Our first trip out of Panglao was to the world famous Balicasag Island. A 45 minute cruise brought us to this marine sanctuary, just in time to share it with two dozen small fishing boats. Dan’s words rang in my ears “there’s one big difference between conservationist and the local fisherman they want to stop. Conservationists have full bellies.” It’s an unfortunate truth and one that is virtually inescapable in the Philippines, but at least these fishermen weren’t armed with dynamite.
A look beneath the surface at ‘Black Forest’ proved that there were plenty of fish to go around. We were met by a massive swirling school or jacks. The corals were prolific and in good health. Our guide, Dodong, proved his talent by showing us 3 frogfish in the first twenty minutes. This place was giving Malapascua a run for its money. It was our second dive at ‘Cathedral’ that really blew us away. The site’s vertical wall plunged into the depths. The coral diversity was incredible with as many shapes, sizes, and colors as we’ve seen anywhere. As we marveled Dodong was busy finding us the rare beauties that make this his favorite dive site. We were stunned, and that was only the beginning.
Our second day was devoted to odd and tiny creatures. We gave coral the cold shoulder and headed out over the sand searching for the strangest critters we could find. Dodong used his eagle eyes again to spot a variety of marine treasure. Though he put in a valiant effort in the end he was upstaged by the highlight of the day. While the other divers were surfacing Val and I stayed down for an extra ten minutes. Val had extracted a fashionable ladies t-shirt that was stuck in the coral and was emphatically modeling it to my delight. I was getting the camera ready to capture her performance when suddenly she screamed. I looked up to see a 8 meter whaleshark glide past us. I was stunned, The world’s largest fish had taken me by surprise and by the time I thought to take a picture is was almost gone. It was a brief and wonderful moment, something you cross oceans for.
On our last day we returned to Balicasag Island and were again dazzled by schooling fish and vibrant reefs. We could have lost many more happy days diving here, and perhaps we should have, but sometimes you have to count your blessings, show you gratitude, and move on.