CORALREPUBLIC

 

Philippines, 2018

 

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Trip dates:

5-17 April 2018

Boat / resort:

Pura Vida Dauin and Ocean Vida Malapascua

Dive centre:

Sea Explorers

Photo-friendly?:

Yes, on both locations

Number of dives:

21 dives over 9 full days of diving

Diving conditions:

It was windy in Dauin and one day was overcast with a brief spell of rain. Most other days it was clear but the sea was not flat, neither too choppy. In Malapascua, we had similar conditions, with strong currents in the afternoon in some sites (Deep Rock). Visibility was average in Dauin, including in Apo Island dives, also average in Malapascua save at Monad Shoal, where it was quite good.

Comments:

Eighth time in the Philippines, one of our favourite destinations. Last time we were there was 4 years ago, right before the storm Yolanda went through wreaking total havoc over the Visayas. Now the government charges daily taxes to dive all our usual sites. Not sure if that applies to the whole Visayas, but we had to pay park fees both in Malapascua and Dauin. And we were told these payments must be made in cash, either Phps or Euros, but cash. It is not big money, but be advised if you go there. Also, new regulations limit the range of wooden boats (of any non-metallic hulled boat) to a few miles from the coast. As a result, diving Siquijor is no longer possible from Dauin, and any boat trips from Dauin must in any case stop by the coastguard a couple miles down the coast to have a permit signed every day. One day, the relevant authority took an hour to turn up while we waited on the boat. This only happened once and is nothing the dive centre can do anything about.

I had not been to Dauin for a good while and I must say I loved it. The quality of the diving is fantastic. The boats are great and the guides excellent. The hotel food and drink was reasonably priced and good. Sea Explorers offers three-tank trips at extra charge to Apo Island (this has not changed) but also now to Oslob, to dive with the whale sharks. There is now a huge business flourishing at this tiny locality of the southeast Cebu coast, many buses with day excursions releasing dozens of snorkelers to swim with the sharks while local fishermen feed them buckets of shrimp. We dived with them in 5 meters of water. A lot of people donít like this. They donít like the fact that sharks are being fed because they think this alters their behaviour and makes them dependent, or has an anti-natural impact on their migration patterns. There is also a complaint that they get harassed by divers and snorkelers. My view? There were about eight whale sharks of different ages around during our dive. They seemed fine to me. I have difficulty believing these animals feel harassed. I really think if that was the case, they would not come back day after day to be fed. Nobody knows really what impact this feeding will have on their migratory routes or their behaviour in general. I donít worry too much about these animals. The bubble of the coastal development, with the pollution and crowding that it entails, is more of a worry to me. There are small resorts cropping up everywhere. If this is not kept under control, the whole thing will not last.

As such, the experience of swimming with whale sharks, even in such ďartificialĒ conditions was really exciting and I enjoyed it very much indeed, and probably would do it again. These are impressive animals. Shark feeding does carry quite some risks when is done with other species, as it may cause accidents with swimmers that get bitten. This has been shown to happen in various parts of the world. But whale sharks are not at all dangerous. They seem to enjoy their shrimp treats quite a lot. If or when the whole thing goes out of hand, they will just leave, I think, and the only victims will be greedy developers.

Now, Malapascua, almost a second home to me. Last time we visited was a couple of months before Yolanda tore through and flattened the island, as I said earlier. I was a bit apprehensive about what I would find. The bottom line is, I think, the storm has prompted rebuilding investment, but it is unclear whether the benefits have gone to the people. There is a new dock at Maya, mainland Cebu, where you take the bangkas for the crossing to Malapascua. It is not quite finished yet, but the investment will facilitate things by making Maya accessible to bangkas even at low tide. They are also building a proper dock at the village in Malapascua, and I think villagers do appreciate this.

However, in terms of housing and sanitation, things have not improved at all. Most people lost their homes and of course had no insurance to cope with it. I saw lots of new B&Bs owned Ė I guessed by the names Ė by westerners. I wondered how many of these were built on the remains of local homes whose owners had to sell or lease the land because they could not afford rebuilding them. We were appalled to hear that much of the money that came from charities and spontaneous donations from overseas never reached families. Some must have been invested in restoring the dive business to operation as quickly as possible. The reasoning may have been that the quicker the business back on, the quicker employers would be able to pay salaries to the loads of people that live from this in the Island. Yet, it is not sure that locals shared this view. Many think they were mistreated and unfairly deprived of much needed funds to rebuild their homes. Those lucky enough had to resort to getting loans from family or friends to rebuild, and will be paying those back for a long time to come. We saw many changes in staffing around the various dive centres, including Sea Explorers. There were a lot of angry people, it seems. This was an awful thing to hear.

I would have expected that after the storm, the authorities would have taken the chance of improving water supply and waste treatment. These are crucial services in a small island. But it looked like many villagers still have to procure their water from common wells. We were told that just days after the storm the two main telecom companies had already rebuilt their towers. I canít help wonder how on earth private profit-seeking companies can make people think a phone is more important than clean water for their children.

Throughout all these conversations, we heard about the terror and hardship our friends went through. It was heartbreaking. But happily, nobody died or suffer major injuries, and the truth is, the community held strong and people supported each other in an admirable show of resilience. Hats off.

The dive sites were not affected too much by the storms, and the sharks were happily roaming about Monad Shoal as always. We were lucky to coincide with Howard and Michele Hall on a couple of dives, which was exciting. They are super nice, approachable people, and their video and imagery work is rightly famous the world over, so it was a real pleasure to meet them.

I ditched the wide angle and took only macro shots. I wanted to see the sharks with my own eyes this time, rather than through the viewfinder. I did the same with the whale sharks in Oslob, actually, and I donít regret it. Sometimes a photographer has to ditch the kit and enjoy observing the fascinating marine life in peace, without worrying about framing, f-stops or lighting. If you cannot do that, something is not quite right with you, at least that is what I think.

Anyway, it has taken me quite sometime to go through my pics and share them, I am growing quite lazy, but here they are. I hope you enjoy them. We are still working on a video, so keep coming back to this site from time to time!

Our thanks to our great friend divemaster Martin, as always. And best wishes to her little Sphia, who had her first birthday party while we were there. We love you all.

 

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