“You can’t come to the Philippines and not go scuba diving,” said American dive master Gary Finney.
Sporting an army-style crew cut, the expat continued to explain why, “The Philippines has some of the highest concentration of reef-building corals in the world, and here on Negros, we’re lucky to be surrounded by them.”
We were on Negros to do just that – immerse ourselves in its underwater world. The water surrounding the eastern coast of Negros is home to some of the best dive sites in the country, some even dare say, the world. It was one of the reasons that had drawn him here.
Having chocked up over 7,500 dives in the last 50 years or so working as a commercial diver in Mexico, Gary is probably the most experienced diver in town – yet during our dive in Dauin Marine Sanctuary, he was as excited as us to see a giant hawksbill turtle. He has been diving everyday in the area for the last decade or so, yet his enthusiasm for his adopted country and its marine life remains unchanged.
The water surrounding the eastern coast of Negros is home to some of the best dive sites in the country, some even dare say, the world.
Off the shore of the rugged Apo Island (an offshore island that belongs to Negros), we spotted fluorescent-pink sea anemones, lettuce-like fan corals, and throngs of psychedelic fish shimmering like silver leaves. Swimming with the current, we glided alongside a vertiginous coral wall that plunged away below us into the depths of nothing – to my right, giant marble groupers weaving around neon-colored coral gardens; on my left, an ethereal expanse of blue.
Apo is most famous for the hawksbill turtles that inhabit its shores – even snorkelers get to see them from the shallow clear waters off the beach. We spotted almost five of them, along with giant lobsters that crept beneath giant coral plates, blue manta rays that flew gracefully past us, as well as schools of angel fish and sweet lips that all merge together to form a tornado of rainbow colors.
Gary’s child-like enthusiasm obviously rubbed off on us, as we all tapped our tanks and cheered –divers’ style, struck by the spectacular seascapes. “This is my favorite place to dive, it always surprises me – No two dives here are the same,” Gary shared. Our fellow divers – a French family who was just here last year diving Apo Island with Gary – were equally captivated by the marine life here, “We dive a lot near our home in France, but here everything is so different – the corals are so colorful and marine life is so much more vibrant. We love it so much that we decided to come back – maybe we will return again next summer – who knows!”
As we cruised back to land, I looked back over my shoulder to see the deserted Apo Island shimmering in the tropical sunlight. On land or underwater, Apo Island was dramatically beautiful no matter how you looked at it.
Monarch Sands organizes dive trips to Dauin Marine Sanctuary, areas around Tambobo Marine Sanctuary and Apo Island. Prices are at 3 dives for 3,800 pesos (US$90).
Disclaimer: Our dive trip was made possible by Monarch Sands, but all opinions expressed above are our own. Special thanks to Sandrine Leclercq for providing the underwater photos above.