MALAPASCUA ISLAND, CEBU, THE PHILIPPINES
An adventurous divers paradise
Season: Year round diving
Water Temperature: 25-29°C/77-84°F
Malapascua Island is world renowned as being perhaps the only place that you can expect to reliably see the often elusive and mysterious Thresher Shark. The island itself, which sits just off the northern tip of Cebu in the central Philippines, is a mere two kilometers long and a half kilometre at its widest point, hardly impressive in size compared to the underwater riches that you can find here. The population of about 4000 rely on tourism and boat building. Malapascua is not especially developed and the island only received reliable 24 hour electricity in mid-2010. Divers have only really been venturing to Malapascua for the last fifteen years and it remains well off the beaten track, a small, sleepy and unspoiled island with some marvellous diving right on its doorstep. There are no five star hotels or luxury spas here. Accommodations are small, family run guest houses with a very welcoming charm to them.
The dive sites around Malapascua offer a great variety of topography and biodiversity. Even well traveled divers can hope to discover something new under the water here. You can spend long dives on sandy “muck diving” areas seeking out strange critters, or drift gently along coral gardens, sloping reefs, walls, caves and even wrecks. A number of great sites are a mere five minute boat ride from the shore and for those seeking to go further afield there are regular trips to Gato Island which is around a half hour away. Even further afield is Calanggaman Island which is around an hour and a half away. Some of the areas with the most prolific soft coral will sometimes be subject to currents and periods of reduced visibility due to nutrient rich waters that allow these areas to thrive.
Monad Shoal is perhaps the most famous location to dive off Malapascua. This is what draws the divers in! Here the Thresher Sharks can be seen year round and are often visited by Manta Rays and Hammerhead Sharks too. It is an underwater island on the edge of a 200 metre drop off that also attracts Eagle Rays and Devil Rays. The Thresher Sharks can be skittish so it is vital that you dive carefully when in their presence.
Gato Island often steals the show over Monad Shoal! It is a marine reserve and a seasnake sanctuary where sharks and seahorses, nudibranchs and a plethora of colourful reef fish live in close proximity. Swim-throughs and rock formations add to the wonder and at The Cave you might find Bamboo Sharks, Cat Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks as you enter a tunnel running through this underground island. Between them, Nudibranch City and Guardhouse offer the chance to spot critters galore as the name may suggest! Here you can seek out pygmy seahorses, Spanish Dancers and Painted Frogfish and of course a lot of nudibranchs!
Lighthouse is home to the famous ‘Randy Mandy’ dive where as dusk falls, you can expect to see the beautiful and psychedelic Mandarinfish in all their sexual glory! Octopi are regularly spotted here including blue-ringed octopus. At Lapus Lapus and North Point you can get lost amongst the soft corals as you observe Giant Frogfish, commensal shrimp and porcelain crabs.
Bantigi is a great muck dive. The sandy bottom at about 12 meters is where you can find all sorts of unusual critters. Mantis shrimp, gobies, frogfish and moray eels all make their homes here as well as large anemones with their famous and unforgettable orange fishy inhabitants! The guides will help you to make the most of this site as they can often point out some remarkable macro life.
Calanggaman Island is the picture postcard desert island, actually chosen from over 7,000 islands to grace the cover of Jens Peters’ ‘The Definitive Philippines Travel Guide’. Calangaman Island has palm trees and a pile of white sand surrounded by crystal clear water and steep walls dropping off into the blue. Visibility is usually good and fish life is plentiful. Drop down the walls which are covered in hard corals and gorgonian fans and inhabited by many varieties of fish. Look for pelagics out in the blue including sharks, rays, tuna and barracuda, or unusual fish like clown triggers on the wall. Dolphins are often seen on the way there or on the way back. Often divers stop on the island for a beach barbeque during a surface interval and overnight stays can also be arranged.
If you were not already enjoying the wonderful variety of diving on offer, there are a small number of wrecks to explore. The wreck at Lighthouse was a Japanese World War II landing craft. It was bombed just before landing with a large shipment of cement destined for a gun emplacement. The wreck is in very shallow water of about 3 meters and is broken up with the hull in two pieces. The ‘rocks’ that you will see are actually bags of cement! Life that you can see around the wreck include yellow-tailed barracuda, hermit crabs, octopus, pipefish, juvenile harlequin sweetlips, and banded sea snakes. Pioneer Wreck is a wreck lovers wreck! Sitting at 42 meters and lying in an upright position, this Japanese World War Two wreck is still in great condition. As you descend you’ll see her guns pointed straight towards you! Sharks, rays and barracuda make this their hang out and only the adventurous diver gets down there!