Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track (pg 3)
Sogod Bay: Dive Paradise off the Beaten Track
Sunok Point & Limasawa Island
Adrian's Cove and Zack's Cove, the two main dive sites on Limasawa Island, along with Sunok Point on Panaon Island at the opposite side of the bay, are the areas with the highest possibility of spotting whale sharks mid-dive. The question for photographers is whether to set up wide-angle to await possible whale sharks arrival or concentrate on macro subjects and beat yourself up when whale sharks do make an appearance. I recommend wide-angle because these sites are perfect places for reefscapes, with huge soft and hard coral formations dotting the walls and reefs teeming with marine life. Even if whale sharks prove elusive, the underwater photographer will be more than busy framing perfect reefscape photos.
Photo Left: Crowded Coral Head. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/500s. Dyron 8mm Fisheye. Photo Right: Gigantic Soft Coral. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/1600s. Dyron 8mm Fisheye.
Padre Burgos Pier
A 10 minute drive from most dive resorts brings you to the small town of Padre Burgos, and right in the center of its shoreline sits the pier - a 150 meter protrusion out into the ocean. This is still a functioning pier with significant boat traffic during the day and fishing at night. The reason this pier deserves a section of its own is that after dusk the Padre Burgos Pier is arguably one of the best night dive sites around the Philippines... if not Southeast Asia. Fishing lines and divers do not mix well, so an agreement has been ironed out for divers to exclusively use the pier on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Anglers use the pier on the other days. The waters around the pier have a maximum depth of around 5 meters, so one can hang around for a very long time – essential because the amount a marine life seen here is absolutely staggering.
Padre Burgos Pier is a muck diving site and there is rubbish strewn around, which provides more hiding places for macro subjects. The entry for the pier is via a staircase down to the water on the left, which is quite rocky and slippery so great care must be taken.
Divers can safely descend once 1/3 of the way to the end of the pier. Upon descending, marine creatures immediately start to show themselves, from small octopi to strange flatworms to rare nudibranchs, with so much to discover and photograph that one feels impeded in exploring the rest of the dive site. As you slowly reach the end of the pier, large banded cleaner shrimp can be spotted on the bottom of the outermost pylons, and seahorses further up among the sea fans. About ten meters out from the outermost pylons is what I would term “Stargazer Town,” where up to three stargazers have been spotted on one dive. Other areas of the pier are full of pleasant surprises, and soon you are investigating anything that looks organic and out of place with hopes that it might be a new personal discovery.
There are certain things to take note of when diving this man-made wonderland. Remember that the locals do fish from the pier and fishing lines are all but invisible to the naked eye during night dives. Another important note is that the site is swarming with sizable lionfish who have grown accustomed to using dive lights to hunt their prey, so it’s likely that divers will be bumped a few times during the dive - a chilling experience for some. The lionfish are attracted to the area illuminated by your dive light and any collisions are purely accidental. That said, this is still one of my favorite night dive sites.
Pygmy Pretender. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/250s.
Snake Eel. Taken with 2 Sea & Sea YS110a at ISO 80. Manual mode at f8 and 1/320s. Dyron +7 Diopter.
Conservation Efforts In Sogod Bay
The degeneration of marine habitats around the world has been an issue for enviromentalists for decades. With a vast archipelago like the Philippines, the enforcement of marine laws (with the exception of internationally administered places like Tubbataha) has predominantly relied on local enlightenment and and self-restraint. Places like Sogod Bay are far away from central government oversight and the choice between preserving the bay’s marine richness or putting food on the table comes up often. The Anilao reefs benefit from increased protection because of the many vested interests who earn their livings from visiting scuba divers. Unfortunately, Sogod Bay doesn’t have this same benefit with just 4 active dive resorts.
The Marine Protected Area concept was introduced in 2002 when Coral Cay Conservation, a UK based conversation specialist, set up shop in front of Napantao Wall with the goal of creating an MPA to balance sustainable local fishing with protection of the reefs and fish. Destructive practices like coral harvesting and cyanide fishing are prohibited, but in return the village collects a fee from every diver that wishes to dive there. The success at Napantao persuaded other areas to set up MPAs of their own, and with the help of dive resorts in the area there are 11 MPAs in Sogod Bay. The most recent MPA is at Limasawa Island.
A Thorny Issue
Sogod Bay is not only faced with man-made threats to its underwater world, but also has to deal with a more stealthy menace from the sea itself: the crown-of-thorns starfish. Overfishing in the area has caused an explosion in the crown-of-thorns starfish population, who have less preditors to keep their coral-devouring numbers at bay. Killing them in the water only compounds the problem as their surival instinct allows them to spawn before death, meaning they have to be brought to the surface and killed on land. Efforts at controlling the crown of thorns starfish population are ongoing and vigourous, with more than ten thousand of them being “harvested” in 2012 alone. There is a new method of injecting the starfish that kills them before they can spawn, and this is starting to be used throughout the bay. The government is in support of the new erradication method and locals hope to receive more support in removing the crown-of-thorns starfish.
Eradicating The Thorny Menace
Sogod Bay - A Place I'd Rather Be
Sogod Bay divers have mixed feelings on whether the long journey is with the extra effort (compared to Anilao or Cebu). The beauty of Sogod Bay is that it offers the diver something very special - total serenity and pristine marine environments. Being off the main tourist track means minimal dive pressure, and chances are high that you will not see another dive boat during your time there. Of course, the only entertainment available is your ability to amuse yourself, but as a serious underwater photographer there are few places I'd rather be.
About the Author
Victor Tang is the founder of Wodepigu Water Pixel, an adventure dive company and photography consultancy with a nose for off the beaten track dive destinations. When not stranded on shore with other pursuits as a musician and TV producer, Victor is on the prowl around Southeast Asia searching for new pristine waters to explore. His sister will always tease him for taking an oath never to take a camera underwater again after his first try in Malapascua, but lately he carries a camera anywhere he goes.
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