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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes

DIVING MALAPASCUA | Threshers and Little Treasures


If seeing Thresher Sharks (Alopias pelagicus) are on your bucket list, then Monad Shoal in the Malapascua area in the Philippines is the perfect place for you. The Monad Shoal cleaning stations are known worldwide as the one place in which divers can consistently see the unusual and rare Pelagic Thresher Sharks. They can grow to 3m, with their tails making up 50% of their body. They can be seen circling the cleaning stations in twos or threes, but remain solitary.


They are impressive sharks with huge eyes for hunting at deep depths, their pectoral fins are much longer than those of other sharks which give them incredible manoeuvrability and speed, and their tails!!! Their ribbon-like shaped tail is the Rolls-Royce of all tails and can whip fish into a motionless and stunned state, making them an easy morsel.


We received an invitation from the Philippine’s Tourism Board to go on over in July and discover some of their dive sites' treasure troves. Malapascua came up on the list of destinations to choose from and threshers were on the top of our ‘Must See’ list. Our direct flight over to Mactan-Cebu International Airport with Emirates was redirected to Clark International Airport due to an unforeseen bout of bad weather, making it impossible to land safely in Cebu. With a slight delay of 1.5 hours, the weather subsided and we were able to get back on track and fly back to our point of destination. Going over during the wet season does not change much, but we ended up going on a day a strong storm hit and instead of carrying on with the drive over to Malapascua as originally planned, we had to stay overnight in a hotel in Cebu to avoid the heavy traffic delays caused by flooded roads. All it meant was an early morning start the following day, sadly missing the first thresher shark dive on our itinerary, but it got us even more excited about getting there and diving to make new discoveries.


With the sun shining, a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we were greeted by our driver from Fun and Sun Dive and Travel, and made the 3 hour journey by road to the boat port. From there, we climbed aboard a traditional Filipino Banca boat for a 30 minute journey over to Malapascua Island.


Malapascua seen from above with Simon Pierce's drone.

Malapascua Island’s white sandy beaches offer an array of accommodation, from beach front cabins, guest houses and boutique hotels. There are plenty of beach bars and restaurants, and many walkways to explore around the island that lead to food stalls, and artisans’ stands selling handmade wooden sculptures. The mornings start at 5am on the island for those off to dive Monad Shoal, a pace one gets used to fairly quickly.


A spot in paradise for relaxation.

BANCA DIVE BOATS

The dive boats are wide and spacious customised Filipino Banca boats. They are designed with a deep V-hull and are fitted with outriggers to keep them steady which gives them low drag, and makes them fuel efficient. Car or truck engines are used to operate them. Ours was equipped with a large and very comfortable cushioned day bed in the centre and long cushioned benches along the port and starboard sides. Giant strides are made at the bow of the boat from the large dive platform. There is a small kitchen area at the stern where teas and coffees are made and brought to you once you come up from a dive. There is also a toilet cabin. All the boats are shaded and have plenty of storage spaces keeping floors clear at all times.


The spacious banca dive boat.

THE DIVING

We were very fortunate to have Danilo and Leo, two pro critter spotters as our dive guides. Malapascua turned out to be quite the macro location. Apart from seeing Thresher Sharks at Monad Shoal (and sometimes Oceanic Mantas (Manta birostris), the rest of the dive sites really are more about macro than anything else.


The Fun and Sun team.
Simon Pierce and Simone Caprodossi talking about photography.
Simone Caprodossi and Leo.

DAY ONE | 2nd JULY | DIVE 1

CHOCOLATE ISLAND

★★★★

Time In: 15:51 Depths: 12.8 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 67 mins


Chocolate Island is labelled as the most amazing macro site in the Malapascua area. It certainly started our first dive off with a big bang.

  • Nudibranch (Nembrotha kubaryana)

  • Nose Spotted Lizardfish (Synodus binotatus)

  • Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)

  • Reaper Cuttlefish (Sepia cf mestus)

  • Nudibranch (Nembrotha milleri)

  • Banded Pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactyliophorus)

  • Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)


Nudibranch - Nembrotha kubaryana
Nudibranch - Nembrotha milleri
Reaper Cuttlefish - Sepia cf mestus

Frogfish – also known as Anglerfish – are just such a joy to come across. No two of the same species are ever alike and we’re looking forward to seeing plenty more of these guys on the rest of our dives. Their rather shapeless and incredibly camouflaged bodies with webbed feet, can make them incredibly hard to spot. One of the coolest things about Frogfish, are their humongous mouths and expandable stomachs in which they are able to swallow prey even bigger than themselves.


DAY ONE | 2nd JULY | DIVE 2

KA OSTING

★★★★★

Time In: 19:10 Depths: 10.3 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 73 mins


This was such a fun night dive and a great way to end the first day. There is just so much to look at on a night dive. Creatures come out of nowhere and can give you quite a fright like the very large Ringed Sea Snake did to me when it popped up through my view finder while I was busily focusing on something else, to then watch it swim directly under my nose and past my legs. Keep your wits about you.

  • Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea)

  • Peacock Sole (Pardachirus pavoninus)

  • Bobtail Hummingbird Squid (Euprymna berryi)

  • Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus)

  • Ringed Sea Snake (Laticauda colubrina)

  • Reaper Cuttlefish (Sepia cf mestus)

  • Robust Ghostpipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)

  • Side-Gill Sea Slug (Pleurobranchus forskalii)


Ringed Sea Snake - Laticauda colubrina
Bobtail Hummingbird Squid - Euprymna berryi

The Bobtail Squid is so small and incredibly hard to spot, unless you know how to look to find them. They are nocturnal and Danilo was quick to spot this one’s bioluminescent light and Simon Pierce and Simone Caprodossi each got to spend quality time photographing this little one. The males grow to no bigger than 3cm and the females to 5cm, making us believe this one was most probably a female. With their gorgeous peacock colours of small dark, electric blue and green dots, you can’t help but be marvelled by them. Their tiny eight arms and two tentacles, are just too cute.


DAY TWO | 3rd JULY | DIVE 1

MONAD SHOAL

Time In: 5:57 Depths: 24.3 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 54 mins


Monad Shoal is done by visiting cleaning stations and patiently waiting behind designated diver zones to watch threshers suddenly appear from out of the blue. It’s incredibly well organised and divers are made to kneel behind the rope barriers. The dive masters will move you on to the next station if need be. Nitrox is definitely the way to go on this dive, so make sure to ask for it. Photographers and videographers are prohibited from using light as they disturb the sharks. Unfortunately, we did not see a single thresher shark on this dive. Simon Pierce had been here 10 days by this point and this was a first. This is not a common thing to happen and we were obviously very unlucky, but not in the least bit disappointed. We knew there were good things to come from this dive site. This was just a tease.


DAY TWO | 3rd JULY | DIVE 2

TIP SLOPE

★★★★

Time In: 9:53 Depths: 25.6 m Temp: 27˚C Total Time: 43 mins


Tip Slope is a deep dive and has much to offer the macro photographer.

  • Pink Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

  • Sea Moth (Eurypegasus draconis)

  • Thorny Seahorse (Hippocampus histrix)


Sea Moth - Eurypegasus draconis

Without Danilo, we would never have spotted the tiny Pink Pygmy Seahorse. They only grow up to 2cm.


The Sea Moth is one of my favourites and is most strange. They are found along the bottom with their small bony plated, winged bodies and eat tiny crustaceans with their long snouted and toothless mouth. They are best photographed or filmed from above to see their peculiar body shape as they never leave the bottom on which they only crawl.


DAY TWO | 3rd JULY | DIVE 3

PASIL BAY

★★★★

Time In: 11:50 Depths: 18.3 m Temp: 27˚C Total Time: 55 mins


This dive site’s topography has unique characteristics compared to those of the others and is covered in a carpet of green algae and dotted with lots of pretty Long-spined Sea Urchins (Astropyga radiata).

  • Panda Anemonefish (Amphiprion polymnus)

  • Shrimp (Periclemenes venustus)

  • Black-Pitted Snake-Eel (Pisonophis cancrivorus)

  • Hairy Frogfish (Antennarius striatus)

  • Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculatus)

  • Ringed Sea Snake (Laticauda colubrine)


Hairy Frogfish - Antennarius striatus
Ringed Sea Snake - Laticauda colubrina

The highlight here was the small Hairy Frogfish perched in motion with the algae and the Black-Pitted Snake-Eel protruding from the sand it had buried itself in. Known to scarper deeper in the sand from sudden movements made close to it, this snake-eel seemed quite relaxed as it stared back at us with its large golden eye.


DAY TWO | 3rd JULY | DIVE 4

LIGHTHOUSE

★★★★

Time In: 17:35 Depths: 9.6 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 88 mins


The shallow dusk dive in search of the famous Mandarin Fish always extends into a night dive, doubling your dive time. The dive site here, although not a pretty one, is loaded with nooks and crannies for a variety of critters to play hide and seek in the rubbled bottom.

  • Mandarin Fish (Synchiropus spendidus)

  • Banded Pipefish (Doryrhamphus dactiophurus)

  • Estuary Seahorse (Hippocampus kuda)

  • Greater Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata)


Mandarin Fish - Synchiropus spendidus
Mandarin Fish - Synchiropus spendidus
Greater Blue-ringed Octopus - Hapalochlaena lunulata

The very small Greater Blue-ringed Octopus – up to 7cm – is an elusive specimen and Danilo hit the jackpot. This dive site is the perfect location for this little guy with all the rubble around. This stunning and colourful little tentacled being of poisonous life, is an incredible find and one to be observed from a safe distance to avoid its venomous and possibly deadly bite.


DAY THREE | 4th JULY | DIVE 1

★★★★

Time In: 5:50 Depths: 29.4 m Temp: 28˚C Total Time: 44 mins


We have Thresher Sharks Ladies and Gentlemen! What a breath taking sight. They are much larger in scale than one imagines and they swim with such grace. This moment makes this whole trip all the more worth it! They come in alone from the blue and they exit alone, but you can easily see 2-3 at a time.

  • Pelagic Thresher Sharks (Alopias pelagicus)


Pelagic Thresher Shark - Alopias pelagicus
Pelagic Thresher Shark - Alopias pelagicus

DAY THREE | 4th JULY | DIVE 2

GATO SOUTH WALL

★★★★

Time In: 11:04 Depths: 21.6 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 53 mins


Gato Island is a popular all day destination and 2 dives are normally done here, with 5 dive sites to choose from. The island is a marine reserve and its unique feature is the tunnel which runs through the entire island. It’s a very popular location though and it can get packed with divers.

  • Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)

  • Ringed Sea Snake (Laticauda colubrine)

  • Zebra Lionfish (Dendrochirus zebra)

  • Blackfin Sandperch (Parapercis snyderi)

  • Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)

  • Big-Fin Reef Squid (Sepioteuthis lessoniana)


Ally Landes diving in!
Divers below the banca.
Spotlight on the frog fish.

We had a very interactive moment with a small swimming Painted Frogfish – which rapidly grabbed the attention of every other diver in a matter of seconds. You may have to be quick in getting your shots.


DAY THREE | 4th JULY | DIVE 3

GATO TUNNEL

★★★★

Time In: 13:18 Depths: 21.5 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 63 mins


After a lovely lunch and relaxing surface interval on our Banca dive boat, we did our second Gato Island dive. The 30m tunnel is usually home to Whitetip Reef Sharks (Triaenodon obesus), but with the number of divers on this day, it was no wonder we didn’t see any. This is a great dive site with much to explore. It also makes some great photos with your dive group in the background with the surface light visible at either of the tunnel openings.

  • Coral Polyps (Tubastrea faulkneri)

  • Robust Ghostpipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)

  • Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera elegans)


Gato Tunnel Entrance
Gato Tunnel Exit
Harlequin Shrimp - Hymenocera elegans

The Robust Ghostpipefish and Harlequin Shrimps make great macro subjects and there are plenty of other things to photograph here, it’s a matter of being at the right place and the right time as it’s a large area to cover.


DAY FOUR | 5th JULY | DIVE 1

MONAD SHOAL

★★★★

Time In: 5:54 Depths: 28.6 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 38 mins


There was a very strong current on this dive, making it a short one, but just as exciting to see some threshers, even just briefly.

  • White-spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus ocellatus)

  • Pelagic Thresher Sharks (Alopias pelagicus)


Pelagic Thresher Shark - Alopias pelagicus

The single White-spotted Eagle Ray appeared on our descent along the anchor line and flew past us just as quickly as it had made its entrance. A pleasant surprise to see. It is known to also spot Oceanic Mantas (Manta birostris) here from time to time. We didn’t, but who’s to say you won’t on your trip over.


DAY FOUR | 5th JULY | DIVE 3

QUILLANO

★★★★

Time In: 12:15 Depths: 23.1 m Temp: 27˚C Total Time: 42 mins


This is a very sweet little dive site and easy to do. You need to be very careful on hand placement during slight currents, as one of the other divers on our boat accidently brushed her hand against a bubble anemone, and it quickly blew up like a balloon and then went numb for several hours. Good to have vinegar on standby for such incidents. To add, her discomfort did not put her off continuing with her next dive.

  • Leopard Flounder (Bothus pantherinus)

  • Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)

  • Anemone-like Animal (Cerianthus sp.)

  • Coleman’s Shrimp (Periclemenes colemani) on Fire Urchin (Asthenosoma varium)

  • Striped Catfish (Plotosus lineatus)


Leopard Flounder - Bothus pantherinus
Coleman’s Shrimp - Periclemenes colemani
Striped Catfish - Plotosus lineatus

The venomous Fire Urchin and its Coleman’s Shrimp habitants are a feast for the eyes. The Fire Urchin’s display of magnificent neon-like colours is a stunning backdrop against the shrimps’ white bodies. Most commonly found in pairs, the female is the larger of the two and they grow up to 2cm.


DAY FOUR | 5th JULY | DIVE 4

KA OSTING

★★★★★

Time In: 18:34 Depths: 9.9 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 74 mins


Another fun, busy and fulfilling shallow night dive. There is a slight slope on this dive and divers seem to disappear from sight a lot quicker than usual. From concentrating on a specimen for what seemed like only a couple of minutes, turned out to be enough time to find myself completely alone and without a light in sight. I hid my light and did a twirl around in the darkness thinking I would see the direction of light to follow, to eventually have to surface to get back to the group. They had moved quite a way away! Thankfully, no snakes popped out to spook me this time.

  • Ascidian or Sea Squirt (Atriolum robustum) accompanied by unknown Blenny

  • Decorator Crab (Camposcia retusa)

  • Dwarf Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus)

  • Saddled Toby (Canthigaster valentine)

  • Sea Moth (Eurypegasus draconis)

  • Devil Scorpionfish (Inimicus didactylus) Also known as Indian Ocean Walkman, Demon Stinger Fish, Devil Stinger Fish or Bearded Ghoul.

  • Flatworm (Pseudobiceros bedfordi)

  • Banded Sole (Soleichthys heterorhinos)

  • Banded Boxer Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus)

  • Porcelain Crab (Neopetrolisthes maculatus)

  • Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)


Ascidian or Sea Squirt - Atriolum robustum
Decorator Crab - Camposcia retusa
Sea Moth - Eurypegasus draconis
Flatworm - Pseudobiceros bedfordi

There was such a variety of amazing things to see on this dive, it all seemed to have ended far too quickly and eyes at the back of the head would have been useful. The green and white ascidian paired with blenny could have easily been missed, but once it had caught my eye, I couldn’t take my eye off it and persisted to get Simone’s attention to come over and photograph the setting. Below that, the highly adorned Decorator Crab crawled over the base of rubble and the Saddled Toby came into view.


As I came across to film the Sea Moth, it crawled over, crossing paths with the Devil Scorpionfish and its odd looking and out of place chicken feet, making the choice of who to concentrate on filming nearly impossible. The Sea Moth, on a frenzied crawling mission to feast, just wouldn’t stay put long enough to come back to after setting up on the Devil. Moving on straight from this scene, the dancing, whimsical Flatworm springs into lit view and its hypnotic flutter highlights its pretty, and almost neon coloured pattern.


And, and, and! So much to see.


DAY FIVE | 6th JULY | DIVE 1

MONAD SHOAL

★★★★★

Time In: 6:04 Depths: 29.8 m Temp: 28˚C Total Time: 35 mins


This was the best day we had had with the threshers. Although the water was a little murky, we had a continuous repertoire of sharks coming in and out throughout the dive all at one cleaning station. It was an absolutely thrilling show!

  • Pelagic Thresher Sharks (Alopias pelagicus)


Pelagic Thresher Shark - Alopias pelagicus
Pelagic Thresher Shark - Alopias pelagicus

DAY FIVE | 6th JULY | DIVE 2

LAPUS-LAPUS

★★★★

Time In: 9:36 Depths: 29.8 m Temp: 29˚C Total Time: 39 mins


This is an incredibly colourful reef, covered in soft corals, wire and whip corals and small fans, and has a very strong permanent current that brings everything to life. Unfortunately, I had not taken the current into account and did not make the most of all the things to see on this dive. The cracks and crevices along the wall have lots to explore and I had to give the pair of frogfish a miss as I was on the last reserves of my air and needed to make the safety stop.

  • Yellow Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

  • Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)

  • Vomer Conch (Strombus vomer vomer)


Yellow Pygmy Seahorse - Hippocampus bargibanti
Painted Frogfish - Antennarius pictus
Vomer Conch - Strombus vomer vomer

The Yellow Pygmy is a rare find and although I did not see it with the naked eye, Simone got it with his super macro lens. I was there and in my opinion, it counts as a check off my list.


VERDICT: ★★★★★

We took 7 days with travel time taken into account to get a full 5 days of diving done. With an average of 4 dives per day, you get to see a huge variety of rich marine life that you don’t get to see in many other places. Malapascua surpassed our expectations and the Philippines has a lot more underwater exploring to offer. The 5am dives with Thresher Sharks is a top start to each day. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on those!


Planning your Trip:

WEATHER

There are 2 seasons in the Philippines. The wet season, July-October and the dry season, November-June.


The weather is generally warm and tropical so you can pack light, remembering to bring a rain jacket or umbrella if going in the wet. You will need it. The great thing is, come rain or shine, you can dive year-round in the Philippines.


Breaking the seasons down further, December through March is the northeast monsoon that can bring strong winds. April through June is usually dry with warm days and little wind. July through November is the southwest monsoon, which is wet, but the water is warm. Air temperatures average 25-32°C with high relative humidity. We went in July and we had only one wet day out of 7, and that did not deter us from the diving.


Who to Dive with and find Accommodation:

FUN & SUN DIVE & TRAVEL

Head Office, Unit E Bridges Town Square,

Plaridel Street, Alang Mandaue City, Philippines

+63 32 343 3410 | +63 32 343 3409

Malapascua: +63 917 623 5520


There is accommodation to fit everyone’s budget on the island which Fun and Sun Dive and Travel, can help you with. They will also take care of airport transfers.


Fun & Sun Dive Centre

Where to Eat:

One of the best Italian Restaurants outside of Italy! No word of a lie!


ANGELINA

Pizzeria Ristorante Italiano


Where to get a Handmade Wooden Sculptures:

THRESHER SHARK SCULPTURES

By Bryan Barcenas. He has a stand along one of the lanes. It’s about a 7 minute walk left, after the lane behind the Fun & Sun Dive Centre. Someone can direct you to him.


Things to Bring:

A universal travel power plug adapter converter and a 6 way plug extension lead as we had so many different things to charge overnight with all the different camera batteries, lights, tablet, laptop, etc.


Currency and Tipping:

The Philippines currency is the Philippine Peso (PHP). The US dollar is the most recognised foreign currency. Tips of 10% of the billing amount are common practice if service charge is not included.


Airline of Choice:

Emirates fly to Cebu direct.


Tourist Visa:

156 countries get tourist visas upon arrival, but best to double check before making the trip.



Drone Shot by Simon J Pierce

All Underwater Photography by Simone Caprodossi

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