Snorkeling Wonders

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.

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.

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 🙂

Snorkeling 101: Whalesharks in Donsol!

Whale shark is one of my favorite specie, humongous but never harmful it is aptly called as the gentle giants. The chance of an encounter is too rare as they are deep dwellers unless you visit specific identified sites as their stations. Most importantly, the season of their occurrence must be considered. Donsol in Sorsogon is one, and it took me almost four years to push my plan, the desire was too great to ignore.

Snorkeling for me is so calming, floating on the waters and watching down the marine life vividly with my mask without holding my breath. No rushing, as I float up vertically or horizontally. Generally, I found snorkeling to be relaxing, no known pressure – just enjoy the water, the marine life, and the view!

Jump, Fin, Look Down!

After a day of wonderful dives in Legazpi, I was still in high spirits for another water adventure the next day. Angel joined me in this tryst again, the drive was smooth but we arrived past 7am already at the Tourism Center. It was fortunate, Pacific Blue referred me to a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) and I believe he was a good find.

It was already past 10am, when our boat left for the search and I wondered what took us long. We were joined with four foreign nationals – three gals and a guy – we were a bunch! 😛 I guess the Tourism Office joined us with good swimmers, as we signed up as diver & swimmer, so the long wait! We head for the open sea and indeed, there were many boats already when we got there. All boats roaming the area, some people floating on the waters. I was thinking if the whalesharks would ever appear with all those turbulence!

We keep roaming for over an hour and everybody got bored already, until our spotter signaled and our BIO motioned to prepare. The instruction was if he shouts Rock n Roll!, we must all jump to the water with the boat still moving! Fine, but my concern was, what if I get to the machine propeller as I swim! We all lined up sitting side-by-side at the bow preparing for the jump and adventure. Well, we had four jumps during the three-hour search!

The first sighting was ecstatic – at first I swam so fast when the BIO told us to look down, there it was – a humongous fish moving in grace. Directly over it about five meters, I swam and followed her until it disappeared. It was amazing! Everybody was thrilled.

The second one was real big, about 10 meters. Swam directly over her in whole stretch, it was another fining vigorously fast. It wasn’t long when it outdone my race, but I watch it again with pure admiration. The BIO called her “Kulot” due to its curly dorsal fin.

Next was a smaller one, at first I had her side view and saw her opening her wide mouth! Then swam with it again viewing it in full stretch.

The last butanding sighting was another big one, it appeared just fifteen minutes before the boat left the area. It swam fast when we caught glimpse of her, then swam quickly in opposite direction to see her in full, swimming with grace

Indeed, snorkeling with the butandings requires agility and endurance and some sort of reckless abandon. When I did my jumps, I forgot about safety and finned with all my strength to swim fast not knowing the exact direction! Finding the butanding and watching its splendor, I wanted to stop and just gaze in amazement and absorb its beauty. Just like what we did in Tubbataha. But it wasn’t like that, I need to fin more to accompany and synchronize its moves, so as not to lose the butanding quickly. The momentum evokes energy and strength for the rigors in swimming with the gentle giants. It was worth it, it was really worth it!

It was in March 1998 that Donsol became world-class tourist destination and now known as the “Whale Shark Capital of the World”. Interaction with the whale sharks is regulated by the local Department of Tourism (DOT) office. WWF guidelines are generally observed to protect the sharks. Rules include limiting the number of swimmers per boat to six, no scuba divers and staying further than three meters from the sharks.

Swimming with whale sharks, locally known as “Butanding”, was featured as the Best Animal Encounter in Asia by Time Magazine in 2004. Whale sharks can be seen between November and June, with presence peaking between February and May.

NB. Sorry my uw cam was totally useless, swimming too fast I can’t get a chance for a snap! The above whale sharks were  sighted in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental during our dive lessons in May 2007, courtesy of MADRI.