Sunset dive trip at Apo Island near Dumaguete

Apo Island Blues: Into the Open Water of Tañon Strait



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While he was here visiting the Philippines, my friend Steve got his scuba certification while I was attending a Peace Corps training outside Manila. Since my site in Dumaguete is only a short trip from Apo Island, one of the best dive spots in the country, Steve and I stayed at Liberty’s on the island and had a couple memorable dives over the last weekend he was in the Philippines.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Steve obviously paid attention during dive class the previous week, he had his gear set up and was testing gauges before anyone else.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    We caught the Apo dive shop pump boat over to the marine sanctuary where we would begin our dive.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The marine sanctuary is definitely one of my favorite spots to dive in the Philippines.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Once we got underwater, we found that the current in the sanctuary was much stronger than we expected, but Steve adapted to the conditions really quickly.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Steve had already made several friends at the dive shop in the two days we had been at Apo, and a few of the sillier ones made faces at him as he left the shop.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    As if on cue, we found the school of juvenile jacks that lives in the Apo marine sanctuary swimming ghostlike along the coral wall. These juvenile fish will stay within the sanctuary until they graduate to the fishing grounds when they are mature.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Steve's last open water certification dives were at Balicasag marine sanctuary in Bohol which also has a large resident school of jacks.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The clown fish lived in their anemone just below the shadow of the looming coral wall. If you look closely you can see Steve and our dive guide swimming in the background.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    I found this moray eel with bright yellow eyes peering out from beneath a coral head. Sometimes when I look at this photo, the eel reminds me a little of a sock puppet.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Our dive guide spotted this tiny creature, which is a rare form of seahorse that lives in the Philippines.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    When the dive was over, we headed back to Liberty's to catch the sunset over Negros Oriental.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Paul's dive shop is only a short walk from the shore where the dive boats land in calm weather.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The next afternoon Steve and I dove with Mario, Apo Island's Barangay Captain and divemaster. If Mario's schedule is open, I always prefer to dive with him because he grew up on Apo and knows it better than anyone. He also guides with a nice relaxed pace that allows for photos, and he has an incredible eye for spotting hard to see critters.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Almost immediately we spotted this highly poisonous sea snake hunting for reef fish among the corals. Usually they are harmless to people because their mouths are very small and the poisonous fangs are located in the back of the mouth making it difficult for them to inflict a bite. Still better to give them a wide clearance though, because their venom is among the strongest of all snakes.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The weather was pretty much ideal for our afternoon dive at Apo's Coconut Point.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Similar to my mistake of not covering my mask when I jumped in from the pump boat after I was first certified to dive, Steve accidentally forgot to put his fins on before he jumped in.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The fellows on the boat noticed it just before he jumped (note that Steve does have his hand over his mask unlike me).

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    But the fins weren't a problem at all, he just put them on when he was in the water.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The fish you may encounter at Apo's coconut point can be very large like this snapper.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    These four snappers swam together just above the corals on the bottom.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The current at the Coconut Point was at times really strong, almost like being in a river. You can see some suspended particles in the water stirred up by the powerful deep sea hydraulics.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    When we stopped for a break at a sandy clearing on the bottom that was protected from the current, I checked my gauge and it showed that we were 19 meters below the surface--about 60 feet!

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    It was nice change to get out of the relentless current, so Steve and I took a rest on the sea floor.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Not far from where we stopped to take a break, the school of large jacks was circling above us.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Coconut Point is pretty close to the fishing grounds, and the jacks we saw here were much bigger than the ones we saw the day before in the sanctuary.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    These bigger fish did not group as closely together as the smaller ones usually will.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    On nearly every dive I've done at Apo I'll come across a different kind of nudibranch.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Mario led us with a relaxed and comfortable pace on this dive.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Near the end of the dive, we found this large hawksbill sea turtle swimming among the corals.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Mario said that this turtle would be laying eggs on the Apo beach soon.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Maybe because it was an older sea turtle, this one had a lot of algae growing on the outside of its shell making it harder to see.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    After swimming with it for a minute or so, the sea turtle cruised around the corals and disappeared.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    I have no idea how Mario spotted these tiny dragonfish on the sea floor.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    Large parrotfish like this one are important in maintaining the ecological balance of the reef.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    By the end of our second dive, Steve was really comfortable with diving.

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004

  • Apo Island - November 2004

    Apo Island - November 2004
    The dive was definitely one of the best I've had at Apo.