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:
Making bubbles along coral drop-offs brimming with life and colour, 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 stay, I have only two weeks ahead of me and I have decided to devote the first one to Cabilao, who has been catching my eye 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. It is here:
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 of Cabilao, easy to ride on a scooter. At the small harbour of Talisai, on the south-east coast, you 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: linking three dives a day). So there are very few of us on the boat for diving exploration trips (most of the other clients do first dives or training) and therefore always in very small groups underwater... 👌
For a photographer diver like me (understand: who can't stand the big groups that scare the fish away), this is ideal. I admit, I took a malicious pleasure to observe, from far away, the groups that piled up every morning on the boats of the nearby resort.
Two very nice young French instructors manage the Cabilao Divers centre during my stay. They understand very well my expectations and I appreciate the way they organize the fun dives: choice of sites almost à la carte from day to day (depending on the conditions), small size groups and distributed by levels... And, regularly, I have one of the Filipino 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 desalting, a nice terrace facing the sea to enjoy the sunset and the staff is adorable. A detail that doesn't spoil anything: as the management is French, the food served at the restaurant is very pleasant.
My “& #160; house & #160;” for the week, a simple bungalow & #8230; (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
Frankly, I was expecting at least "nice" dives at Cabilao, but I quickly realize that we're a notch above...
From the first dive, at the aptly named Gorgonian Wall, I'm won over. 😲 There is something exhilarating and moving at the same time to look at such a beautiful underwater landscape. I could almost shed a tear in my mask...
The good health of the coral, exuberant, varied, dense, is so delightful to see!
For the wide-angle ambient photos, I have a lot of things to enjoy... I discover with amazement huge orange and pink gorgonians, big tables of Acropora, purple and yellow soft corals in profusion, spectacular barrel sponges... And at every dive or almost every dive, one or more turtles can be seen! Day after day, I am captivated by Cabilao's coral drop offs. In front of these vertical walls overflowing with life, the most delicate thing to manage is the sunlight for underwater photos, because it is not always positioned in the perfect 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 side, the small fauna usual in these latitudes presents here a rich diversity of species, whether you are a fan of nudibranchs (sea slugs), pygmy seahorses, frogfishes (Antennariids), delicate ghost pipefishes or hideous scorpion fishes... 😍 You can't get bored! Apart from the drop-offs, there are also a few more "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 divers, rather oriented "bio" (biology), knowing how to appreciate the splendor of the coral and the profusion of small animals as strange as fascinating. But this is clearly not a corner for lovers of "big" (even if, as in Balicasag, not far from there, we are not immune to come across a good big whale shark passing by).
Marine protected areas
Good to know: you have to pay a small daily fee to be allowed to dive in Cabilao, because the island has 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 Sea. In addition, MPAs benefit the surrounding waters, helping them to repopulate and to enrich themselves in terms of species and biomass: this is the "reserve effect". A real boost for nature! Unfortunately, this is just a drop in the ocean, faced with these three very destructive practices: dynamite fishing, industrial fishing and shark finning...
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.
On the high seas, these are the factory ships of industrial fishing, those of China at the head, which are the most devastating. They continue to literally empty the ocean, depleting the stocks of fish that cannot be replenished, not to mention their innumerable catches called "accessories" (dolphins, turtles, and other commercially exploitable species).
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' newsgroups, I sometimes read comments from people who are outraged to be charged a fee to have access to some of these marine protected areas, in Asia or elsewhere – some even congratulating themselves on having managed to avoid paying it... Not something 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 goodwill are not enough. Without financial means, it is impossible to protect a maritime area from poaching, building, 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 dive sites accessible by the day from Panglao: in particular the island of Balicasag and the sumptuous reef of Doljo. I'll tell you about it in a future post...
This stay from February-March 2019 is already my fifth trip to 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:
In February 2018: Pangatalan Island, 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 Plongez!