We’ve been diving Anilao since 2007. We made hundreds and hundreds of dives there, so I think we are somewhat qualified by now to write something about the place now that we just went back over there in June and came back with mixed feelings.
Don't get me wrong : Anilao (Mabini Peninsula - Philippines) still delivers on its promises. Different season, different critters but critters you will see. Lots and lots of them. Nudibranchs, special shrimp, pipe-fish, octopi, you name it, Anilao has it times ten. Keep it shallow, go deep, muck or coral, doesn’t matter. Most of it macro diving though, don’t go to Anilao for much big fish or wide angle.
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 one spotter for two photographers, oh and did I mention the great food? :-)
Mike is an overly sympathetic guy, one of the greatest and best known award winning photographers around in the Philippines and 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 :-)
Mike is also 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 become more and more evident. I've written about it before and I will keep hitting that same nail again and again hoping things will one day change for the better ... hopefully before it's too late. Many fellow macro-divers are already now moving to Romblon (but more about Romblon in the next blog post)
There is of course the uncontrolled building still going on. New resorts pop up everywhere with no regards whatsoever to a coastline which is already totally ruined. But there is worse. I’ve already written about other issues that have to do with the diving & photography and much to my regrets hardly any or no improvement can be seen over the past few years. I'm really starting to think it’s hopeless.
If I would say that something is getting better it would be that there is far 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 (their livelihood last time I looked …)
But perhaps 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. Boat anchors 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 couple of bags of cement to sink a few concrete blocks to make permanent anchor lines? Come on now...
And yes, I know that photographers also can do terrible things under water to get their photo, driven by the Facebook and Instagram craze.
But when the dive guides themselves do plenty of damage instead of monitoring compliance with the “no-touching” rules there is no end to the horror you will see. Breaking off coral, digging out subjects etc either to find the critters or to make them available to photographers. 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 cling-fish inside.
When we told the spotter we didn’t want him to do that, he stopped but we had to explicitly ask him so it’s obvious to me that we were clearly the exception.
I’m afraid that, like so many other tourist destinations, Anilao is a dive destination on the verge of collapsing under it’s own success.
One morning I counted no less than 11 boats, each carrying 5 to 10 divers on 1 dive-site. The horror! That’s like a Mongolian horde flooding the dive-site. The saying “When life is loud, find peace underwater” is clearly lost on many a diver in Anilao.
But we still came back with an unbelievable quantity of photos and if asked if we would go back to Anilao despite the problems I described: probably yes. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.