Adoring Apo Island!

After a successful mission at Coral Cay Conservation, I was aching to be back in the waters for my quests. There was no definite plan though, but I need to get immersed again in a more relaxed environment in my own terms in my grand element. And what a better way to start my diving year with my dive buddy in one of the outstanding community managed marine protected area in the country.  It’s been more than three years since our last hop to Apo Island, after a relaxing sojourn from Siquijor, and again it was diving and snorkeling in the sanctuary. I could vividly remember the turtles silently grazing the sea grasses as I watched them while floating in the shallows, it was a lovely sight!

Linkia Laevegata!

We took the long route by bus from Cebu City to the southern tip of the province in Santander town taking the ferry from Liloan Port.  Arriving past 4am at the port, I succumbed to my drooping eyes for few minutes before we took the 4:45am first trip to Sibulan. While cruising, the waves tossed us fiercely and I begun to worry that the waters would be too rough for our dives. Approaching the Sibulan port was hard, and coming up to the port was even harder. Perfect timing was necessary, you need to run up the gangplank before another big wave tossed up the ferry. It was a good way to start the day for some adrenaline rush to be wide awake!

After a tsokolate-suman painit at the tiangge which we loved, we rushed to Harold’s Dive Center and felt relieved that our dives went as scheduled. To my surprise, we were a big pack for Apo Island that day, the Chinese and Koreans dominated the bunch. We were all in two full mini-buses!

Katipanan and Chapel

The waters was rough indeed slowing our cruise to the island yet the sight of wide blue seas lifted my spirit, I was hoping to see again the friendly turtles.  There were diving boats already when we got there and to my surprise, many snorkelers were scattered already in the waters. The waters got crowded and I was sad thinking of the turtles, sea kraits and juvenile fishes in the sanctuary, the pressures of the disturbance in their habitat could cause much damage. I was hoping it wasn’t on a daily basis.

This friendly turtle allowed us to get near, it wasn’t an intrusion!

We were joined with an Australian and Chinese, four divers in one DM was good enough. The larger bunch of Chinese divers were in different groups. After setting up our gears, I was glad our DM reminded us for the buddy check before jumping off, I admitted we overlook this necessary protocol often times.  The water was still choppy though it was sunny, but the cold waters felt good as we jumped in. As we waited for the other two newbie divers, we beg off for descent as the waves were surfing up and could waste my energy. Holding hands with my dive buddy, we immersed and quickly seek the depths from the rough surface. Yes, down there it was calm and safer as I expected.

Before I always mistook this as anemone, but no. It’s a Mushroom coral!

Katipanan as I vaguely remember was teeming with life, wide coral fields decorated with juveniles. Indeed, it is healthy as it was before but I didn’t see much fish life but large swarms of juveniles were visible. Surprisingly, my favorite garden eels came into view but not without Angel pointing it out to me. Their bodies half-way up poking from their holes on white sandy area, perhaps eyeing for food but as soon as we get nearer they went down slowly.  Few stood their grounds and I paused momentarily, I just love watching the eels! We found a turtle resting above the corals, not moving even we got near. The turtles in this island are generally friendly, perhaps they got used already to human visitors!  I was taking my time while floating weightlessly, just as it is, while it was choppy at the surface, beyond it was all serene and relaxing.  It was a surprise there were group of jacks that graced as we swam around for the coral fields, a banded sea snake appeared also wiggling among the corals which we promptly evade. 🙂 We had our safety stop over the corals until we got near under our dive boat. We had 21.5 meters as deepest with 42 minutes bottom time.

A common sight on healthy marine environment, juveniles over a colorful coral field!

We had light meals that served as our surface interval, it was bit windy though and staying on the boat felt cold. The waves getting fierce in the afternoon, the waters more choppy.

The boat moved to the Chapel for our last descent, finding refuge in another dive boat as the waves tossed us. Again, we waited for the two divers after we had the giant stride – the waves kept tossing us and I practically stayed near my buddy for safety.  It took forever waiting for them, but as soon as we got down there was silence and the current was just mild. We were on coral fields again, just flourishing beating each other! Different hard and soft corals abound the area, there were nudis and my favorite moray eel appeared for me too, it was a giant one. The gentle turtles again – well, it won’t be Apo island without the turtles!  We roamed the colorful coral fields just near our dive boat until we had our safety stop. We ascend still with 110 bars after 55 minutes bottom time.

Found some nudis at the Chapel

The two relaxing dives were just perfect, after the works during the expedition it was what I needed. No pressures, just purely at peace with my favorite critters wanting to connect with them in their natural habitat. The marine environment of Apo Island is healthy as of now but I am not sure if this can be maintained. I was bit troubled of the large swarm of snorkelers and even divers, such bulk of disturbance is surely detrimental for the marine life. I fervently hope the community shall be mindful of the risks and inevitable impacts in a better perspective.

Looking up for the sunlight, can you see the turtle?

We silently cruise back to the shores of Dauin, bearing the cold winds and salt water spraying us from the fierce waves. Again, the cruise took forever but felt relieved that the shores was very calm.  Angel and I flashed a wide smile as we talk about Casablanca and Sans Rival as we drove back into the city.

Dumaguete City, pure lovely in every way!

Apo Island: Point of Return

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. 🙂

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

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.

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.

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.

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)