Saturday, March 19, 2011

20 Feb 2011 - Dive 8 to 11 at Tuble, Pescardo and house reef

Dive 8 – Tuble Reef

Dive: 90
Duration: 49 mins
Avg Depth: 11.92m
Max Depth: 22m

The sky was relatively clear compared to the morning before. Water wasn’t too choppy and the visibility was quite decent. This should have been a beautiful dive along the wall of a healthy reef. But as it turns out, it ended up quite an awful dive for me and hence nothing much to report for this dive. For that matter, except for a short video clip of a moray, my camera turns up empty!

It started quite alright. I begins my descent by just a huge exhalation without even needing to vent air from my BCD (there wasn’t much air in the BCD to start with anyway). And I routinely add some air to maintain neutral buoyancy as I get deeper. So far so good. But strangely as I went back shallower, I seem to be having difficulty releasing the air from my BCD. Though the Dive Rite Transpac with Voyager wing was relatively new (2nd trip using it), I never have issues with it previously. I’ve tried releasing via the inflator hose and both dump valves, wiggling and squeezing in all manners I can but somehow I still seem quite buoyant with trapped air in the BCD. No, I didn’t accidently drop my weights or anything that makes me more buoyant than usual. Fortunately it wasn’t bad enough to get me floating up to the surface but it did irritate me enough. Well, it just feels weird and it wasn’t really enjoyable having to breathe with an emptier lung to stay down at shallower depth (2-3 metres with 50 bar left in the tank). Usually towards the end of our dive, we’ll stay around in the shallows near the boat. But it just wasn’t much fun for me and I decide to call it quits after a while. Hopefully the next dive will be better.

Dive 9 – Pescador Island

Dive: 91
Duration: 82 mins
Avg Depth: 6.52m
Max Depth: 15.5m

Oh yes, we’re heading back to find the sardine bait balls! The sea was still somewhat choppy but was certainly much brighter with the mid-afternoon sun. This time round, we’re heading straight for the sardines without any marathon finning. Before we jumped in, the DM briefed us that the sardines are just slightly further up from the boat. Woah, great news for us! Oh boy, I can’t wait to get into the water.

And the moment we descent to the top of the wall at around 5-7 metres depth, we saw all the sardines right ahead of us! The number of them is just mind boggling and beyond what I can accurately describe. Just settling down somewhere on the reef on top of the wall, we can see them practically everywhere around us. You can literally see a whole wall of them in front, to the sides and/or behind you most of the time. And if you lie down relatively flat and still against the reef, they can literally swamp over you, stretching almost to the top of the water and blocking the sun out. Imagine a "solar eclipse" by the sardines! As we move about on the reef, often we end up not being able to see each other as our vision are blocked by the sardines. Apparently these are the slightly smaller sardines that move in closer and over the wall in shallow waters to seek better protection from the predators. 

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (8m)

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

And in addition the already huge schools of smaller sardines over the wall, there’s also many bigger sardines away from the wall out in the blue. For a while, I did try going down deeper down the wall to try seeing where the ball of sardines end but without much success. Even when I was down at around 15 metres, there was a lot more of them down in the deeper abyss but because my buddy is up over the wall, I didn’t really want to venture down too much on my own. Similarly, I’ve also tried to see if I can venture out and penetrate through the sardine balls into the blue without much success either. There was just too many of them and the visibility was rather bad with lots of particulate in the water (which I suspect many of which were the excrements from the gazillion of sardines around me). Hence even at just perhaps 10m or so out from the wall, I could barely make out the wall when I turn around (and the sardines still stretch out as far as my eyes can see into the blue). I didn't want to get lost out in the blue and thus I quickly turn around and heads back to the wall. Interestingly on the way back up the wall, I saw a big opening in the wall with a number of divers sitting inside it. There’s some kind of a ledge at the front where it may be possible to rest your arms or legs on when sitted inside. Thus from outside, it looks like a bunch of people watching some performances from the theatre box office. Unfortunately I didn’t have my tickets (the hole was already full) and I had to settle back up the wall in the circles seat. :p

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

School of Goldstripe Sardine (Sardinella gibbosa) at Pescardo Island (6m)

So essentially, we spend the whole dive watching in awe at the huge number of sardines in constantly changing formations. There were some tunas hunting them in the blue. And over the reef, there’s also some barracudas hunting them near the water surface. Towards the end of the dive, the current starts picking up. Me and RL was still staying around as we saw some other divers (which I realised later that it was from another boat!) still around until I check the time and realised we’ve over shot the maximum of 70 minutes given by the DM. There’s some problem finding our boat as the view is blocked by all the sardines and we surfaced up at the wrong boat. Phew. And down we go again and fin hard against the current which is starting to make it quite strenuous to fin against. I ended up almost sucking my tank dry with all that extra work but this dive was definitely worth all the effort. This was just such an awesome dive!

Dive 10 – Blue Abyss House Reef

Dive: 92
Duration: 55 mins
Avg Depth: 11.24m
Max Depth: 16.1m

There weren’t much people on this 4pm house reef dive. GT had her grand finale and finished her last dive with the sardines while RL decide to make use of Blue Abyss WIFI to get some work done. Most of the rest probably have enough of the house reef to do another shore dive so it’s just me and VT, each with our DM. How nice is that!

The boss, KG, had earlier spotted 2 leaf scorpion fish in the morning and decides to return with his video camera for some shooting. VT and KG went ahead first for the dive while I waited for our DM, G. When he’s finally ready, we head straight into the water and make a dash towards the northern side of the wall. After some finning, we finally saw them in view. Looks like they’ve found a white warty frogfish and is doing some shooting there. After we arrived, VT and KG then continue further up north while we do our shooting. Unfortunately the froggie wasn’t quite cooperating and was always facing into the coral in the opposite direction. After some time, G signals to move on.

And again some more hard finning, we saw BT and KG ahead again. Awesome! Looks like KG managed to relocate the leaf scorpion fish that he has found earlier that morning! There are two of them, one white and another black. I’ve saw the white and pink variation before but it was my first time seeing one in black variation. This was just great. Just around this huge rock and coral, there’s two leaf scorpion fish on two sides of the rock, and a rather cooperative common lion fish beside the rock. Just about nice for each of us to have our turns to shoot/video the creatures. Great! :)

Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)

Leaf Scorpionfish (Taenianotus triacanthus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)

Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)
When I’m done, G and I heads back towards Blue Abyss while VT and KG continues with the shooting. It was a long way back and I was desperately trying to stay up with G. Phew, we’re both using jet fins but he was just so much faster. And suddenly at one point, he stops and fins downward. Oh boy, he’s stopping by at the earlier uncooperative frogfish again. It still wasn’t cooperating so I’ve just quickly grab one or two shots as a bonus as I didn’t actually expect to see the froggie again. After the dive, G told me I can try to look for it again in my night dive and there’s a table coral to the right and some other stuffs to its left. Phew. I didn’t even remember the froggie position in the day so I doubt I can recognize the spot for the night dive. I guess that’s why he’s the DM and I’m the leisure diver. Really need to brush up more on my navigation and recognition of the reef structures should I ever want to try being a DM in the future. :p

Warty Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m)

Dive 11 – Blue Abyss House Reef (Night dive)

Dive: 93
Duration: 56 mins
Avg Depth: 10.81m
Max Depth: 15.9m

It was our 2nd night dive and this time round, it was just I, RL, VT and NE going for the dive. Without our eagle eyed DM, we spotted slightly lesser critters than the day before but it was still a wonderful dive with plenty to see. Like the night before, we started the dive heading towards the northern side of the wall.

VT spotted a number of moray eels in this dive. Looking back, I realised we didn’t really see much moray around in this trip so far. Besides the morays, we also saw quite a number of various crabs, shrimps, prawns and some other critters which I couldn't identified. At one point I saw some “tentacles” moving from under some crevices and was getting excited, thinking I found an octopus or something. But what emerged was a brittle star. It was my first time seeing one of these interesting creatures. All along, my impression of sea stars is very slow and hardly mobile creatures but with its very long arms, this brittle star is literally “running” along the reef. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite prepared for its sudden movement and it quickly ran off and disappears before I remember to grab a video of it.

Anne's Chromodoris (Chromodoris annae) at Blue Abyss House Reef (14m) during night dive

Hydroid Decorator Crab (Hyastenus sp.) at Blue Abyss House Reef (13m) during night dive

Hermit Crab at Blue Abyss House Reef (10m) during night dive

A gentle current started picking up a little halfway through the dive but it didn’t really bother us too much. On the contrary, the growling stomach is urging us to head back to dry land for our dinner.

20 Feb 2011 - A 2nd chance with gazillion of sardines

Good morning! Again I'm having the Mexican vegetable omelette for breakfast for two days in a row. The omelette was awesome and my favourite among the breakfast items. A few others swear by their mixed fruit yogurt which they had every morning for additional fibre. I guess it was pretty good too. The yogurt was something which I’ve wanted to try for breakfast but never did for the entire trip. Guess I still prefer a good hearty breakfast to kick start my day. 

Mexican vegetable omelette and Mixed fruit yogurt at The Last Filling Station (Photo courtesy of GT)

The sky still looks pretty cloudy and the weather here seems change quite abruptly. On a few occasion, the rain seems to be coming in fast (and hard at times). And often before we knew it, the rain is gone. I remember on one shore dive where it was relatively bright and sunny before we went into the water. The sky still looks pretty clear when we exit the water but when we got back to the dive centre, I noticed that the resting areas were wet and the crew have shifted our dry bags to a sheltered area.

Panoramic view of the shore from the upper deck at Blue Abyss
Timing for the dive plan is pretty much the same each day and we're going back to Pescardo again in the afternoon for another chance with the sardines! The crew have decided to do Pescardo in the afternoon as they find the sea there to be not as rough the past few afternoons. When we return from our first boat dive, we also saw the KG (the boss of Blue Abyss) coming up with another diver from the house reef. Apparently they have spotted a black leaf scorpion fish and he'll be heading back in the afternoon with his huge video camera.

It's almost lunch hour again by the time after we got back from the first boat dive and suddenly, the long interval between the 2 boat dives doesn't seems so long after all. We'll reach the dive centre earlier in the morning to start rigging up the gear and got onto the dive boat around 8.30 in the morning. It's usually around 9am by the time we hit the waters and surfacing about an hour later. Thus it's easily 10 plus in the morning when we got back to the dive centre. It was quite comforting to know that we can leave our dive gear on the boat in between the two boat dives and just bring our used tanks up to the dive centre. By the time we’ve changed and walked back to our resort a short distance away, it’s already close to 11am. Just about nice to place order for our lunch. We did all our lunch at The Last Filling Station and leave the food exploration for the night. I had the Pesto Tomato spaghetti for lunch which I thought was pretty decent with generous amount of pesto. However I realised later it's not such a good idea after all to have pasta with strong taste as I literally tasted pesto throughout my next dive. Fortunately I didn't end up feeding the sardines with my puke. Phew. But the sardine ball dive was truly an awesome experience for me! What a dive for GT to wrap up her diving and chill for the remaining of the trip. During the surface interval after the sardines dive, a street vendor came by the dive centre to sell some fruits and guess what VT bought for us? A Philippine durian! Never quite expect to see and taste durians here in Philippines on my dive trip. I guess I still prefer the usual D24 durians that I'm used to but this isn’t too bad either. Needless to say, all the other Caucasians hide their disgusted look and quickly move out of the way of this fragrant fruit. But of course to those who hate it, it’ll come across as having a strong ammonia pungent smell. 

Pescardo Island from Blue Abyss Dive Shop

Heading into the sardines (Photo courtesy of RL)

Shooting the sardines (Photo courtesy of GT)
Strangely enough, there aren’t much other divers going for the 4pm house reef dive. Maybe they're already contended with the sardine balls! Haha. So essentially within our group, it's just me and VT who are doing this dive. Since the boss himself is heading back to video the black leaf scorpian fish he've spotted earlier, I'm definitely not going to skip this dive! Thereafter, we did one more night dive. Sadly our DM is not joining us, saying the water's too cold for him. While we spot slightly lesser creatures today, it's still a wonderful dive and I just love night dives. :)

Some of the rest have already had dinner or has called it a day by the time we got back to our resort around 8pm+. And it's just the four of us night divers plus GT (who had some horrid watery mushroom soup at our resort restaurant) who again venture over to the noisy stretch for some food hunting. After deciding that we’ll be having some Japanese food, VT brought us to a small Japanese restaurant by the corner. Oh ok. Perhaps it was an overstatement to say it was a restaurant but rather in the night, it look much more like an extension to the kitchen of a local home. Yes, where we sit, I can see the chair and telly (and the bed maybe?) of their room just barely a couple of metres away. Some of us was thinking if it was a mistake stepping inside and was hesitating on what to order. It doesn’t help to see that it looks like a totally local setup (Pinoy style Japanese food?) That uncertainty lasted for a while until a Japanese man who hastily emerged from outside the restaurant. I've heard from VT that he is usually at the Chilli Bar when not at the restaurant. Some of them tried the tuna sashimi which VT particularly adores for its freshness. Some of us shared some ramen, soba and egg rolls. I didn't try the other meat dish so I can't comment but for those that I had tried, only the egg rolls tasted ok. I guess perhaps the chef have migrated over to Philippines for a long time and have adapted to the local taste. The ramen was done using some yellow noodles and the whole bowl looks (and tasted) like our mee soto back home. The soba was even weirder with chilli flakes and strong ginger taste in the sauce, making the dish somewhat spicy. Ok. No more Japanese food for me here at Moalboal. :p

Outside the Japanese restaurant (Photo courtesy of GT)

Monday, March 14, 2011

19 Feb 2011 - Dive 4 to 7 at Pescardo island, Talisay and house reef

Dive 4 – Pescardo Island

Dive: 86
Duration: 51 mins
Avg Depth: 11.76m
Max Depth: 29m

Finally we’re heading to Pescardo Island to seek out the sardines! Blue Abyss is among the nearest resort to the island and the ride out typically takes about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the sea state doesn’t looks all that great with 1-2 metre waves and numerous white caps on our way to the island.

Soon we reached the island after braving the choppy sea. Another group Caucasians divers in our boat drop in first into the choppy sea and start their dive. Our DM opts instead to have us starts our dives in the northwest side of the island where he brought us to a big hole on the wall called the “Cathedral”. Essentially you can go into the opening at around 15 metres and slowly descend through the column until around 25-30 metres where you can swim out through 2 large “windows”. The feeling of floating weightless inside the chamber looking out the windows was just so serene and peaceful that it quickly puts all the adrenaline rush from the earlier choppy sea away.

After emerging from the cathedral, we head clockwise around the island with the wall on our right. It was another marathon finning like what we did at Sipadan Island. All the time I was looking out to the blues, to the top and bottom, anticipating my first encounter with the sardine bait balls. I’ve yet to see one before and don’t exactly know how it’s going to look like. At times, I saw schools of small fishes swimming by and I thought this is it? These are the sardines? But the group continues moving on without stopping. And after a long anticipation, I saw a whole patch of darkness ahead of me. YES! It is the sardines! I simply could not believe my eyes, seeing the huge swamp of them practically everywhere in all direction both laterally and vertically. Woohooo! I finally saw for myself what others meant by being surrounded by gazillion of sardines! This is definitely a place for wide angles and fisheyes. I was literally just watching in awe at the sardines, not know what or how to shoot.

Unfortunately we’re a long way off from the boat and could only stay a mere couple of minutes before the DM start urging us to head back. Each time I want to start finning back, another ball of sardines rush by, tempting me to stay a little longer which I gladly obliged. Very soon the rest of the group are a long way off with just me and my buddy at the sardines. Very reluctantly, I bid my final farewell and we chase up to the group. Along the way, I finally saw my first comb jelly with the colour of lights being reflected off its combs of cilia. Although most comb jelly looks like jellyfish, they are not one and don’t have any stinging nematocyst. The species I saw is of a ribbon-shaped instead of the more usual bell shaped. Really regretted not being able to get any shots of it (Almost transparent object in dim mid water ain’t actually easy to focus and expose). I guess being a long way off behind the group (and boat) with air running a little low doesn’t help and I quickly left after a brief moment with it.

Saw a giant frogfish near where we’re going to ascent but again I wasn’t really in a “shooting” mood. At one point, I saw VT holding on to NE near the frogfish and I thought initially he’s holding her to give her some stability to shoot the frogfish! It was until subsequently when they starts to slowly drift towards the surface did I realise he’s trying to hold her down. Back at the boat did I realise that NE has dropped her weight belt. Phew.

The dive was somewhat a sneak preview to the sardines and whetting my appetite for more. I certainly hope to be back again to have more time with them. :)

Dive 5 – Talisay

Dive: 87
Duration: 58 mins
Avg Depth: 10.46m
Max Depth: 20.4m

Our 2nd boat dive was to a closer site just further down south along the wall from Blue Abyss. When they say it’s a nearby site, they really do mean it’s nearby because they’re dropping us in and we’re finning back to the resort! I guess it can’t get any closer than that except for the house reef.

Like the previous dives in the area, I’m still looking for cooperative pipefish to pose for me. I only I can talk to them! Speaking of which, some of dive kakis told me I talk underwater? Haha. Did I do that unconsciously as I don’t remember doing that except when “shouting” to attract my buddies’ attention to some interesting creatures. Oh mine, I must be getting old, mumbling to myself perhaps? :s

Network Pipefish (Corythoichthys flavofasciatus) at Talisay (12m)

It was another nice dive, spotting three different species of pipefishes in one dive. Apart from the two species that was so commonly seen all around the reef here, there was also winged pipefish which I saw only once in this trip. They’re less conspicuous and not quite as photogenic as the other pipefish but I’m still very happy to see them around. 

Winged Pipefish (Halicampus macrorhynchus) at Talisay (16m)

Besides the pipefish, there was also a pair nudibranch cuddling up warming together. I guess perhaps they’re mating but I’m not sure. Regardless of what they’re up to, I thought they look very nice together and can’t help taking a couple of snaps before giving them their privacy back. 

Pair of Tryon's Risbecia (Risbecia tryoni) at Talisay (16m)


As usual, me and RL was way behind and the rest of our group were already gone. We fin for quite a while to try catching up but still couldn’t see them except for another two Caucasian divers (one of which appears equally lost to me). Regardless, I thought we’ve been finning for quite some time and probably shouldn’t be too far off from Blue Abyss. Thus I slowly head up over the wall onto the shallower reef and take a peep on the surface. True enough the dive centre was in sight and there’s some other divers walking on the very shallow water back to shore. The tide was extremely low today, making it a very long walk back. Still, I try to fin as close as I possibly can in 0.5m water towards the dive centre, at the same time trying to avoid various clusters of sea urchins. The fact that the urchins are smaller with thicker spikes (not the usual black urchins with long and thin spikes) makes it less intimidating but I’m sure it’s no less painful if I actually lands on one. On the way back, I spot a cluster of nudibranch’s eggs which I’m seeing for the first time. Couldn’t find any nudibranch close by and thus is not able to identify from which species did the eggs came from.

Dive 6 – Blue Abyss House Reef

Dive: 88
Duration: 52 mins
Avg Depth: 6.61m
Max Depth: 10.4m

We start our house reef dive slightly later than scheduled at around 16:30. Checking the dive planning on my very conservative Suunto dive comp, I should have at least about 50mins of no deco time at 12m. But since I’m doing another night dive after this, I decide to stay shallow to avoid too much nitrogen loading.

Apparently I still haven’t had enough of the pipefish and continue seeking them out. Having spent a fair bit of time with the network pipefish in the previous dive, I had a go with the ringed pipefish in this dive. Besides the pipefish, the spotfin lionfish were again in abundance but I didn’t grab any shots of them as they’re mostly not quite so cooperative (in crevices and/or facing the wall)

Time passes quickly by and it’s time to head back up again.

Ringed pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactyliophorus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (6m)

Dive 7 – Blue Abyss House Reef (Night dive)

Dive: 89
Duration: 70 mins
Avg Depth: 7.19m
Max Depth: 12.5m

The sun sets around 18:00 and the sky was completely dark by the time we got into the water and starts our descent at around 18:40. Only I, RL, VT and the DM is doing this night dive and we thus had the whole reef to ourselves. This is by far the most productive dive I’ve had in my diving, with so many critters spotted on the reef. Usually I don’t shoot a lot in a dive but this was quite the exception. There are so many different shrimps, crabs and other stuffs spotted by the DM and ourselves. What I have captured is just a portion of it, many more of which are not shot.

The DM walked out much faster on the reef until the edge of the wall and waits. Even on the surface before our descent, he signals to me from a distance that there’s something below. I quickly fin over and went down first while he waits at the surface for the others. It was a flatworm that he was pointing to. Awesome!

Not far after we descend, he shows us a painted frogfish which I wonder if it was the same individual we saw on the first day. What was nice about the frogfish was that it starts “walking” around a little while I was shooting it on video. First time I saw one on the move. Woah!

Painted frogfish (Antennarious pictus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (11m) during night dive

Next he pointed out a tun, moving along the reef. Then it’s a lizardfish at rest, which allows us to approach it very closely. There were also several different species of hermit crab around the reef. Then I was shown my first spider crab, my first soft coral crab, and my first hydroid decorator crab! Also saw two orangutan crab, another decorator crab, a pair of nudibranch and one small creature which I thought could be a juvenile cuttlefish but I can’t be certain from the poorly taken photo. And then I saw my first prawn (not shrimp). I would have missed it if it was not swimming along in mid water along the reef below me. Quickly I descend down 1-2 metre for some photos. There was also a sleeping sole at rest which gives us the opportunity to get up close to this skittish creature.

Spider Crab (Achaeus spinosus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (9m) during night dive

Orangutan Crab (Oncinopus sp.) at Blue Abyss House Reef (9m) during night dive

Long Arm Prawn (Heteropenaeus longimanus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (9m) during night dive

With so many first sightings in a single dive, this without doubt is one of my best dives ever. Indeed, awesome is an understatement to describe this dive. I just love it! This was my third night dive in the Philippines and I must say I’ve never been disappointed in the night dives here. I was beaming with delight as I exit the water and heads back to shore. Life is great and I’m a happy man! :)

19 Feb 2011 - Sneak preview to the sardines

Apparently not many people turn up for breakfast this morning. I have my Mexican vegetable omelette and mango juice for breakfast. Once done with the food, we head off to the dive centre to rig up our gear. A typical dive day includes 2 boat dives at 8.30am and 1.30pm, and a shore dive at the house reef at 4pm.

I like to maximize my underwater time as far as I can and hence have opt for additional night dives, which turns out to quite awesome at the house reef. As far as it seems, the majority of the divers there were Caucasians and they like to take it at an easy and relax pace with just 2 - 3 dives a day. Hence I would suppose night (not dusk) dives were quite uncommon there at Moalboal. I wonder if they would have thought of us as a bunch of crazy fellows pushing for 4 dives a day. Oh boy, if they can open much earlier for dawn dives, I would have done that too for 5 dives a day! :p

The least enjoyable part of each dive was getting to and back from the dive boat or the house reef, particularly during low tide. Typically, you'll rig up your gear at the dive centre and carry your tank, gear and camera down a flight of stairs to the shore below. Going down was bad, getting up with the wet gear and camera was a torture. The crew does help to bring the gear up and down for the ladies and some others. For some reason, I always had to haul all my gear up and down for every dive. Haha. I guess I should take comfort in that perhaps I look stocky and fit enough to handle all my own stuffs. The other hassle besides the stairs is the long walk in knee/waist deep water for the shore dives and a shorter walk for the boat dives. The topology of the shore is quite interesting with very shallow reef flat stretching out for perhaps a hundred metres or so, followed by a vertical drop (wall) down to around 50-60 metres.

The dive boat is the typical bangka (aka outrigger) that you see around in Philippines. I only saw one boat for Blue Abyss, which was about the same size as the one I used previously in Malapascua. The only noticeable difference is the absence of a "covered" toilet in the Blue Abyss boat. Similarly, the boat here couldn't turn very well and I suspect it was also powered by some engine from a truck or something. 

Divers going down to the beach during a very high tide (Photo courtesy of GT)

Divers heading out to the outrigger (Photo courtesy of GT)

Divers getting onto the outrigger (Photo courtesy of GT)

Heading out for a dive on the outrigger (Photo courtesy of GT)

Diver (me!) caught by surprised. :p (Photo courtesy of RL)

Divers returning with empty tanks in between the 2 boat dives (Photo courtesy of RL)

Stairs heading up to Blue Abyss Dive Centre from the shore
Anyway, we started the morning with a dive to the much anticipated Pescardo island where the huge sardine balls were known to lingers. The sky looks pretty over casted and the sea was pretty choppy with 1-2m waves on the way to the island. Near the island, we saw a row of small bangkas with fishermen doing line fishing. Nets were banned in the area which allows the marine life to continue flourishing. If not for the ban, perhaps the only sardines we’ll see here will be in cans. While I didn't feel cold in the dive, the boat ride back in the wind and rain was certainly a little chilly for me. Phew.

Only VT, RL and I opt to do the night dive along with the DM while the rest chill out somewhere on land. Hit the water around 6pm+ after the sun has completely set and got back an hour later. The dive was awesome with plenty of crabs and shrimps around. The crews were eagerly waiting for us to unpack up our gear and promptly close the shuttles to the dive centre as soon as we stepped out.

After a quick shower, all of us venture over to the other noisier stretch of the beach where most of the resort, dive centres and eateries are located. There's a number of restaurant selling freshly caught seafood which presumably were pretty cheap and good. We didn't take long to pick a place and settle in at Silver Ray Bar & Restaurant. Some of us went for the seafood while GT, RL and I shared 2 pastas, 1 fried rice and a pancake. To my crude taste bud, the food is just about average and pales in comparison to what I had at The Last Filling Station. We took a short walk around after dinner before heading back to the room to prepare my gear for tomorrow. 

Outside Silver Ray Bar & Restaurant (Photo courtesy of GT)

Hungry diver after 4 dives with 2 pastas, 1 fried rice and a thick yummy mango juice (Photo courtesy of GT)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

18 Feb 2011 - Dive 1 to 3 at house reef and white beach

Dive 1 - Blue Abyss House Reef

Dive: 83
Duration: 60 mins
Avg Depth: 11.49m
Max Depth: 18.6m

Our first check out dive was at the house reef. Initially we thought of doing the first boat dive but it’s a little rush and we couldn’t make it in time. But that’s not a bad idea either for some of them to have the checkout dive at the house reef to get used to diving again.

But that was just as well as a number of them have not dived for a while and a check out dive at the house reef is not a bad idea. And indeed the first dive started quite funny, particularly also because it was the first shore dives for some of them. The topology of the land was quite unlike the other place I’ve dived at. From the shore, it’s a long shallow bottom of knee/waist high water which stretches out perhaps around 50-100 metres, followed by a wall with a sharp drop to a depth of around 50-60 metres.

It took a while before GT and NE got their fins on and off we go, slowly finning out on very shallow waters. Then at one point when I turned back, I saw GT holding one extra fin in her hand. Apparently one of NE’s fins came undone and GT picked it up. Okie, we stopped and got that fixed. Then GT suddenly realised she dropped her camera. So me, GT, NE and RL turn and fin back towards to resort. No luck. I thought we’re finning off to the side. Fortunately I seem to recognize the patch where we put on the fins and head back there to begin finning out again towards the drop off. And wala! Saw the camera entangled among some corals just a couple of metres away, right in my path. Hoho.  I’m now a “search & recovery” diver. :p

Phew! With all that behind us, we finally start our dive. By the time I assist GT and NE to descend, VT, VA and SC is already long gone. But the DM, G is still around waiting for us. And off we go! The reef was teeming with life and there are a lot network pipefishes and ringed pipefishes around. Gives me the feeling of déjà vu where I saw the two network pipefishes on the first checkout dive in Sipadan, except that there were much more of them here. It just 10 minutes into the dive before the DM pointed out one orangutan crab on the bubble corals! Awesome! It’s one of the creatures that I’ve been hoping to find for so long. Also saw various different nudibranches and a painted frog fish. What a great start!

About halfway into our dives, we saw VT and gang heading back. GT and NE then proceed to ascend with them and for some reason, the DM also signals to RL to ascend with the group. And then it’s just me and the DM for the rest of the dive. Cool!! I’ve always dream of having a “personal” guide. Really the most ideal way to dive, with the DM spotting stuffs nearby while you’re busy shooting your photos. Awesome!

On our way back to the resort on the really shallow water, I also saw a couple of razor fish and ended up following them around a little. And just when I’m about to get up and walk, we saw a snorkeler getting some photos of a nudibranch. Woah! This is yet another species which I’ve never seen before. *Click click click*

Razorfish (Aeoliscus strigatus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (2m)

Slender Roboastra (Roboastra gracilis) at Blue Abyss House Reef (0.5m)

Dive 2 – White Beach

Dive: 84
Duration: 68 mins
Avg Depth: 9.72m
Max Depth: 20.7m

Our second dive was at White Beach located not far from our resort. Apparently that is the only stretch of beach around Moalboal where you get a fair amount of sand but for us, it’s all diving on the wall. The water was quite calm for some relax diving along the wall. After the morning checkout dive, most of the divers in the group have gotten more comfortable and didn’t have any major issues with the diving.

Like in the first dive, I was delighted to find out that the pipefishes (Network and Ringed pipefish) can commonly be spotted along the wall. Prior to my last Sipadan trip, I’ve hardly ever saw them. Then I saw two in Sipadan and now they’re all over the place here! Perhaps they have always been around except that I never notice them previously? But despite their commonality here, I haven’t managed to grab any good shots of them as they’re usually swimming around. Oh well, lots of opportunities to try I hope. 

Network Pipefish (Corythoichthys flavofasciatus) at White Beach (17m)

The DM pointed out an anemone that was host to quite a few tiny commensal shrimps. As I’ve always like crustaceans and other tiny macro stuffs, I spent quite a bit of time at the anemone.

Peacock-tail Anemone Shrimp (Periclimenes brevicarpalis) at White Beach (15m)

Twinspot Blenny (Ecsenius bimaculatus) at White Beach (11m)
At one point during the dive, somebody pointed out a nudibranch which I’ve never seen before nor am I able to positively ID it from my references. It seems like a rare find and is certainly not from the various families of nudibranches that I’ve commonly seen. It’s not difficult to see, from how closely the nudibranch matches its surrounding, why I’ll likely missed this if it was not pointed out.

Towards the end of the dive, our DM waved me over from a distance. As my mask was somewhat flooded, I didn’t saw what he found before I accidently spooked the creature into its hole and it doesn’t seems to reappear. I went off after waiting for some time. But it looks like lady luck is on my side after all and it pays to stick around. Just before I’m going to ascend, I saw a few divers around the hole taking pictures. Awesome, it’s a golden mantis shrimp and my first time seeing this species of mantis shrimp. 

Golden Mantis (Lysiosquilloides mapia) at White Beach (5m)

Dive 3 - Blue Abyss House Reef (Dusk dive)

Dive: 85
Duration: 63 mins
Avg Depth: 7.86m
Max Depth: 13.7m

Instead of the scheduled 4pm shore dives, we went in the water slightly later after 5pm for a sunset dive. In the first dive, we explored the right side of the reef (wall on the left) and we’re exploring the left side for this dive. There has been quite a number of spotfin lionfish and many pairs of toby all along the reef. The tobies here were larger than the ones I’ve saw previously. I have always find them very beautiful and the ironic thing is I didn’t get a single shot of them in this trip despite their commonality! :(

Saw some nudibranches and one flatworm. Unlike the nudis, it seems like I hardly see the flatworms around. Along the way, I saw the sailor’s eyeball algae and finally remember to grab a shot of it. I’ve seen these algae all over the place in my previous dives at different location but never really bother taking a shot. I still remember when I first encounter them, I was thinking to myself why are there so many metal or lead shots dumped everywhere on the reef, and if they were from the boat crews. It’s only subsequently when I read about them did I realised that each of the “balls” were a single cell algae. I never knew a cell can grew that big. :)

Script Flatworm (Pseudoceros scriptus) at Blue Abyss House Reef (14m)

Sailor's eyeball algae (Ventricaria ventricosa) at Blue Abyss House Reef (11m)

Towards the end of the dive, somebody spotted a green sea turtle resting on a ledge near the top of the wall. It didn’t take long before it was surrounded by all the noisy bubbles blowing divers. Before I got a chance to shoot, it decides to take its leave graciously. Was it Sammy? It was a friendly turtle! Finning along the reef in a relaxed pace that’s just slow enough for us to keep up. Without much thinking, I switch to video mode and start filming. As it was getting very dark, I try to aim focus light onto the turtle while I fin along. Haha! I was wondering how I managed such a good job lighting up the turtle with that light until I realised after the dive that the rest of the divers in the group is slowing turning on their torches and aiming it at the turtle as we fin along. I must say I had great fun with the video. Never have I multitask that much at the same time to fin sideway and trying to keep pace with it, trying to keep the camera aimed at the turtle, checking the dive comp in case I accidently followed it to the surface and checking the front to avoid crashing into rocks or corals. That’ll be real nasty if I ended up sticking my face into some urchins or ramming into a huge boulder while shooting.

After a while, I stop following and say good bye to the turtle. By then it was almost totally dark and we slowly head back towards the resort. For once I’m feeling a little chilly and definitely hungry.