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The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
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August 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 39, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Other Philippines Dive Sites

more destinations for cool critters and great values

from the August, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the last decade, the Philippines has become a significant destination for divers because of nonstop flights from the West Coast, relatively inexpensive diving and accommodations, and its friendliness, not to mention its easily accessible, diverse and profuse marine life. Besides the Visayas, major Philippine dive areas are concentrated around Batangas (on the island of Luzon), Southern Leyte, Mindoro, Dauin and Palawan.

Dauin, a municipality on Negros Island, is home to Dumaguete, where subscriber D. Demming (Chagrin Falls, OH) has visited three years in a row. He says, ""The Atlantis runs a first class shorebased operation with excellent food. Tremendous muck diving, with macro dominating the pictures. Dozens of fish like ornate ghost pipefish and luminescent cuttlefish made each dive an experience." ( )

But Bonnie McKenna (Kingwood, TX), found the reefs "suffering from the pressure of too many divers. The corals were almost nonexistent, colorless and broken. Fish??? I counted exactly two sweet-lips on eight dives. I think that, due to commercial and subsistence fishing, the area is fished out. The dive guides from Amontillado Beach and Dive Resort "fished for their lunch," she observed. "They were happy to be dining on a sergeant."

Most Dumaguete dive operators offer day trips to world-renowned Apo Island. While I described the Spartan Apo Island Beach Resort as "Dive Boot Camp," subscriber John Woolley (Olympia, WA) recommends the nearby Liberty's Lodge, where, "you'll find an incredibly friendly staff, very knowledgeable divemasters, a yummy but limited menu, visitors from around the world who are really interesting, and a community that welcomes you to their small village."( )

There are other side trips out of Dumaguete, such as whale shark encounters at Oslob, on the island of Cebu. Some divers avoid these encounters because local boat operators feed the sharks to draw them nearer. Yet Demming reports, "I finished the trip on my off-gas day by swimming with five whale sharks at Oslob.(Feeding) may change their behavior, but having been to Holbox for whale sharks, this was better."

Donsol, at the south end of Luzon Island, is another popular whale shark site. Laura Todd (McKinleyville, CA) recommends Elysia Beach Resort, "with cool white rooms with French doors and new air conditioners, nice pool, shady hammocks and a pretty restaurant." ( )

Todd reports that the Donsol whale shark trips are all organized out of the same center. 'You watch an orientation video, then they will organize groups of six to 10 on small local boats with a guide and spotters. In two outings, we swam for long periods of time (maybe 10 minutes max) with at least four different animals. We would get back on the boat and catch up to the same shark, and I would estimate that I got three to four sustained contacts with each of the four animals. The visibility was poor and the first couple times I got in were chaotic, but the guide pointed me in the right direction." However, the Southern Luzon Inquirer reported on July 24 that due to rising sea temperatures and the stress of the many "interaction events" from December to May, there are currently only two juveniles in the Donsol area.

If snorkeling with hand-fed whale sharks seems a bit tame, you can dive with thresher sharks at Malapascua Island, off the northern end of Cebu. Stanley Zuk (New York, NY) went there in March 2012 and reported: "Exotic Island Dive Resort is very well run and clean, with good food, and great employees. The same goes for the dive operation, which is very professional, eager to please, and definitely the best on the island. Diving in Malapascua mainly caters to thresher shark encounters around the Monad Shoal underwater atoll, and each trip to see sharks begins at 5 a.m., because threshers appear early in the morning. I dove that spot nine times, and sharks were there on every dive except one. Their quantity varied from one to 12, and it was a very memorable experience. You must remember that by going to Malapascua Island, encountering the rare and timid thresher shark is the main purpose of your trip there, because the rest of the diving will not be as exciting, and it will lack rich fish life." ( )

Mindoro is home to Puerto Galera, where a string of dive resorts faces a harbor full of dive pangkas. Ray Villemarette (Vienna, VA), says, "El Galleon Resort is one of my favorite places to dive. It has many opportunities to experience the effects of island tides and covering large distances in a short period of time. It also has 'canyons,' where you can sit below the current and watch the sea life above be carried past you. The water clarity can be excellent. The hotel staff is excellent, and while not a five-star hotel, it is more than comfortable." ( )

In my Undercurrent review of Atlantis Puerto Galera in 2006, I advised, "Don't skip the day trip to Verde Island, 90 minutes away. Drifting along the drop off in 150-foot visibility, I felt that if Yosemite Park were a reef, it would look like this. Speckled puffers wove their way between enormous sea fans. A four-foot octopus and an eight-foot swimming sea snake added more drama. I gawked at thousands of batfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish, angels, surgeonfish, clown triggers and other beauties sashaying among the jumble of corals, sponges and tunicates. Two great dives!"

Anilao, Batangas, is a top macro destination. Jim Willoughby (Bend, OR) picked Eagle Point Resort there and found the dive staff to be some of the best he has ever seen. "All of our gear was taken care of from day one." One disappointment: "The resort advertised nitrox as being available but could not produce when we got there." And another: "Anilao is severely in need of a mooring system. The rate of coral destruction from the boat anchors is going to cause a significant decline in the coral quality quickly if something is not done soon. That being said, Anilao has some really great diving and I would go back." ( )

Peter's Dive Resort in Southern Leyte is a favorite of Carl Scott (Houston, TX), who says, "To all of the Caribbean divers, you really don't know what thriving reef systems are if you haven't been to this part of the world. This is true 'aquarium diving,' with the fish populations and diversity at a mind-boggling level, against a background of beautiful hard and soft corals, sea fans, and sponges. Macro life is also impressive, with good nudibranch populations, pygmy seahorses, pipefish, etc. Whale sharks are always present from December until early May (snorkeling only).However, I was not able to make the 30-minute trip to see them, because there were not the minimum four divers during my stay." ( )

But Curt Thompson (San Diego, CA) had a very different reaction after diving from the Atlantis Dive Resorts's liveaboard M/V Azores last January. I was very, very disappointed with the quality of the diving. Yes, the reef was relatively healthy in places, but the region is terribly overfished, and the reefs are covered by crown-of-thorns starfish. In fact, the crew allowed us to help collect them on one dive to get them off the reef (the highlight of the trip?) 'Southern Leyte' must be Tagalog for 'No Fish.'"

There are always variables, like weather, that can affect one's dive experience, but one thing seems clear -- the Philippines definitely merit further exploration.

-- Larry Clinton

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