Macro Paradise Revisited - Anilao Philippines.
Anilao (Mabini Peninsula) delivers on its promises time & again. Different season, different critters but critters you will see. Lots and lots of them. Nudibranchs, special shrimp, pipefish, octopi, you name it, Anilao has it times ten. Keep it shallow, go deep, muck or coral, doesn’t matter. All macro diving though, don’t go to Anilao for big fish or wide angle. Our latest trip was as recent as February '17. Water was a bit cold for us (24°C - 75°F) we are a bit chilly like that but that didn’t seem to make any difference whatsoever to the abundantly present marine life. And the visibility was really excellent.
As is usually the case when we visit Anilao we stayed at Mike Bartick's’ place again (Crystal Blue Resort) as he has this really great Camera Room, expert spotters, with a max of 4 divers per boat and to one spotter, oh and did I mention the great food? :-)
February also has the advantage that we didn’t have to compete with the groups in the dive shop. First week it was just us. Mike is an overly sympathetic guy, one of the greatest and best known pro-UW photographers and he is a genuine diving force of nature. Made several dives with him: don’t expect to do a dive shorter than 80 minutes when he’s along; he will literally drag you from critter to critter until you really sucked the last breath from your nitrox tank :-)
My wife also took a one on one photography course with Mike to further finetune her macrophotography. Mike is a very enthusiastic teacher who's always eager to share his fantastic knowledge about underwater photography www.saltwaterphoto.com
Unfortunately, as Anilao develops more and more, some of the more negative aspects of this development have become evident. I've written about it before and I will keep hitting that same nail again and again hoping things will one day change ... hopefully before it's too late. Many fellow macro-divers are already now moving to Romblon.
Well, there’s of course the unbridled building going on. New resorts pop up everywhere with no regards whatsoever to the coastline which is already totally ruined. They started building around the corner now (at Secret Bay - Mainit if you're familiar with the sites)
But I’ve already written about other issues that have to do with the diving & photography and much to my regrets hardly any or no amelioration can be seen over the past few years. I'm starting to think it’s hopeless.
If I would say that something is getting better it would be that there is less plastic and rubbish floating in the water on the Anilao side of the bay than there was a few years ago. But go to the dive sites near Caban or Maricaban Islands and if there’s two fisherman’s huts on the beach you’ll find plastic bags, diapers, discarded shoes, etc. from the shallows down to 30 - 40 meters. They just throw anything and everything into the sea.
But worst of all I was and am still shocked by the unforgivable nonchalance of the Anilao (or the Philippines in general) boat and dive crews. The dive boats keep throwing anchors (most of the time just an iron hook weighed down by a big stone) on top of the corals, so when you come up into the shallow after your dive you can see yet another trail of broken coral left by an anchor dragging several meters through the top of the reef. Ankers have missed me sometimes by literally just centimeters when I was studying an object underwater.
How hard can it be, after all these years and the thousands of divers every year who make or break Anilao to have permanent anchor lines away from the reefs? They're investing tens of thousands of US$ in the road along the coast of Mabini but apparently they can't spare a few bags of cement to sink a few concrete blocks to make permanent anchor lines? Come on now...
And yes, I know that photographers can do terrible things under water to get their photo.
But when the dive guides themselves do plenty of damage breaking off coral, digging out subjects etc either to find the critters or to make them available to photographers there’s never gonna be any change. Touching and moving the subjects around to get them in a better position for their clients... I saw them tearing off feathered stars’ arms to get at the shrimp or the clingfish inside.
And then there’s the divers. There’s no limit to the number of divers or boats on one dive site at any given moment. I am horrified when I see yet another cloud of weekend mud kickers and coral crushers from Manilla in flashy, brand new dive-gear, coming towards me with pressure gauges and spare regulators dangling a meter below them, dive guides dragging them along by their arms descending like a biblical plague on the reef. I’ve seen divers, who obviously skipped the class about buoyancy control, literally “walk” through the corals on their fins without a word from the dive guides.
From the guides and dive operators looking the other way, over inadequate teaching of new divers all the way to this obsession by some for this ultimate macro photo to post on their FB page or to get a nomination or more “likes” on UWMP… An awful catalogue of everything that is wrong in our dive universe can be witnessed in Anilao.
Anilao is what is among the best places in the world for macro diving but also seems to bring out the worst in some of my fellow divers.
Oh and the photos are all by my wife of course and are just a few examples of what we've seen on this trip. For more on her work discover her website SONJA'S EYE ON THE WORLD - Colors of the Deep