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November 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 32, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Crystal Blue Resort, Anilao, Philippines

making much of the muck

from the November, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

The only way to enter the water from a Filipino bangka is by backward roll, and when I hit the 78-degree (25°C) water in April, I was glad to be wearing my 5mm wetsuit. As a Caribbean diver for the past 30 years, it wasn't only the cool water that got my attention; the visibility was a mere 25-30 feet (8-10m), and on many dives, there were no colorful corals or sponges. Instead, there was the much-advertised muck, which is gray sand and gravel that the local photo pros call "substrate." For this, I flew 11 hours from San Francisco to Tokyo and another 7 hours to Manila?

Bangka moored outside CBRBut, the Filipino dive guides made it all worthwhile as they consistently showed me unique, colorful and exciting critters that were fantastic for macro photography: hairy frogfish; mantis shrimp; colmani shrimp in pairs atop fire urchins; blue ring octopus; ribbon eels and nudibranchs. (In fact, some call it the nudibranch capital of the world!) And the guides know right where to find a half-inch pygmy seahorse camouflaged in a same-colored sea fan. I enjoyed the challenge of working patiently to get pictures of several species of "Nemo" for my nondiving friends. As opposed to the Caribbean, most of the frogfish had not disappeared into sponges of an identical color, so I could easily spot and shoot them. And I had the time, since a typical dive ran about 70 minutes because the depth was typically less than 60 feet (18m) and often as little as 25 feet (8m). They recommended gloves, and with beer cans and broken glass in the muck, I'm glad I brought mine (especially because they did not sell gloves).

CBR limited a bangka to four divers and one guide, and my guide was both professional and serious about doing a good job. He was about 35 years old and married with a child, and in the impoverished Philippine economy, a dive guide is fairly well paid. If I asked for a specific critter, he would look for it, pointing it out with either a flashlight or a pointer. I had the same guide for a week -- I'm told most other Anilao resorts switch guides daily -- so we got to know each other well, which enhanced our communication both above and below the surface....

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