortunately, I was met by our hostel’s transportation and so arrived in perfect shape at our lodgings. I still have enough time to freshen up as I wait for Angel and diveshop pick-up at 8:30am.  Promptly, the front desk called up informing that our dive transportation is waiting, went down informing them that Angel is due in few minutes from his Manila flight.

Finally, we set off for Malatapay station for the cruise to the island.  We passed along Valencia, Dauin, Bacong and finally Zamboanguita – I remembered my dives last year.   It took us about twenty minutes to cruise for our first descent at Coconut Point.   It’s only us who were booked at Scuba Ventures for the island, I learned later that other divers were scheduled at Dauin. It was a sunny morning, so the visibility was good.  The scene was more of pelagics – unicorns, trevally, jacks, groupers, wrasses & parrots. There were sweet lips, fusiliers, damsels, butterfly,

school of jacks

snappers. I think I caught sight of a ghost pipefish and trumpets!  We spotted too a pair of lizardfish, and a field of healthy colorful soft and hard corals – anemones, staghorns, lettuce and sea fans. I wanted to linger and absorb

sea turtle!

the vastness of the glorious display of marine life but we were drifting, I was in oblivion! It’s unspeakable, another evidence of a great work of the Great Creator!  We had a dose of jacks, in schools! We had the opportunity also for a close encounter with a turtle, I watch in awe as it swam gracefully.  We ascend after 53 minutes with 22.7 meters as our deepest.

Our boat anchored near the island station and resort, just right at island’s landmark, those big black granite boulders that looks like on top of each other and there’s one almost to fall off. It was a great scene – white sands, crystal waters, blue sunny skies!  We had our lunch break there, Angel and I shared our meal we bought from a

torquise waters, blue skies, white sands and granite boulders

carenderia in Dumaguete, we catch up with our stories but mostly mine, how I managed to squeeze skeds and how I fret few days back about an out of town meeting!  And when my leave was approved and the meeting was finally held in CdeO, I tried not to spill again any hint of excitement! 😛  We took off then from the boat and got a stroll around near the resort and granite boulders.

Our next descent was at Mamsa Point, again it was a drift dive.  I told our guide Sam, that we must not go beyond 23 meters.  True to its name there was lot of jacks, in schools again!  I wanted to go near but they swam away. We spotted stripe fish, a flounder, juvenile anthias, anemone fish, lizardfish, fusiliers, snappers and more.  There were soft and hard corals too, cabbage, staghorns, and table corals.  But surprisingly, I didn’t see any nudis, sea fans or gorgonians and other macros.  I was hoping to find a frogfish but wasn’t lucky.  We ascend after 54 minutes with 24.5 meters as our deepest, we went beyond our plan as we were chasing a huge school of jacks!  Somewhere in the mid of the dive I felt giddy – sure, it wasn’t narc, I was thinking clearly! 😛 I tried to control and slowed my moves so I could finish the second dive.

I tried to take a nap during the surface interval to relax a bit from my giddiness so I could make it for the last dive, I wanted to complete the plan because it would appear we were paying more for the two dives only.  So when

diving is always a joy...

Angel asked if we will do the third descent I nod solemnly (silently praying I’ll make it!) and declared we should to make most of our time.  Our last descent was at Kan-uran Point, I told our guide we must stay shallower and not long.  We drift around the reefs covered with a variety of colorful corals.  We spotted and followed a banded sea snake slithering around!  🙂  There were occasional damsels, juveniles scattering around, clown fish and anemone fish.  We ascend after 40 minutes at 15.6 meters as our deepest, it was a success I made it to finish our last dive but still I was feeling lightheaded when I got to the boat.  But it was such a marvelous experience to dive in one of most preserved marine and coastal resources in the country.

Apo Island – checked!  After a year of waiting I made it and able to share another great underwater experience with my friend and dive buddy Angel.  We had our first drift dives with no dive master but just a guide, we’re learning every descent we had.  But I guess I need to learn more on the dive computer, somewhere while underwater it kept blinking and I don’t know why!  😛

We cruised back to Malatapay and drove back to downtown Dumaguete with smiles. Finally, I met Ms. Percy when we got to Scuba Ventures. I learned that DUCOMI Pier is not available anymore for diving, it has been closed for repairs. I was aghast and felt sorry for the amazing underwater scenery at the pier, I realized it was a blessing in disguise that I dove last time there instead in Apo Island.  I remembered how I feasted in the rich biodiversity down there, now it has gone – what a misfortune!  After settling our bills, we hastily went up to freshen up and still discussing the day’s dive sightings.  More than that, we also chattered where to dine as our tradition every after dives.

After an hour later, we walked down the boulevard to search for a resto after we got to Sans Rival already closed…..