Treasures of Negros Oriental
My heart started to jump as the creature become more crystal clear: its head and tail all decorated with spikes of black and white, dancing along with the whip corals that surround it.
It was almost impossible to see, as it blended in well with the reef, not to mention that it was only two inches in size — too small to be immediately caught by a person with impaired vision.
But the minute I saw it, I was ecstatic. I swear my dive guide, Koykoy, could have heard me shouting: ghost pipe fish, ghost pipe fish!
I have longed to see one in my over 90 dives in two years, but it was only then have I seen one.
Dauin, a coastal town just a few miles away from Dumaguete, is rich with such creatures.
The quiet town, peppered with dive resorts and beach clubs, is famous for its critter parties.
Scuba divers who enjoy muck diving find Dauin a treasure trove filled with precious critters who are ready to strike a pose on expensive cameras and glaring strobes.
We dived thrice that day. The first to the last dives left me astounded.
Our team of three divers hit Cars first. The dive site is a sandy slope dotted with various car parts. Diverse small sea creatures — pipefish, frog fish, crabs, and garden eels — call this their home.
After more than an hour of surface interval time, we dived into Ginaaman, a dive site with an artificial reef made with more than 30 tires. Each tire now hosts different species of soft and hard corals, where black reef crabs, dwarf peacock and banded cleaner shrimps reside.
We took our time before hitting Masaplod Norte, a dive site full of harlequin nudibranchs and sea turtles. We only surfaced after 20 minutes of safety stop at a grassy area at five meters, where we saw various species of crabs, shrimps, and eels.
There are more dive sites in Dauin, easily accessible from the dive shop that I dived with: Coral Dive and Adventure Zamboanguita, a small dive shop perched at the center of dive sites in Dauin, Zamboanguita, and Apo Island.
Its facilities, based at White Chocolate Hills Resort, offers guests with an underwater experience that is sustainable both financially and environmentally.
Aside from offering regularly-serviced rental gears, handled by a crew that genuinely cares for the ocean, the dive shop supports the Green Fins Initiative of the United Nations, a program designed to preserve the ocean.
But what really sets Coral Dive and Adventure from most dive shops in the area is its focus on safety.
Aside from the usual emergency oxygen tanks and life vests, the dive shop’s boat is equipped with a tracking unit and a satellite phone.
After a day’s dive, it is best to hit the sack and relax. I was billeted in White Chocolate Hills Resort (resort reviews), a boutique hotel nestled at the heart of Zamboanguita.
I stayed at an air conditioned bungalow, which was really huge for one person. The interior is also very Filipino with bamboo and rattan accents.
The room’s shower is almost similar to an outdoor shower, save for the huge glass with curtains.
The resort has a pool both suitable for quick dips, and scuba diving trainings; a massage hut; a yoga center; and its own man-made chocolate hills, dotted with little flowers.