Philippines: Cabilao + Balicasag [Panglao-Bohol] - February-March 2019
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In the Philippines, the island of Balicasag is a popular diving site. You can observe a huge silver school of trevally, circling near the reef. A fascinating spectacle...
Review the Balicasag Reef
I take you back months, in March 2019. I am then in the Philippines, for two weeks of diving. After the small island of Cabilao (see here → The beautiful surprises of Cabilao, a small coral jewel), I continue my stay a little further south, on Panglao.
The area is very touristy and not at all "off the beaten track", but it is the ideal base camp to go diving in Balicasag.
I want to go back to see this island, where I had the chance to encounter a whale shark the previous yearI was also able to discover some local sites, as I was only able to stay a short time during my previous visit in 2018.
I must admit that for this second part of the trip, I didn't bother too much about the organization of the dives. I let my friends Carol and Jérôme, who run the center Equation, take care of everything for me... Long live the vacations! 👌 😎 🌴
I am lucky: I will be able to dive two days in Balicasag, one at the beginning and the other at the end of my stay. During the first dive, with Carol, I rediscover the splendor of the site: diversity of hard corals, abundance of small reef fauna, marauding turtles...
As expected, we meet the huge school of bigeye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus their little scientific name) that usually wriggle in shallow water near the reef. I want to try to make the pictures I didn't make last year, because the surprise whale shark had stolen the show a little from them…
But that day, on the spot where we met jacks, the visibility was not good, at least not enough for the pictures I had in mind. There is too much "fog" in the water, impossible to take the necessary distance to be able to photograph the whole mass of fish.
Carol, nice, plays the models. I take some pictures, impressed by the size of the bench, but a little frustrated by the conditions...
Fortunately, I have a second chance. I have my place reserved a few days later, to go back to Balicasag. I keep my fingers crossed that we will succeed in finding, in good conditions, the big ball of fish...
I prepared my photo case carefully the night before. Charged the batteries well. Put a blank memory card in the camera. The jacks had better show up...
The jacks of Balicasag: the video
This time, I dive with Jerome. The captain of the banka (traditional Philippine outrigger boat) which takes us diving was well informed by his colleagues: a few minutes after the launch, we can see the huge mass of fish. What luck, the visibility is excellent!
As usual, the school is shallow, in the 12-14 meters. Like the swarms of birds in the sky, which are constantly forming and deforming, the collective swimming of the jacks is a fascinating spectacle. Each fish seems to obey a mysterious signal that coordinates the movement of the group. The wall of scales opens and closes around the webbed humans who try to sneak up on them.
I first admire from far and I wait, the time to let another group of divers pass. And then we are quiet again. Wonderful! 😲
Very photogenic trevallies
I alternate the video and photo modes. I never tire of contemplating this aquatic cloud, it is almost hypnotic.
Jerome evolves quietly among the fishes, without sudden gesture in order not to break the unity of the school, letting them gradually form a silver round around him.
I can soon see the magic moment coming, for the photographer that I am... The one where the silhouette of the diver, the ring of jacks and the sun will align perfectly in the lens.
But I'm too close. Everything is not going to come within the framework, despite my fisheye !
Quick, a little back-palm. Quickly, I reframe. The fish continue to turn slowly, without scattering... I trigger, I start again...
How beautiful is this swirl of fish!
Back on the boat, all smiles, I savored this magnificent dive, both peaceful and enchanting. In the camera, I bring back pictures that I hope will reflect the wonder that seized me.
The beauty of this other world, under the surface, gives me so many emotions! 😍
Marine reserve and quota of divers
Balicasag and the surrounding waters are a marine reserve. However, over the years, the island has become a very popular diving and excursion site, especially because of its proximity to the very touristy Alona Beach (this beach had already made me flee in 2008). And the exponential influx of visitors and boats has led to a number of problems for the environment (non-respectful anchorages, destruction of coral, pollution, etc.), as in many other places where mass tourism has developed.
So, like at Boracay or in the lagoons ofEl Nido, a strict quota of visitors has been introduced at Balicasag (during 2018, if I'm not mistaken), to limit the daily attendance (the limit is 140 certified divers per day), as has been done for years at Sipadan in Malaysia.
GOOD TO KNOW. If you want to admire the underwater wonders of Balicasag, you must therefore ANTICIPATE and think about contact local diving structures beforehand to reserve your place. All the dive centers in Panglao organize day trips to Balicasag, with lunch on board the boat, usually for two to three dives (only divers already certified, training is now forbidden in the marine reserve). The trip by banka takes 30 to 45 minutes. The island itself is tiny (about 30 hectares) and has only about 800 inhabitants. There is only one hotel, run by the government, but its management seems to leave a lot to be desired, and I only heard bad things about it.
While this may be frustrating, this binding quota measure really goes in the right direction. This is usually very effective to preserve an ecosystem and allow it to regenerate. In any case, we hope that this spectacular school of jacks will continue to haunt the Balicasag reef for a long time.
Other dives in the Philippines
This diving trip from February-March 2019 is already my fifth stay at Philippines. As I often write to those who ask me for itinerary advices, it is impossible to discover the multiple facets of this huge archipelago and its countless diving sites in one go... You have to make choices. To inspire you, here are my previous trips:
- In February 2008: discovery of the Visayas (Leyte, Panglao-Bohol, Siquijor, Negros, via Cebu).
- In March 2017: Anilao and Romblon, two paradises for macro.
- In February 2018: Pangatalan Island, near Palawan, to discover the environmental restoration work of the Sulubaaï foundation, aboard the oceanographic schooner Tarain the context of a report for my newspaper, the daily Ouest-France, and for the dive magazine Dive!
- In May 2018: cruise to Tubbataha, followed by a few days of diving in Balicasag. (Panglao-Bohol), two marine reserves.
Philippines: Cabilao + Balicasag [Panglao-Bohol] - February-March 2019