C'est parti ! Les carangues commencent à tournoyer au-dessus de Jérôme... (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
Let's go ! The trevallies begin to spin above Jérôme ... (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)

Fish Whirl at Balicasag


  Philippines : Cabilao + Balicasag [Panglao-Bohol] - February-March 2019

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:

In the Philippines, Balicasag Island is a popular dive site. There is a huge silvery school of trevallies swirling near the reef. A fascinating sight...

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 for diving in Balicasag.

I want to go back to this island, where I had the chance to come across a whale shark the previous year, and also discover some local sites, having only been able to stay for a short time during my previous visit in 2018.

Balicasag vue du ciel, photographiée depuis mon siège hublot dans l'avion du retour... (Philippines, mars 2019)
Balicasag seen from the sky, photographed from my window seat on the return plane ... (Philippines, March 2019)
Petit panoramique à l'iPhone depuis la bangka. Les eaux turquoise de l'île font toujours leur petit effet... (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
Small pan to the iPhone from the banka. The turquoise waters of the island always have a small effect ... (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)

I confess, for this second part of the stay, I did not break my head too much, regarding the organization of the dives. I leave my friends Carol and Jérôme, who run the dive shop Equation, take care of everything for me... Hurray for the holidays! 👌 😎 🌴

I'm lucky: I will be able to dive two days at Balicasag, one at the start and the other at the end of the stay. During the first outing, with Carol, I rediscover the splendor of the site: diversity of hard corals, abundance of small reef fauna, marauding turtles ...

Du corail en pleine forme ! (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
Coral in great shape! (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)
On croise assez souvent des tortues, le long du récif. (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
Quite often we come across turtles along the reef. (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)
Profusion... (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
Profusion… (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)
Une carangue solitaire au-dessus d'une colonie de corail-laitue. (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
A solitary trevally over a colony of coral-lettuce. (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)
Passion corail... (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
Coral Passion ... (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)

As hoped, we meet the huge school of bigeye trevallies (Caranx sexfasciatus from their scientific name) which usually wriggle in shallow water near the reef. I want to try to make the images that I did not do last year, because the surprise whale shark had stolen the show a little from them…

But that day, on the spot where we meet the trevallies, the visibility is not great, at least not enough for the photos I have in mind. There is a little too much “fog” in the water, impossible to take the necessary step back to be able to photograph the mass of fish as a whole.

Carol, nice, plays the role models. I am still gathering a few images, impressed by the size of the bench, but a little frustrated by the conditions…

Première rencontre avec les carangues, Carol joue les modèles. Ce jour-là, la visibilité n'est pas très bonne, je ne parviens pas à faire les images que je souhaite... Heureusement, je vais avoir une deuxième chance. (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
First meeting with the trevallies, Carol plays the models. That day, visibility is not very good, I can't manage to make the images I want… Fortunately, I will have a second chance. (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)

Fortunately, I have a second chance. I have my place reserved a few days later, to return to diving in Balicasag. I cross my fingers so that we manage to find, in good conditions, the big ball of fish ...

I prepared my photo box carefully the night before. Fully charged the batteries. Put a blank memory card in the device. The trevallies have an interest in showing themselves…

Balicasag's trevallies: the video

This time, I dive with Jérôme. The captain of the banka (traditional Philippine pendulum boat) who takes us to dive was well met by his colleagues: a few minutes after the launch, we can see the huge mass of fish. How lucky, the visibility is excellent!

As usual, the bench is shallow, within 12-14 meters. Like the clouds of birds in the sky, which are constantly forming and deforming, the collective swimming of trevallies 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 webbed humans who try to sneak in among them.

I admire at first from a distance and I wait, the time to let pass another group of divers. And then we are quiet again. Magnificent ! 😲

Very photogenic trevallies

I alternate video and photo modes. I never tire of contemplating this aquatic cloud, it is almost hypnotic.

Jérôme moves quietly among the fish, without abrupt gestures so as not to break the unity of the bench, gradually letting them form a quicksilver circle around him.

I soon see the magic moment coming, for the photographer that I am ... The one where the silhouette of the diver, the ring of trevallies and the sun will align perfectly in the lens.

Les carangues nagent en cercle au-dessus de Jérôme. (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
The trevallies swim in a circle above Jérôme. (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)
Jérôme disparaît dans le tourbillon de poissons. (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
Jérôme disappears in the whirlwind of fish. (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)
Pour ne pas faire fuir le banc, il faut s'en approcher lentement, sans geste brusque. (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
In order not to scatter the bench, it is necessary to approach it slowly, without sudden gesture. (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)
C'est parti ! Les carangues commencent à tournoyer au-dessus de Jérôme... (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
Let's go ! The trevallies begin to spin above Jérôme… (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)

But I'm too close. Everything is not going to come within the framework, despite my fisheye !

Quick, a little backlash. Quick, I crop. The fish continue to spin slowly, without scattering ... I trigger, I start again ...

How beautiful, this whirlwind of fish!

Cherchez l'intrus... J'ai juste le temps de déclencher avant que la ronde des carangues ne se défasse à nouveau. (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
Look for the intruder ... I just have time to trigger before the trevallies go undone again. (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)

Back on the boat, all smiles, I savor this magnificent dive, both peaceful and bewitching. In the camera, I bring back images which, I hope, will reflect the wonder that seized me.

The beauty of this other world, below the surface, gives me so many emotions! 😍

Marine reserve and quota of divers

Balicasag and the surrounding waters are a marine reserve. Only, the island has become over the years a very popular diving and excursion site, due in particular to 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 ended up causing quite a few problems for the environment (moorings not respected, destruction of the 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 was established in Balicasag (during 2018, if I'm not mistaken), to limit daily attendance (the limit is 140 certified divers per day), like what has been practiced for years in Sipadan in Malaysia.

GOOD TO KNOW. If you want to admire the underwater wonders of Balicasag, you must ANTICIPATE and think about contact local diving structures beforehand to reserve his place. All Panglao centers organize day trips to Balicasag, with lunch on board the boat, generally for two to three dives (only divers already certified, training is now prohibited in the marine reserve). The trip to banka lasts 30 to 45 minutes. The island itself is tiny (around 30 hectares) and has only around 800 inhabitants. There is only one hotel, run by the government, but its management apparently leaves much to be desired, I have had only negative comments.

While this may be frustrating, this binding quota measure really goes in the right direction. It is generally very effective in preserving an ecosystem and allowing it to regenerate. Enough to hope, in any case, that this spectacular school of jacks will continue to haunt the Balicasag reef for a long time to come.

Pour cette deuxième sortie à Balicasag, la visibilité est bonne et permet de prendre plus de recul pour photographier le banc de carangues. (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
For this second trip to Balicasag, visibility is good and allows you to take a step back to photograph the school of trevallies. (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)
Le long du récif, d'imposantes gorgones. (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
Along the reef, imposing gorgonians. (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)
Un petit poisson-grenouille clown regarde passer les plongeurs. (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
A small clown frogfish watches the divers go by. (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)
Profusion... (Balicasag, Philippines, mars 2019)
Profusion… (Balicasag, Philippines, March 2019)
Sur la banka de plongée d'Equation. (Philippines, Balicasag, mars 2019)
On the Equation diving banka. (Philippines, Balicasag, March 2019)

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 route advice, it is impossible to discover the many facets of this immense archipelago and its countless dive sites at once... We have to make choices. To inspire you, here are my previous journeys:

  Philippines : Cabilao + Balicasag [Panglao-Bohol] - February-March 2019