Cyerce nigra is a rare species of nudibranch, much sought after by underwater photographers and can be seen in Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)
Cyerce nigra is a rare species of nudibranch, much sought after by underwater photographers and can be seen in Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)

Diving into another world in the Philippines: Anilao and Romblon

  Philippines: Anilao + Romblon - March 2017

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


Traveling light, I don't know what it is anymore! In March, I went diving in the Philippines in Anilao and Romblon. With, in my luggage, a cumbersome macro photography equipment, to bring back images of the tiny fauna that lives underwater.

Immediate boarding

I will spare you the tricks I had to deploy at the airport to give the impression that my carry-on bag, containing all this precious photographic barda, weighed nothing at all ...

(This subject deserves a post by itself, I'll come back to it, especially since for the first time in my life as a traveler-diver-photographer, I was caught between two planes, at the stopover in Dubai, by an unexpected scale control establishing that my bag weighed more than 7kg and it cost me the budget of several dives... 😱 )

As for my diving equipment, no problem, he goes on hold in the big bag with wheels. (And here I answer the question often asked to me by non-diving friends, a little frightened by my logistics: no, I don't carry any diving tanks or weights with me !!! They are provided on site by the diving centers).

Anyway. With heavy luggage but light heart, I flew (again) to Asia! Heading for the Philippines, this time, with a new toy, that I was very eager to try: a 100mm "macro" lens (for "macro photography"), more powerful and more quilted than my old 60mm ...

The little bazaar that I steal on a trip to be able to take photos under water ... Right, my camera with its new lens 100mm macro. Only the most fragile elements, namely the camera and lenses, its box and portholes, remain in my cabin bag. I put everything else in the hold. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
The little mess I have to deal with when traveling to take pictures underwater... On the right, my camera with its new 100mm macro lens. Only the most fragile elements, i.e. the camera and the lenses, its housing and its windows, remain in my carry-on bag. I put everything else in the hold (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
And here it is! The'device is ready to accompany me underwater! (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
And here it is! The camera is ready to accompany me underwater! (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
My toy, at the bottom of the boat. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
My toy, at the bottom of the boat. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)

Without going into technical details, this lens works a bit like a big magnifying glass and allows you to photograph very small animals, from a few centimeters to a few millimeters. On land, insect lovers use it to immortalize bees or ants. I took it underwater and focused on tiny shrimps, pygmy seahorses and nudibranchs (which also have the less appetizing name of sea slugs)

Welcome to the extraordinary world of underwater macro photography! 😍

A tiny shrimp on its coral branch. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
A tiny shrimp on its coral branch. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
A delicate pygmy seahorse bargibanti rose. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
A delicate pygmy seahorse bargibanti rose. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Nudibranch Cuthona yamasui. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Nudibranch Cuthona yamasui. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
My finger next to a tiny nudibranch... It gives a better idea of the scale! (Romblon, Philippines, 2017)
My finger next to a tiny nudibranch... It gives a better idea of the size of some critters! (Romblon, Philippines, 2017)

Anilao and Romblon

To test this new lens, after much hesitation, I selected two specific spots in the Philippines: Anilao and Romblon.

Anilao is a village located on a peninsula in the southwestern part of Luzon Island, 3-4 hours drive south of Manila, the capital. This part of the coastline has become popular with divers and the name of Anilao designates today the whole of this coastal region, rich in underwater microfauna and suitable for underwater macro photography, where a lot of hotels and resorts dedicated to this activity have been developed.

The terrace of the Planet Dive center, in Anilao. (Philippines, March 2017)
The terrace of the Planet Dive center, in Anilao. (Philippines, March 2017)
Herbert, my guide "lynx eye" at Planet Dive. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Herbert, my "eagle eye" guide at Planet Dive. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Very nice, the morning view of my terrace! (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Very nice, the morning view of my terrace! (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Every evening, the sky of Anilao is set ablaze for a magnificent sunset (Philippines, March 2017).
Every evening, the sky of Anilao is set ablaze for sumptuous sunsets (Philippines, March 2017).

Romblon is a small and peaceful island, located southeast of Anilao, about 8 hours by ferry, away from the tourist circuits. It is the marble capital of the Philippines. It is also a diving spot, still not very well known, where underwater photographers addicted to "super-macro" are delighted by rare species of translucent nudibranchs and hairy shrimps almost invisible to the naked eye!

Welcome to Romblon, the marble capital. (Philippines, March 2017)
Welcome to Romblon, the marble capital. (Philippines, March 2017)
The azure waters of Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)
The azure waters of Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)
While touring the island, there are wild beaches, deserted. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
As you circle the island, you'll find wild, deserted beaches (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017).
Return of the divers through the mangrove, at the end of the day. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
Return of the divers through the mangrove at low tide at the end of the day. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)

Muck-dive

Anilao and Romblon are therefore very particular spots. I am often asked for advice on dive sites in Asia, so I make it clear that these two will not be suitable for all divers and probably not at all for snorkelers (swimmers in fins-mask-snorkel). Because the specialty of the corner, as in Lembeh Strait, Indonesiait is rather the "muck dive"which could be translated as "muddy dive".

In fact of vase, the term muck dives means dives on a bottom that is not really spectacular nor very engaging at first sight. In Anilao and Romblon, the bottom is usually a mixture of sand and dead coral debris, with a few "copses" and coral spuds here and there.

Observation dives are made here, which require patience and passion. Because this substratum, which seems unattractive to novice eyes, is the habitat of many small crustaceans, mollusks and extraordinary fish. It is full of life! And in Anilao and Romblon, the diversity of species is remarkable. Scientists continue to discover new ones every year!

Note that there are still "normal" coral sites in Romblon and Anilao, where the usual underwater fauna of tropical waters is wriggling (not to be missed, the magnificent reef Beatricenear Sombrero Island, off Anilao). But in general, we only go there once or twice during our stay, between two muck divesThe activity of the diving centers of the area is mainly focused on the observation of microfauna and macro photography.

In the Philippines, the dives are made from bangkas, traditional boats with rockers. (Anilao, March 2017)
In the Philippines, the dives are made from bancas, these traditional boats with rockers. (Anilao, March 2017)
Near Sombrero Island, off Anilao, the Beatrice site offers an explosion of colors and coral life. (Philippines, March 2017)
Near Sombrero Island, off Anilao, the Beatrice site is an explosion of color and coral life. (Philippines, March 2017)
The butterfly nudibranch Yerce elegans, with its translucent outgrowth, is one of the rarities coveted by underwater photographers. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
The butterfly nudibranch Cyerce elegans, with its translucent growths, is one of the rarities coveted by underwater photographers. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
In the same family, Cyerce nigra is a rare species of nudibranch, similarly much sought after by underwater photographers and that can be seen in Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)
In the same family, Cyerce nigra is a rare species of nudibranch, similarly much sought after by underwater photographers and can be seen in Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)
This species of nudibranch is quite common, widespread in the area. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
This species of nudibranch is more common, widespread in the area. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
A small toad fish (antennal) clown. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
A small toad fish (antennal) clown. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
This nudibranch seems to carry a heart on his back. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
This nudibranch seems to carry a heart on his back. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
A flat worm straightens its "head" on a mound of grains of sand. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
A flatworm straightens its "head" on a mound of sand grains. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
It is only when I displayed the image of this Denise seahorse on my computer screen that I noticed the tiny skeleton shrimps all around... And a reader of the blog tells me that these "skeleton shrimps" are a very popular food of the greedy pygmy seahorses! Anyway, my lovely red and white Denise poses in the middle of her pantry. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
It is only when I displayed the image of this Denise seahorse on my computer screen that I noticed the tiny skeleton shrimps all around... And a reader of the blog tells me that these "skeleton shrimps" are a very appreciated food of the greedy pygmy seahorses! Anyway, my pretty red and white Denise is posing in the middle of her pantry. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
This little pipefish or sea needle is part of the same family of fish as seahorses. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
This little pipefish or sea needle is part of the same family of fish as seahorses. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)

An "eagle eye" guide

Obviously, the muck dive is only interesting if you manage to see these little creatures hiding among all the debris of the substrate or in the recesses of the reefs. As they are often very gifted in camouflage and able to assume surprising shapes, the dives become treasure hunts, with a suspense worthy of a safari, but for miniature animals. And when you immerse yourself with a camera, in "image hunting" mode, it's quite simple, you don't see the time passing...

Very important detail: without an "eagle eye" guide by your side, you might miss a lot. Some species are very small, others know very well how to blend in with their environment, and you also have to know where to look.

All the success of diving is therefore often based on the guide and his talent for "spotter", his experience of the site, his knowledge of the environment and the fauna, his enthusiasm too of course - as well as his ability to communicate well underwater, to draw your attention to a fascinating detail, which you would never have noticed without him.

Perched on a sea urchin, this crabmother protects her eggs. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Perched on a sea urchin, this crabmother protects her eggs. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
This little monster is called "dragon shrimp". (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
This little monster calls itself a "dragon shrimp." (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
Shot in night diving, this small octopus with blue cupping takes the pose in the gray sand. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Shot in night diving, this small octopus with blue cupping takes the pose in the gray sand. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
This small, very photogenic fish (Oxycirrhites typus) is beautifully called woodcock or long-tailed hawk. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
This small, very photogenic fish (Oxycirrhites typus) is beautifully called woodcock or long-tailed hawk. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
At the time I'took the picture, I hadn't even noticed that this shrimp had painted nails! (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017
At the time I took the photo, I hadn't even noticed that this shrimp had painted nails! (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017
If it weren't for my guide Herbert, I would never have seen this beautiful rhinopias, yet bright purple against the gray background (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Without my guide Herbert, I would never have seen this beautiful rhinopias, yet bright purple against the gray background (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017).
Nudibranch Aplysia parvula, family of "sea hares". (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
Nudibranch Aplysia parvula, of the "sea hare" family. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
Each grain of sand is like a big piece for this nudibranch. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
Each grain of sand is like a big stone for this nudibranch. (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
Yes, that too is a nudibranch! (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Yes, that's a nudibranch too! (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
A more "classic" nudibranch, with its small tuft of gills at the back of the body (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
A more "classic" nudibranch, with its small tuft of gills at the back of the body (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
A small flaming cuttlefish presents me its best profile in the gray sand. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
A small flaming cuttlefish presents me its best profile in the gray sand. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)

Planet Dive and Three P Divers

Ah, the guides! How precious they are, how grateful I am...

In Planet Dive in AnilaoI used the services of the adorable Herbert, always calm and benevolent. Native of the region, father of three teenagers, owner of his boats, he is infinitely patient with the whims of the photographers and very considerate with the cold divers, who are treated like princesses (a wink to my partner Lise). He has notably set up on board his banca (the traditional Philippine outrigger boat), a service that for me is five stars, the supreme luxury: the distribution of hot towels (yes, like those given by the stewardesses in the plane) to warm up these ladies frigid by 90 minutes of immersion (yes, I am frigid while diving in a sea at 26°C). A little hot water poured from a thermos, a mini cooler to keep everything at temperature, and that's it!

With Herbert, my guide "eye of lynx". (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
With Herbert, my "eagle eye" guide. (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
Princess Lise takes the pose ... (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)
My friend and partner Lise takes her princess pose ... (Anilao, Philippines, March 2017)

In Three P Divers in RomblonI did not have a guide, but I was surrounded by an enthusiastic and passionate German-Filipino team, which is wonderful... During my stay, the fantastic Joseph alias "Erap", 50 kilos all wet and a genius "finder", who knows where all the nudibranchs in the area live (especially the very rare and small ones), as well as Philipp, Fabia and Kati, experts in marine biology, who know all the species and transform each dive into a captivating exploration worthy of the National Geographic

With Joseph "Erap", the king of nudibranchs in Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)
With Joseph "Erap", the king of nudibranchs in Romblon. (Philippines, March 2017)
Philipp and his three layers of combi ... (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)
Philipp (one of the three "P's" at Three P Divers, founded with his brothers Patrick and Peter) never dives without three layers of wetsuit... (Romblon, Philippines, March 2017)

In short, without them, I would not have had so much fun with my new toy. No wonder at every dive.

To think that I had not returned to the Philippines, since my previous trip to Visayas in 2008 ! I came back enchanted from this special macrophotography trip, which I would have liked to extend by a week or two, to add the big animals of the reef of Tubbataha. This will be the pretext for a next trip... 😎

Note that for once, I was not alone for the whole trip, a couple of Parisian friends having joined me for a few days in Anilao (hello Lise and Thomas!). A big thank you also to Olivier from the website Asiaqua.com (currently based in Anilao and that I had already crossed in Thailand in 2009): when it came to booking, my friend Lise and I opted for the easy way out, delegating to her the organization (à la carte and with a little care) of our respective stays...

Here. I wanted to ask that in preamble to the other posts to come on this trip. For you to understand why, unlike my previous diving trip to EgyptThere will be almost only macro photos, underwater... 😉

The more I dive, the more I am fascinated by the extraordinary richness of the underwater world, whether it is XXL or Lilliputian. The more I am aware of the fragility of this ecosystem, where everything is linked and interdependent. And the more I realize how lucky I am to have been able to observe so many animals in their natural marine environment for nearly twenty years. I am not sure that it will still be possible in twenty years...

  Philippines: Anilao + Romblon - March 2017

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