Random Travel Snaps: Spotted Eagle Ray

Photo courtesy of R.Rellosa

Somewhere near Blue Corner off the waters of Palau, a creature gracefully glided its way towards us.  It was my first encounter with rays and it was intoxicating.  Stupefied, I watched its flat disk-shape body with its soaring wings fly towards us.  It was identified as a Spotted Eagle Ray because it has white spots on its deep blue body.  Their long rounded snout, almost like a pig’s snout, distinguishes it from other rays.  The one encountered was quite big but it is said that a Spotted Eagle Ray can grow to nearly nine feet (3M) from wingtip to wingtip.

Rays are some the most fascinating creatures to soar through the world’s ocean and they are found worldwide in tropical waters, most commonly in shallow inshore waters, around reefs.  To come across them in Palau is quite common, thanks to the island formation and currents.  Made up of over 100 islands with low-lying oval islands ringed by barrier reefs, it is world renown for its marine bio-diversity.  Outside of the pelagic (such as sharks and rays), the water is teeming with barracuda, jacks and tuna.  Over 600 coral species smother the reefs overflowing with small fish.  Definitely a must for every diver.

As a new diver in 2007, my trip to Palau was a series of firsts – it was my first time to dive outside of the Philippines, to drift in strong currents, to use a reef hook, to see big fishes like sharks and rays…  And these firsts gave me the confidence underwater.  But truth be known, that Spotted Eagle Ray made my Palau dive experience impossible to forget.

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Unexpected Bonus

Mag-dive ka na, nandito ka na rin, you should dive, you’re already here”.  To be in Moalboal and not dive is indeed ridiculous. But because I was the only diver in the group, I didn’t plan to… until the divemaster convinced me, that is.

So we got up early the next day, sore from yesterday’s canyoning, and headed to this tiny island called Pescador.  Among the many impressive dive spots in Moalboal, Pescador is described to be their “jewel”.  My friends indulged and shared the cost of the banca (outrigger boat) with me.  They went snorkeling while I explored the world under… ok, that doesn’t sound right but you know what I mean.   😉

Located in the Tañon Straits, a narrow stretch of sea between the southern end of Cebu and Negros Oriental.  Considered “the most unique in the world” as it has the richest marine biodiversity in the coral triangle in the Philippines.

The island is essentially a wall dive made interesting with the overhangs, small caverns and holes in the reef wall.  It was an easy dive with just the right currents.  I was enjoying the drift, fascinated with all the marine life along the small caverns when divemaster taps me on the shoulder.

He pointed to my left and there, a short distance away, was a giant wall of fish, a silvery cloud of endless sardines against the blue backdrop of the deep, moving in one accord.  I was awestruck.  Never thought I’d ever get to see such a spectacle in our shores.

The first time I became aware of a sardine run was when a friend, years back,  showed me an awesome video filmed in South Africa.  Every year between the months of May and July, this famous shoal of sardines travel from their home in Agulhas banks and head north.  Predators follow this migration making it the main attraction for divers, rivaling the great migration in the African savannah.  This made it to my bucket list.

The tiny island off Moalboal has been host, for a few years now, to millions of sardines running the tropical waters but unlike the migration in South Africa; the sardines in our shores seemed to have made it its home (at least for now).  This wonderful phenomenon is seen all year round.  Predators seen in these side are mostly Threshers, White Tips and Whale Sharks.  Unfortunately, there were no predators in sight in this dive.  We were flying out the next day and couldn’t go below 40 ft.  Although not as spectacular as the South African video, it was an awesome experience nevertheless.

Observing from the surface, the snorkelers had their share of awesomeness from a different perspective.  They had to abort mid-stream though as the water got choppy, making it difficult to continue.  “Super bitin, too short” they said.

On our way back to the resort, the choppy waters were too big for our small boat, breaking an outrigger.

We were dropped off somewhere along White Beach.  Carrying our gears (except the tanks), walked the rest of the way back to the resort.  Awesome day.

Similan Diving

Clockwise:  Me all set to go, MV Koon, a friend about to do the giant stride.

I could hear someone enthusiastically banging his tank and I instantly knew there was something major up ahead.  I examined my surroundings and there it was, gracefully gliding through the great expanse of the sea, coming toward our direction.  Yes, this was what we came here for.  And suddenly the exhaustion vanished.  A sense of calm never fails to envelop me whenever I encounter this gentle giant gliding through, perhaps enjoying the attention too.

Strong currents hit us when we reached Ko Bon Pinnacle from the blue.  It pays to be fit because just reaching the Pinnacle is a work-out all its own.  This near vertical slope is where manta rays are frequently spotted playing.  There are a couple of cleaning stations on the reef and manta sightings are almost guaranteed.

This occurrence will continue until the next day, in different dive sites, mostly in the northern part of Similan.  It was awesome and is always a privilege being with them in their domain.

The Similan Islands was declared a national park in 1982 and is rated top ten among the world’s dive destinations.  The impressive boulder formation also continues below the surface with diverse landscapes of canyons, boulders, coral gardens, caves and walls.  It is also home to an amazing variety of marine life.

The southern coast consists of those smaller islands (described on previous posts) that are numbered from one through nine and is balanced by the larger northern islands of Ko Bon for its beautiful piece of landscape, Ko Tachai with her attractive sandy beach above and plateaus beneath with probably the most colorful coral gardens in the park.  Richelieu, the 3rd island of the south was also a highlight of our dive trip.

A relatively small dive site and a bit too crowded with divers all vying to see the huge extent of marine life in the area. Whale Sharks are usually sighted during the months of April and May but for some reason, they elude me once more.  And so my pursuit of that elusive butandings continues.

Here’s some underwater snapshots to take pleasure in:

Huge Batfish

Cuttlefish

Yellow fusilier

Harlequin Shrimp

Lionfish

Moray eel

Octopus

Puffer fish

Seahorse

Shrimps

This is either a squid or another octopus

Tomato Clownfish

Us, posing for the cam during a safety stop.

*  All photos courtesy of R. Formoso of Subaquatic Scuba.


Island No. 8

The tide was getting high and the swell stronger.  As we were wading to the shore, I got caught in one big swell and almost lost my camera to it.   😮  Whew!  Gotta get that underwater casing soon.

Climbing those boulders would have been easy if I had worn my aqua socks, but instead I wore slippers and it keeps slipping off my feet so I went barefoot.

Chris, our divemaster went barefoot — he seemed fine!

Thought it would be a walk in the park but the boulders were rough (at least to my delicate soles   :-)) and hot from the sun.  I felt like I was walking on hot coals.  Seriously.  The soles of my feet hurt for 2 days, I think I got a 1st degree burn from it.   😯   It was all worth it though.

The gorgeousness of the entire island made it seemed all right.

A word of caution:  it can get a bit unnerving once you reach the top especially if you have a fear of heights like moi!  I made sure I stayed out of the edge… unlike my two friends here:

I tell you, it really is best to stay away from the edge! 😛

It looked inviting from our dive boat, the wonderful granite rock formation intrigued us no end.  It was a no-brainer, we had to take time off from our dive and head to this bay called island No. 8, also known as Donald Duck Bay, The Boulders and Shoe Bay (Ao Guerk in Thai).

All describing this prominent large boulder that seemingly stands upside down unsteadily balancing on its tip.  It could resemble the cartoon character or a boot, depending on which angle you see it from.  Our angle resembles neither – so I call it “The Boulders”. Going back to our dive boat though, we caught a glimpse of Donald but the water was splashing so much, I dared not take out my camera or I’d surely lose it this time.   😕

It is said that the rocks were formed around 65 million years ago from hot magma and polished to its actual shape today by the weather and the sea.

The picturesque bay is where the National Park office is located and is a favorite anchorage of the live-aboards.  And why not?

Scenic Sunday

Living aboard MV Koon

Credits: Drama Queen Quickpage by Daniela Austen

Call us crazy but at the height of Bangkok’s uprising, we were on the plane to Phuket, via Singapore of course.  We were to embark on a 4 -day dive safari.

Located along the coastline of the Andaman Seas and the Indian Ocean, Koh Similan or the Similan Islands comprises of 9 granite island covered in tropical jungle and is best known for its wonders beneath its clear aquamarine waters.

The Similans is located about 100 kilometers northwest of Phuket International Airport.

It is more than an hour drive to Thap Lamu Port where we boarded the MV Koon, our home for the next 4 days.

Briefing before a dive with divemaster Chris

As it takes about 3.5 hours to get to the Similans, most dive trips are by liveaboard if one wants to fully explore the dive sites.  There are hydrofoils, however, being offered from Phuket for a 2-dive day trip.

We left Thap Lamu Port just before sundown and our journey started with a bang (literally).

Thais, being Buddhists, always light a few firecrackers, I suppose, to drive away bad spirits and be blessed with a safe journey.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

And blessed we were, with a beautiful sunset which will be a daily happening for the next 3 nights.

Sunrise from 2 different mornings

Not only were sunsets spectacular, the sunrises were dazzling too.

We also had a regular visitor that came to play!

MV Koon is operated by Flying FishDiving Evolution and fits 16 guests.  Aside from a couple of foreigners (1 American and the other Spanish), we practically had the boat to ourselves.

The cabins, albeit tiny were comfortable, making good use of space.  Toilets and showers, although shared, were clean and not too cramp.

I like it that the dining area was al fresco.  We spent most of our hours on board here. My only complaint was the food.

Fruits all day long! 😀

It was pretty good but I would have preferred more authentic Thai cuisine.  We (at least those of us who could take hot & spicy) almost always end up sharing the crew’s food.  Heehee!   😀

A typical day

Eat. Dive. Sleep.  That was pretty much what we did aboard the MV Koon.  It was a good life on board the MV Koon.  Our home while in the Andaman Seas.

Up next… exploring the beautiful Island # 8 also called Donald Duck Bay.  Stay tuned.

Useful Info:

Flying Fish Diving Evolution
Contact No.:  +66 7648 5595
Email:  info@flyingfishdiving.com
Website:  http://www.flyingfishdiving.com

The Center of the Center: Our VIP experience

Hi Nemo!

Let’s take a break from Alaska and allow me to introduce you to the center of the center of Marine Biodiversity – yes you read right.  It’s  a place with the greatest concentration of marine species in the Indo-Malay-Philippine Archipelago, Verde Island Passage (also known as VIP).  In 2006, the Philippines was declared to be in the center of marine biodiversity in the world and VIP as the “center of the center”.

Having heard this, it had been my desire (and a thrill when it finally happened) to explore the world where sea turtles, giant groupers, whale sharks, marine mammals as well as giant clams abound not to mention coral reef formations that hosts 60% of the world’s tropical fishes.

Situated between Luzon and Mindoro, the 1.14 hectares marine area is home to numerous businesses and has great potential for eco-tourism development.

Must be one of the oldest resort in Galera

Known for its beautiful beach and dive sites and a popular destination among local and foreign dive tourists.  Numerous resorts lining the coastline of Batangas Province threatens its underwater treasures from coastal infrastructure development, pollution and destructive fishing.

Fishing, being one of the major activities of coastal communities in the VIP, has been recently held at bay.  Soon after its Smithsonian declaration, President Arroyo declared it a marine sanctuary and a national protected area.   🙂

Located not too far from Puerto Galera, we rode a basnig from the Anilao Pier which took us to Sandbar Beach Club in Puerto Galera which became our base and home for the night.

Not exactly a dive resort, we had to gear up in the garden.

Our rooms.

The pool.

The dive boat ready for us on an early morning dive.

Some of the dive sites explored during our 2-day dive:

Verde Island Wall (Agapito Island)

By far the most well known and interesting site in Verde Island.  Also called Agapito Island from the rocks sticking out of the sea.  The wall descends almost vertically to unfathomable depths.  It boasts of a submerged mountain with a pinnacle that drops off to 100m or 330ft.  It is home to eels, nudibranchs, surgeon fishes, fusiliers, batfishes, jacks, giant gorgonian fans and garden of corals.

Giant gorgonian fan

Nudibranchs

Sabtang Wrecks

An old Vietnamese fishing boat sunk off the front of Sabtang beach sits upright in 18M on a sandy floor.

Traffic underwater.

A mooring line is attached to the bow of the wreck, which makes it easy to descent or do safety stops with.

Batfish and me

A resident school of bat friendly batfish and large surgeon fish make this a popular dive spot.  Surrounded by sand, the wreck has attracted many eels, damsels, and trumpets.

A Peacock Flounder

A sea of starfish

Moray Eel

The Canyon

A giant jack — we saw a school from the same dive

Arguably Galera’s best dive site, a high voltage drift dive through deep canyons alive with immense school of sweetlips, barracudas, groupers, snappers, trevalies, tunas and jacks.

Lion Fish

A relatively quick descent is recommended as one enters the water.  A challenge for those not use to strong currents at depth.  Rewarding nevertheless.

Coral Garden

A Puffer

Colorful and diverse, it brings together unique corals, fishes, occasional white tip sharks and plenty of micro marine life.

The gang!

Over too soon but it was a great weekend adventure.  Happy to be ticking this off my “must see” list.

Explore more worlds in My World. To know more about Verde Island, click here.

Credits:  Underwater photos by R. Formoso and A. Vidad.

Sandbar Boquete Beach Club
Boquete Island, Sto Niño,
Pueto Galera, Oriental Mindoro
Contact details:  09156518415

The Waiting Game

The-waiting-gameCredits-  Templates:  Katy Larson 365 template o3;  Papers:  Oscraps Moonlight papers ninascrap 2 and suec3.

Each day we’d set out to search for hammerheads.  They were the reason we spent 5 days in Layang Layang, off the coast of Sabah, Malaysia where hammerheads (schools of them) supposedly swim this part of the ocean from February to May.

Layang-2-resort

They were however seemingly elusive and hard to find.  Heard that the last sighting was almost 2 weeks prior to our arrival.  Have we caught the tail end of the season?  Perhaps.  Hammerhead sightings have been dwindling every year, according to our dive masters and they believe that it is because of 2 things, global warming and lack of conservation efforts.  The hammerheads like the cold and as the water temperature rises, they go deeper.  Another very serious issue is conservation; most of the sharks (hammerheads included) are targeted (read: killed) for their fins to use as ingredient for the popular Shark Fin’s soup, a delicacy that is served in many Chinese restaurants all over the world. 

shark's-fintaken at the KK airport – no wonder we can’t find ’em!!

This cruel “finning” is the cause for the declining population.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says 100 million sharks, skates and rays are killed every year.  The cruel finning refers to the practice of cutting off fins only and discarding the body.  When thrown back into the sea, they either bleed to death or drown as sharks need their fins to swim and they need to go forward to get oxygen.

A brief sighting was already a cause for celebration and a right to brag.  We saw a silhouette of ONE.  That didn’t count (at first); we were expecting schools in clear water, not a shadow of it.  In the end, it mattered that we at least saw ONE!  Others were completely deprived of a sighting.  4 days diving in Layang Layang is equal to 12 dives, mostly out in the blue.  Quite frustrating, if you ask me.

Layang-2nd-day-012

We waited patiently and were hopeful till the very end that maybe, just maybe our luck would change… it didn’t.  A school of Devil Rays highlights this trip with no pix to boast, I’m afraid.  So maybe, this too does not count, eh?

But basking in the nightly sunsets as glorious as these,

sunset-3

 

sunset-4

 

sunset-5

 

sunset

watching these dolphins, tons of them, swimming along our boat’s bow,

dolphin-leap

 

dolphins

and viewing these migratory birds finding refuge at a bird island sanctuary off the shores of Layang Layang… 

bird-4

 

bird1

 

bird3

these certainly made up for the trip sans the hammerheads.  Yes.. it certainly did!

This is a big part of my world, our world.  We’ve only got one, so let’s do our share in keeping it alive and healthy.  To explore more of our amazing world, hop on to That’s My World.