Philippines Diving Hot Spot: Moalboal
Philippines Diving Hot Spot: Moalboal
Exciting Photos & Best Dive Sites in one of the Philippines' first Hot Spots
By Victor Tang
The Visayas region of the Philippines has long been a mecca for scuba divers, with enthusiasts arriving from all over to savor the teeming underwater realm beneath its waters. The focal point of all this diving activity is squarely on the island of Cebu, since Mactan (just next door) has the only international airport and hub for all sea-lanes serving all the Visayas. Cebu Island attracted tourists because of this proximity. Moalboal was a sleepy fishing town with bountiful harvests until dive explorers from the western hemisphere discovered it in the 1970s – one of the first places on the island to be developed primarily for scuba diving.
Moalboal - On the Mega Wall
Moalboal faces the Tanon Strait, a deep channel that separates the Islands of Cebu and Negros. Its coastlines are characterized by sharply sloping drop offs, so the vast majority of dive sites in the Moalboal area are wall dives along the coastlines. With the exception of Pescador Island, the dive sites combine together to form one huge gigantic wall: the diver enters at different points to explore different sections of wall. Each section of the wall has its own distinct flavor, each with its own unique sightings. All the dive sites lie along a known whale sharks migratory route, so sightings of these gentle giants, though infrequent, have been recorded all year by various lucky divers.
Saavedra Fish Sanctuary
Situated right at the northern limits of this mega-wall, Saavedra Fish Sanctuary seems unremarkable at shallow depths – nothing more than a gentle sandy slope with sporadic outcrops of soft coral. After descending past the vertical drop-off at 22 meters, however, the diver is greeted with a vertical canopy of giant gorgonian fans that are the wide-angle photographer’s dream and nightmare at the same time, for these gorgonians will truly test the limits of your wide- angle lenses and strobe power.
As if that wasn’t a large-enough “problem,” these gorgonians host colonies of one of the holy grails of macro photographers: the skeleton shrimp. With the really huge and extremely small living together, this is a site that is definitely worth more than one dive to take advantage of the opportunities presented.
Gigantic Sea Fans. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/1000s. Dyron 8mm fisheye.
Pregnant Banded Pipefish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f18 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Lionfish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f11 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Picturesque White Beach, the lone sandy beach in Moalboal, is so exclusive that you need to pay an entry fee. But beyond the sand a wall of macro opportunities awaits. This site is one of the more fruitful areas for nudibranchs and crustaceans, with some truly strange macro subjects popping up when u least expect.
White Beach is home to a resident school of Razorfish that plies the shallow waters among the hard coral gardens, creating enjoyable safety stops as they sway among the coral in strange but wonderful formations. I had the suprise of spotting a lone Mandarin Fish popping up in broad daylight from among the hard coral at the start of dive, but alas it retreated before I could even react.
Orang-Utan Crab. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Tamron 60mm.
Photo left: Hypselodoris Tyroni. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR. Photo right: Lone Razorfish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f9 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Always keep an eye on the open blue water when diving here, for Tuble Point comes just after Pescador in the number of recorded whale shark sightings. Some unique coral formations dot the seascape here, with schools of yellowtail barracuda darting in and out of your field of vision. Turtles are regularly seen here resting on the wall or just gliding by.
This dive site also has many mature whip corals, with some supporting up to three whip gobies. The Xenon Crab can be spotted regularly here if one looks hard enough.
Pipefish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Photo left: : Soft Coral Habitat. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f13 and 1/250s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye. Photo right: Patient Jaws. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f4 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Sergeant Fish Eggs . Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron +7 and Subsee +10 Diopters.
This is the site I have dived the most in Moalboal, for this is the house reef of my partners Blue Abyss Dive Shop. This is the dive site where I first learned the dynamic nature of a reef and the surprises that the deep waters of the Tanon Strait can bring. Many different types of frogfish have visited the dive site over the course of my visits there, with occasional sightings of blue-ringed octopuses and the occasional pygmy seahorse hiding out in the tiniest of sea fans. In short, this is a truly good site for spotting macro subjects.
Night dives are a must in Moalboal, especially for divers who love to spot critters. If you dare turn off your dive torch for a moment you’ll see the reef dropoff glittering from the reflection of the critters’ eyes. There is a resident pair of mandarin fish just before the dropoff, though they tend to be very shy. It was on one of these mandarin fish hunts that I spotted the scene that I would never forget: a fairly large bobtail squid relaxing on the reef bed, preying on a prawn.
Feeding Bobtail Squid. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO080. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.
Good Morning Moalboal!. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.
Healthy House Reef. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f8 and 1/160s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.
Mandarin Fish. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f18 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
This dive site could arguably be one the best places to capture images of the flame fire shell, for three of them seem permanently anchored to the walls of a small cave just eight meters deep. Macro opportunities abound, with walls covered with large sea fans.
Some huge Scorpion Fish live at Tongo Point, and it is one of the more reliable places to spot pygmy seahorses. The shallows here are great for spotting critters especially if the dive is later in the day.
Photo left: Flame Fire Shell. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-110a at ISO80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.
Photo right: Laomenes Amboinensis. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Emperor Shrimp on Spanish Dancer. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Photo left: Pair of Whip Gobies. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f22 and 1/320s. Nikon 105mm VR.
Photo right: Predators of the Reef. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1 at ISO200. Manual mode at f11 and 1/320s. Tokina 10-17 Fisheye.
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