Simple yet too rich and beautiful, it is true that beauty is more than what is visible!
In October, we decided for a quick trip to Olango Island, if you fly over Cebu you can’t miss this mass of land widely surrounded with sea flats and reefs. Reef, that is obviously home for diverse marine life. Actually, the island is quietly known as migratory path of birds, there is season for these species covering the wide flats of the island! Apparently, our purpose to cruise for the island was for its depths more than the birds. It was a quick getaway and we lack sufficient time to linger for the southern part of the island.
The week has been overcast and wasn’t sunny enough, and for that weekend cruising to the island was not easy. Fortunately, our dive operator was kind enough to fetch us from Mactan port. But the big waves keep tossing the boat and getting on the vessel was more than tricky and challenging. I made it though, waited for exact timing and managed quick steps over the gangplank and run for the inner chamber of the vessel. Well, a diver should be fit enough to bring oneself on the boat, come high waves or gusty winds!
Surprises in the Depths
Surprisingly, the waterfront of the island was calm and its water suitable for the dives, there were dive boats anchored as we passed along for Mokie Dive Center. It was late already and after the preliminaries and briefing from DM Opong, we geared up for our first descent at Baring Wall which is just nearby. I guess our DM was too careful to bring along two more guides during our dive, just being safe for sure. We went down to a sandy slope with scattered sea grasses at about 4 meters until we came to a wall filled with soft corals, hydroids, whips and crinoids. As I look up, there were so much juveniles prying around, surrounding us as we swam. It was like that – so wide and blue, feeling weightless and floating surrounded by them. It was a grand sight and being in their midst felt surreal. The wall was literally covered with life, so vibrant and colorful. There were enormous sea fans and varied soft corals. The black triggers seemed a common sight in the area darting now and then before us. Then as we passed a crevice, a flood of fish came over us obviously intimidated by our presence, in a sense we are intruding their abode. We sighted also giant groupers, damsels, chromis and wrasses. We ended our dive after 44 minutes with my air still at 1200psi.
After an hour of surface interval at the diveshop, we prepared for our last descent at the house reef almost 3:00 in the afternoon already. The weather was bit kinder, it was still overcast though but the waters was warm enough for a relaxing dive. Our kind guide suggested for the house reef, we went shallower but we had lot of sightings more than I expected! 🙂
So our first stop was at the remnants of a wooden boat, it doesn’t look like a wreck anymore yet the fragments had an active fish life. Surprisingly, it has become an artificial shelter of many species. We found stonefish, stationery as always just waiting for prey, and juveniles silently wiggling endlessly. A herd of sweetlips came close, curiously watching me but maintaining its distance carefully. Anthias, damsels, chromis, wrasses, angels, banners, triggers, pilot fish, striped eels and lot more! Invertebrates also abound – at least five species of nudibranch, Christmas tree worms and shrimps. I was glad to find a moray eel, out from its lair on the sand. Another curious critter, it didn’t budge as I got nearer for a photo! There was a giant batfish like a pup, followed us all the way through until we had our safety stop. It was our company silently watching us, so amusing! And as we are nearing our safety stop, we had our big surprise as we saw a giant lilac crown jelly (chepea chepea) floating before us. So amazing, it was my first encounter after many years of diving, indeed there is always something new in every dive!
Lastly, during our safety stop preparing for ascent just below our boat, I found a dragonet on the sand! And opening its pectoral fins, went swimming or flying over a distance catching up with another one. Yes, a couple of dragonet near our boat, when this specie is hard to find in other places! 🙂 We ended our afternoon in the waters filled to the brim with our sightings. After 53 minutes, I still had 1100psi and we had our deepest at 23.9 meters.
Treasures to Explore
Olango is worth another visit to discover more of its riches in the southern part and set foot on its vast tidal flats. Its treasures lies both on the surface and its depths.
The island is a diverse coastal ecosystem consisting of extensive coralline sandflats, mangroves, seagrass beds, and offshore coral reefs. The island’s mangroves are most extensive in the Cebu province, and its offshore corals are home to scores of various marine species.
It is a wildlife sanctuary and is one of the seven best-known flyways in the world for migrating birds. The 920-hectare Sanctuary is a haven for migratory birds from Siberia, Northern China, and Japan. These birds flock to the island seeking refuge from the winter climate of other countries and it supports the largest concentration of migratory birds found so far in the Philippines. There are 97 species of birds in Olango, 48 of which are migratory species, while the rest are resident birds of the island. The birds use Olango as a major refueling station as well as a wintering ground. The birds stop by the island on their southward journey to Australia and New Zealand and on their journey back to their nesting grounds. (from wikipedia)
Next time I must visit Olango around the months of July to November just in time for winter in the Northern Hemisphere so I could catch glimpse of birds resting in the reef flats!
Have you been to Olango Island or Mactan, Cebu for that matter?