Threshers Before Breakfast
Adventure charter in Malapascua
Feb. 5, 2006 01:00 PM
On a gentle tide (Edgar, the Captain knows the tides best) at North
Point you can drift over dense soft coral gardens filled with anemones,
clownfish, commensal shrimp, harlequin shrimp, white cowries (often
seen on the pale soft corals), butterfly fish, lionfish, ringed
pipefish, and juvenile harlequin sweetlips.
Exploring a ledge at
18 meters, the overhang was adorned in soft corals, thorny oysters,
sponges, and a large greyish, frogfish – a well known resident here.
There was also a black, giant frogfish, which dive instructors Tim and
Zoe have seen walking with its pectoral fins.
Gato Island is
like something from a Harry Potter movie. It’s a short, sharp, rocky
island rising from what seems like the middle of nowhere in the South
China Sea. It’s a 50-minute boat ride from Malapascua. Nesting seabirds
scoot around the island and a colony of flying foxes camps in
rainforest trees high on its cliffy shore. Kingfishers flit in and out
of its sea caves. Gato Island is constantly bathed in current, giving
life to its soft coral canyons and myraid of rare and unusual
nudibranchs. Nowhere have I see so many bizarre nudibranchs.
egg clusters were prolific, and there were pygmy seahores at 25 meters.
White-tip reef sharks live in the caves, and one cave leads right
through the centre of the island. As you leave the light at one end, it
becomes dark, and as you swim onward, the blue light of the other side
comes into view. The cave has several passageways and secret hidey
holes, adorned in thousands of lovely daisy corals, thorny oysters, and
There is a guard’s house on the sheltered side of Gato
Island, with a sign that reads “Sea Snake and Marine Life Sanctuary.”
There are many sea snakes, especially at the 3- to 5-meter depth, where
the juvenile sea snakes hang out. Some of my best sightings were a
large banded sea snake at 20 meters’ depth, a big coral moray, and a
flighty silver eel on the move. Gato Island is full of surprises and
every dive had something new to offer, such as porcelain crabs and
squadons of squid.
The Tapilon is believed to be a Japanese
shipwreck and is located at 29 meters off Tapilon Island, hence its
name. Although broken into three or four segments, the Tapilon is a
rich and rewarding dive with lots of black coral trees, immense schools
of small barracuda (great wide-angle scenery), and about 10 very lonely
An absolute highlight was diving with the colourful
mandarin fish at the Lighthouse dive site. The trick is to arrive
before dark and find a colony of mandarin fish, then wait and see what
happens. As it starts to get dark you can see the larger males chasing
the females. The pair rises up off the coral for a few seconds before
discharging their sperm and eggs into sea. It’s a magical scene matched
only by the amazing phosphorescence in the ocean at night.
Reef is an artificial reef created by Dik and the locals, including
Edgar, the boat captain. An exciting array of marine animals has made
home on all sorts of bits and pieces, which they’ve placed on the sandy
seafloor, at 12 meters. It’s fascinating to see how different critters
are using different types of artificial reef structures. Sea urchins
have colonised the roof and bonnets of the two jeepneys, squid are
laying eggs in the suspended bunches of tree branches, large healthy
sweetlips are hanging beneath the low bamboo structures, and an orange
frogfish lurks on the spherical wire structure.
Three fat and
healthy lionfish have made home in one of the jeepneys – they hang
about as if they own it. The other jeepney has a big resident
cuttlefish. On the sandy seafloor there are razor fish, shrimp gobies,
sole, sea biscuits (which look like mice), and on one of the large
tube-like structures, I saw a stunning little juvenile lionfish.
is one of the richest places I have ever dived, for tropical marine
life – and the Exotic Dive Resort, one of the best and most organized
land-based diving resorts.
The local filipina people are warm
and welcoming, and you can freely walk all over the island and visit
the local villages. At sites like Gato Island and North Point, the soft
coral gardens and critters need to be seen to be believed, and you’ll
see nudibranchs at Gato Island that you may never see again. Oh, and
there are the thresher sharks of Monad Shoal. The threshers alone make
the trip worthwhile!
More About Exotic Dive Resort
Exotic was the first dive shop and nitrox station on Malapascua Island, and it’s currently a one-stop diving center with its own accomodation, dive shop, restaurant/bar/ expresso, transfers, dive safari boat, and internet service. Boat dives cost USD $20 and nitrox dives cost USD $26.
Their PADI dive centre offers a complete range of dive courses, from junior open water to divemaster. The air and nitrox filling station operates on three Bauer compressors and a 4,000-liter air bank. Exotic operates four well-maintained traditional filipina outrigger dive boats, called Bangkas. The 24-meter long “Exotic 3” is one of the biggest and fastest outrigger dive boats in the Visayas. Ask about their three- and four-day diving safaris (USD $110/diver/day).
Exotic Dive Resort has beach frontage, a beach garden, and rooms range from standard rooms with fan/air-conditioning to deluxe air conditioned rooms. Standard rooms cost USD $20/night, and an air conditioned room USD $40/night (both mid season). Exotic’s in-house restaurant offers an “a la carte” menu, with both local flilipina and international cuisine. Their banana, mango, and pineapple shakes are amazing.
How to get there
Fly to Manilla, then Cebu, with Philippine Airlines. If you arrive late in the day, you will need to stay overnight in Cebu. In Cebu, you will be picked up by the Exotic Dive Centre, and transferred to Malapascua by mini bus and boat.
The transfer takes about three hours each way, but it is most enjoyable because you’ll see a lot of street/village life along the way. Once your there, it’s feet in the sand, lots of diving, and happy hour at Exotic’s bar.
What to take
Lots of film or digital diskspace, and batteries. Nicads can be charged overnight (Exotic has 24-hour power from its three generators). It’s a good idea to take anti-malarials, although this area is said to be free of malaria. Bottled water and softdrinks are readily available.