Stunning Sarbay!

The colorful Tinoto Reefs!

If you have dived in Sarangani Bay even just once, chances are you would plan to come back. And that exactly what happened last year, my first dives in 2016 was in Tinoto Reef and accordingly ended with the same spot at the close of the year.  It was not planned but things just fell respectively, as I was having an official trip in Davao, we seized the opportunity to be in Maasim for our last dives of the year.

So, after my work meeting in Davao I went straight to General Santos for a day break to loosen a bit before our dives. This trip was just perfect to calm me down from the brain wracking sessions in the past days.  My dive buddy caught me up early dawn next day, having few hours too to rest before we head for Maasim. We were expected at 830am in South Point Divers housed in Lemlunay Dive Resort.

The concrete artificial reef mounds become shelters to many critters

It took us an hour by van to the dive resort and DM Arthur was already waiting for us, and it turned out to be an exclusive dive for us, there were no other divers for the day! The resort was just a perfect haven to relax, so homey and not crowded.  Our DM turned us over to Nolan who was our dive guide also in last February dives.

Tinoto West

Such active fish life!

We went down from the steel staircase and geared up down before the waters, it was high tide and it’s more manageable kiting just before swimming down.  It was a shore dive and it felt good freshening up as we wade until we descend. And again, we joined our friends – anthias, angels wrasses, triggers, damsels – such active fish life. There was an abundance of bubble corals with glass shrimps and crab lurking in between. It was

Have you seen a yellow banana nudi branch?

interesting that critters live in commensal with each other. There were nudis too and the most striking was the yellow bananas, there were at least three we found – real big and fat!  There was a stone fish silently waiting in the corner for a prey, the clownfish playing hide & seek over the anemones. There were more corals, wide seafans and thick bunch of whips. I found a brownish sea cucumber and observing she was defecating, I guess its wastes become sand dissolve in sea water! We went round until we finished off in a sandy area with kelp forest alike passing those brownish sea grasses, sponges and soft corals.  We lingered for our safety stop and wade and had our ascent few meters from the stair case, back where we started off.  I still had 70 bars after 46 minutes with my deepest at 31.5 meters.

Tinoto East

We had a long surface interval just lounging at the poolside. We didn’t take lunch as we were thinking to find a nice café in the city.  The infinity was so relaxing, the blue waters both from the pool and sea below was calming enough. We had our second descent past 1:00pm, we went down again but this time we took a small speedboat that brought us a bit to the east side. We sank down unto mounds of concrete artificial reefs, it’s good to see them again. Such an awe watching them with marine life depending on them as shelter, some of which are almost covered with corals and have fossilized.  The active fish life engrossed me again as I wade along, watching them wiggling around me was truly

Clown fishes live in commensal with anemones

calming. There were variety of corals, hard and soft decorated with crinoids and hydroids adding colors of the scenery.  When we got to a sandy area, Angel pointed out something and it took me few moments to see the garden eels before us, I smiled watching them from afar.  We found nudis too, blue ribbon eel and banded sea snake.  It is seldom to find a ribbon eel and lingered to watch its wide mouth opening, perhaps for food? Then as we went shallower in the sandy area finishing off our safety stop, we found something brownish moving with the currents, it looks like a pair of dead leaves. I hastily took photos wondering what it was, when we surfaced later our dive guide Nolan informed us those were ghost pipe fish. So amazing, their appearance was a perfect camouflage!  We ascend after 51 minutes with my air still at 90 bars my deepest at 20.9 meters. We cruised back to the stairs of resort feeling glad of all our sightings!

Brownish sea grasses with soft corals

My two dives on that day was a perfect de-stressor for me, feeling light hearted as we packed our gears preparing to leave the resort. Lemlunay is an ideal get-away, so homey and never crowded.  Indeed, it is such a paradise and definitely worthy for another visit.  🙂

Glass Shrimp

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They are almost translucent, keen eyes are necessary to find them!

Also known as Crustaceans, Carid Shrimps, Commensal Shrimps,Bubble Anemone Shrimp, Philippine Shrimp and Anemone Shrimp.

This transparent critter can be found only on bubble coral, its glass-like body has purple antennae and purple line down body.  They feed on parasites, algae and plankton.
Often if a divers hand is near to a cleaner shrimps, they will hop on board and perform a manicure!

Carid shrimps occur worldwide in almost every habitat, from sea water to fresh water and can be found all over the reef.  They are generally respected by other creatures, often sharing  burrows and holes and working as housekeepers.  They will wave their antennae around to attract customers, they then proceed to clean outside and inside the creatures mouths, gills and more!

Indeed, one needs keen eyes to spot them!  🙂

Ghost Fish!

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!

Diving in SarBay!

In February we head for General Santos for a dive trip, it was a quick decision although there have been previous attempts, but deferred as I was thinking of the long land trip from Cagayan de Oro. My friends in our special project at work had been long recommending for the south, urging the richness of the bay. Of course, SarBay has always been known as the tuna country being one of the biggest domestic sources for yellow fin tunas both in the local and foreign markets. It goes without saying that its depths held rich marine life and well-preserved environment being hardly reached for water adventures.

The long trip to General Santos left me sleepless but my transpo connections went fluidly so I arrived earlier and have more than enough time for rest, and later explored the city by myself. The city has a diveshop I found in the net like three years ago but on a hunch I chose the one located at Tampuan Point in Maasim, the western town near the mouth of the bay. As it is, my dive buddy always afforded me to decide for the details of our dive trip, he has trusted my judgment for the necessary arrangements.

Probing Tampuan Point

The depths is replete with diverse marine life!

Angel caught up with me very early the next morning for the dives, too early he had almost four-hour nap to freshen up from the sleepless trip to the city. Rushing up in the morning, we arrived at Lemlunay Resort somewhat delayed from our promised time, but was grateful we were not yet late. They started to prepare for the gears when we caught them up at the shop. A bunch of male divers were there already, I guess they were bit surprised of a lady joining them. In a way, I tried my best not to let my presence an intrusion to them. 🙂

Our first descent was at the Kamanga Marine Sanctuary just a bit off the resort, but we still got into the boat (with no gangplank). It was high tide and the Tinoto Sandbar I was hoping to see was nowhere in sight. Sir Joel was our head DM and Nolan as our guide, the guys were a bunch. The instruction was to stay close the wall, currents can be strong which can pull one down and away to the deep blue. We drifted awhile passing whips, sea fans and soft corrals until the current got stronger. Our DM signaled to get away from the wall and seek refuge up the slope. We circled around up the wide sandy area until we sighted the turtle, everybody moved swiftly and the poor turtle scampered away! We found a herd of shrimpfish, angels, moorish idol, sand perchs, clownfish and variety of juveniles. We found cluster of concrete reef mounds scattered around the area as fish shelters. It was a different kind of model, indeed lot of tropical fish like chromis, damsels, sergeants and anthias hovering over and down the mounds. The turtle appeared again but swam quickly away seeing us! As we prepared for our ascent, a blue ribbon eel came into view as if some closure of our search! We ascend after 48 minutes, my deepest at 23.9 meters with my air still at 110 bars.

Reef mounds scattered in the marine park serve as marine life shelters

We had a treat of warm divers’ soup as we got up in the shop and spent our surface interval lounging near the infinity pool watching the blue horizons. 🙂

Our second descent was still at the sanctuary off the Tinoto Reef, I think the healthy environment of the depths is owed to the concretes domes installed in the area, the artificial reef greatly enhanced the marine life. Our DM after learning of our dive sites quest around the country was bit pressured to find us something interesting in our dives. We shun away from the currents and as we went around sighted nudis, shrimpfish again, chromis and damsels. Obviously, the diverse marine life of the reef is a clear proof being awarded as one of the most outstanding marine protected area of the Para El Mar MPA Awards. As we lingered on hoping to find a rare specie, I caught up with our DM inspecting a crevice on hard corals, he found two bulging eyes protruding. At first, I tried to figure out what it was, something strange. It was upset, it came out – an octopus! It was my first sighting of a cephalopod in its habitat – pure amazing! It didn’t fled away, but courageously stood its ground and before it left, shoot a cloud of black ink, then left nonchalantly in front of us! It was a show, an actual observation of the specie’s behavior. 🙂 After 51 minutes, we ended our dive still amazed of our last find. I went 26.9 meters as deepest, my air still at 100 bars.

Seeking refuge on the slope, the currents went tricky!

It was worth the trip, the probe was more than successful and without doubt a future schedule for dive trip in this corner of Mindanao would be in order. I am convince there are more amazing finds in the SarBay depths just waiting for curious souls! 🙂

Travel Notes:

  1. My route for this trip was:
    Cagayan de Oro to Davao – 12mn Rural Transit tourist bus (6 hours)

Davao to GenSan – 7:30am Yellow Bus Line tourist bus (3 hours)

  1. GenSan to Tampuan Point is 26 kilometers approximately 45 minutes travel by van
  2. The next town of Kiamba (Sarangani Province) has established a marine park, the LGU also offered diving in the marine sanctuary
  3. Again, the moon cycle should be considered when scheduling a dive trip, the current in the bay can be so tricky!
  4. Dive rate is considerably good, we paid only PhP 1,800.00/pax for two dives including gears.
  5. South Point Divers shop is housed at Lemlunay Resort, the owner of the resort is the head dive instructor, Mr. Paul Partridge whom we met during our surface interval.
  6. Lemlunay, which, in the B’laan and T’Boli tongues, roughly means “the good place one goes to in the afterlife”.