Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text:
Making bubbles along coral falls overflowing with life and colours, what a delight! In the Philippines, the island of Cabilao is a real little underwater jewel.
Cabilao, a quiet little island
I bring you back in February 2019, to the Philippines. For this diving trip, I have only two weeks in front of me and I decided to dedicate the first one to Cabilao, which has been attracting my attention for quite a few years...
Cabilao is a tiny island of less than five square miles. Triangular in shape, it is located on the northwest coast of Bohol, in the Strait of Cebu. Here it is:
Cabilao has five villages and less than 5,000 inhabitants, living mainly from fishing, farming and tourism. Unlike other islands near Bohol, it is not connected by a bridge, so the place has remained fairly quiet.
Apart from diving, there is not much to do on Cabilao... There is a large inland lake that can be walked around, lots of small roads where it is easy to ride a scooter, some tourist accommodations and a handful of diving resorts.
It's the perfect island to break from the hustle and bustle of the world... 👌
Above: one of the small roads in Cabilao, easy to ride on a scooter. At the small port of Talisai, on the south-east coast, we are welcomed by the Ten Commandments. (Philippines, February 2019)
I am delighted to have chosen the first (and I have no shares with them).
I discover that the clientele is rather family oriented, so that there are few divers as keen as me (understand: three dives a day). So there are very few of us on the boat for exploration trips (most of the other customers do first dives or training) and therefore always in very small groups underwater... 👌
For a female photographer diver like me (understand: who can't stand the big lines that scare the fish away), it's ideal. I must admit, I took a malicious pleasure to observe, from afar, the groups that piled up every morning on the boats of the neighboring resort.
Two very nice young French instructors manage the Cabilao Divers center during my stay. They understand very well my expectations and I appreciate the way they organize the outings: choice of sites almost à la carte from day to day (depending on the conditions), reduced size lifts and distributed by levels... And, regularly, I have one of the Philippine guides, knowing perfectly the reefs of Cabilao, for me alone. Absolute luxury in my eyes! 🤗
For the rest, everything else is fine too. There are rooms for all budgets, a nice little swimming pool for post-diving desalination, a nice terrace facing the sea to admire the sunset and the staff is adorable. A detail that doesn't spoil anything: the management being French, the food served at the restaurant is pleasantly fresh.
My "home" for the week, a simple bungalow... (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
In the evening, the hermit crabs are on the loose and the geckos have eyes bigger than their stomachs & #8230; (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Coral in great shape
Honestly, I was expecting at least "nice" dives at Cabilao, but I quickly realise that we're a notch above...
From the first dive, at the aptly named Gorgonian Wall, I am hooked. 😲 There is something exhilarating and moving at the same time to contemplate such a beautiful underwater landscape. I would almost shed a little tear in my mask...
The good health of the coral, exuberant, varied, dense, is so pleasing to see!
For the wide-angle ambient photosI discover with amazement huge orange and pink gorgonians, huge tables of Acropora, purple and yellow soft corals in profusion, impressive barrel sponges... And with each dive or almost each dive, we meet one or more turtles! Day after day, I am captivated by Cabilao's coral drop offs. In front of these vertical walls overflowing with life, the most tricky thing to deal with is the sunlight for underwater photos, as it is not always positioned in the ideal place - depending on the orientation of the sites, the time of day, the direction of the current... Yes, I have big problems in life... 😂
Macro photo sideThe small fauna usual in these latitudes presents here a rich diversity of species, whether you are bitten by nudibranchs (sea slugs), pygmy seahorses, antennaires (also called toadfish or frogfish), delicate ghost pipefish or hideous scorpion fish... 😍 It is impossible to get bored ! Apart from the drop offs, there are also some more oriented sites "Muck-dive" oriented sites (where you can look for small fauna hiding in the substrate) on a sandy bottom, with seagrass beds and coral rubble.
I show you below a small selection of pictures, which give a good idea of what to expect when diving at Cabilao.
Along the drop-offs, you can admire imposing gorgonians, roses, orange-yellow... (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Gorgonians addict... (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
A cute bargibanti pygmy seahorse, clinging to its gorgonian branch with purple polyps and a denise pygmy seahorse. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019) Read also → Shy as a pygmy seahorse
The golden apogon, mouth closed then open, revealing its eggs which it incubates in its mouth ... This is what is called oral incubation. (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
Above, close-up portrait of a scorpion fish, and a nudibranch (sea slug) which takes itself for a bull & #8230; (Cabilao, Philippines, February 2019)
As for hammerhead sharks who once swam in the waters of Cabilao (and which some dive tour operators still dare to sometimes mention or even photograph, to bait the client), no need to hope to see any. They were massively fished in 1999-2000 and their population has never recovered. Besides, I have not seen big fish around...
The Cabilao sites therefore have everything to please Zen and contemplative diversThey are rather "bio" (biology) oriented, knowing how to appreciate the splendour of the coral and the profusion of small animals as strange as fascinating. But it is clearly not a corner for "big" lovers (even if, as in Balicasag, not very far from there, we are not immune to come across a good big whale shark passing by).
Good to know: you have to pay a small daily fee to be able to dive in Cabilao, as the island benefits from two marine protected areas (MPAs). That's lucky for the coral and the local fishes. It's probably thanks to those MPAs that the reefs have remained so beautiful...
MPAs are indeed very effective in preserving or locally regenerating an underwater ecosystem, whether in Asia or the Mediterranean. In addition, they benefit the surrounding waters, helping them to repopulate and enrich them in species and biomass: this is the "reserve effect". Enough to give nature a real boost!
Unfortunately, this is still a drop in the ocean, in the face of these three very destructive practices, which are unfortunately well known in Asia, namely dynamite fishing, industrial fishing and shark fin fishing…
Dynamite fishing. In Asia in particular, dynamite fishing has destroyed many reefs in a few decades. Although now illegal and very dangerous, it is still practised in certain corners near the coral reefs. I have already happened several times, in Indonesia and the Philippines, in particular, to hear explosions underwater, during dives... Scary. The sound propagates underwater without you being able to identify its direction or distance.
Industrial fishing. On the high seas, these are the factory ships of industrial fishingwith China leading the way, which are the most devastating. They continue to literally empty the ocean, depleting fish stocks that cannot replenish themselves, not to mention their innumerable so-called 'by-catches' (dolphins, turtles, and other commercially unviable species).
Shark finning. Finally, there is also the juicy shark-finning, that is to say shark fin fishing, intended for the Asian market, disastrous for populations of sharks, which are essential predators for the balance of marine ecosystems... An ocean without sharks is the terrestrial life that is threatened.
At my modest diving tourist scale, I had the chance to discover many protected sites, reserves and marine parks, offering beautifully preserved and lively reefs. In Cabilao therefore, as well as in Tubbataha and Balicasag in the Philippines, but also in Sipadan in Malaysia, at Komodo and Raja Ampat in Indonesia...
On divers' or travellers' forums, I sometimes read comments from people who are outraged that they have to pay a fee to access some of these marine protected areas, in Asia or elsewhere - some even congratulating themselves for having managed to avoid paying it?
Nothing to brag about. Part of the money collected is used to involve local people in the conservation of their environment and fishery resources. But awareness and good will are not enough. Without financial means, it is impossible to protect a maritime area from poaching, concreting, overexploitation or pollution...
My previous diving trips to the Philippines
After Cabilao, I chose to stay in the area and devote the second part of my stay to the diving sites accessible by day from Panglao: in particular the island of Balicasag and the sumptuous reef of Doljo. I'll tell you about it in future posts...
This stay from February-March 2019 is already my fifth trip to Philippines. As I often write to those who ask me for itinerary advice, it is impossible to discover the multiple facets of this immense archipelago and its innumerable dive sites in one go... You have to make choices. To inspire you, here are my previous trips:
In February 2018: the island of Pangatalan, near Palawan, to discover the environmental restoration work of the Sulubaaï foundation, aboard the oceanographic schooner Tara, as part of an assignment for my newspaper, the daily Ouest-France, and for the dive magazine Dive!