Malapascua, Philippines 2021

Since the beginning of lockdown here in the Philippines last March 2020, we haven’t really been out of Cebu City, except for some visits in Mactan Island. That’s why when Cebu province opened its doors to tourist without the requirements of mandatory swab testing and acceptance letters from the province, we did not hesitate to visit Malapascua Island. Knowing that the island had very few, if any COVID-19 cases, we felt safe to travel. Although swab testing was not necessary for entry, it was timely that we had a swab test for an intimate wedding for Brian’s cousin a few days before our departure, this way, we were also confident NOT to be “vectors” to the beautiful island.

This is not our first time in the island, but we always love coming back because of the vast variety of underwater creatures from pelagics and macro life. Malapascua Island is located in the northern part of Cebu. From our home, it takes around 4 hours to the port of Maya Daanbantayan by car, and another 40 minutes by boat from Maya port to Malapascua Island. Boats usually dock close to your resort. We stayed in Ocean Vida, fronting the white sand beach at a very convenient location.

It was very different to see Malapascua so quiet with very few guests. However, it was to our advantage as we were also the only guest divers in the island and we were free to choose all of our dive sites in our own convenient time with our dive operator, Devocean divers.

Monad shoal is always the top priority. Monad is the only place in the world where the elusive Thresher sharks are reliably spotted on a daily basis. Typically, the dive starts very early in the morning as this is the time the Thresher sharks gather at Monad Shoal for their daily clean. There are also strict regulations for Thresher shark dives and strobes or artificial lights are forbidden. That is why we opted to gamble on our 1st day and dove at 9AM, to have some ambient light. We were lucky to see them at shallower depths, at 15 meters. Cleaning stations are usually at 25-30 meters depth.

Another famous dive site in Malapascua is Gato Island. The cavern is Gato’s signature feature, which involves exploring the underwater tunnel traversing the island’s east to west side. White-tip reef sharks are resident to Gato and they show no signs of aggression, you can even approach them closely.

Just when we thought we have ticked off all of the sharks we should see in Malapascua, we unexpectedly saw this Brownbanded bamboo shark while diving the house reef. It is our first time to see this shark.

Malapascua is much more than just the pelagic sharks, macro lovers will also enjoy the diverse critters especially at night. This squid was very photogenic, it felt like shooting in black water even if it was just less than 10 meters deep.

Another favorite dive site in Malaspascua is the Lighthouse, to see the sunset courtship and one of nature’s most enchanting love-making rituals of the Mandarin fishes.

Everyday, just after sunset, females gather to watch males perform a flashy dance and if the female likes a male, she will join him by resting on his pelvic fin and as they float above the reef, they will spawn, releasing a cloud of eggs and sperm. If you look closely on the next photo, you will see some eggs.

It takes a lot of patience to shoot these beautiful fishes as they are very skittish with light and the ritual lasts for a few seconds. Otherwise, they are inside the small finger coral colony and very difficult to shoot. This dive site is usually packed with so many divers around their colony, which gives you little chance for a good photo. We really felt lucky to have the dive sites all to ourselves as we experienced Malapascua in a different light.

We feel so fortunate to be able to dive safely and somehow help the island, which has suffered economically for the past 10 months. As we are still uncertain when we could safely travel overseas again, we will continue to revisit our neighboring dive destinations and capture more of the beautiful gems each place has to offer.