All creatures great and small
Three years ago today I was counting down the final weeks before my departure for the Philippines. In April 2012 I spent a month volunteering with the organisation Coral Cay Conservation at their camp in the little known place of Napantao in the Southern Leyte region of the Philippines. The purpose behind the trip was to contribute to the conservation efforts in the area and conduct reef surveys which in turn would provide vital data concerning the health of the local marine eco system; the designation of new marine park areas (MPA’s) being a primary objective. Quite simply, I enjoyed every second of the eye-opening and fulfilling scuba experience. Learning all of the Latin names for the many different hard and soft corals and being taught to identify hundreds of species of fish and invertebrates in just two weeks was initially daunting but ultimately rewarding and completely worth the hours of study each day. The underwater world took on new meaning as the subtle relationships between the diverse and varied life forms were revealed in more detail during every dive. As a consequence I’m also pleased to report that my personal diving skills improved vastly and rapidly; hovering upside-down to count the various critters lurking beneath a stretch of sharp coral and scribing the answer on a ‘slate’ before the 40 minute dive profile is over works wonders for your buoyancy!
The basic living conditions and daily chores, not to mention the dustbin of cold water that we quickly learned to call ‘the shower’ soon became commonplace; a small price to pay for the amazing diving that we had quite literally on our doorstep. When I wasn’t exploring the stunning house reef on educational ‘pointy’ dives (in which an experienced member of the expedition team would point to something under water with high hopes of a correctly scribbled Latin name in return) I would enjoy sitting on the wall with a beer in hand and the sparkling Ocean for a view; the sky painted a vivid red and orange by the setting sun.
A trip to a nearby water park built around natural falls and an excursion to a village to organise a reef clean up gave us the chance to build relationships with the local people and encourage them to support the conservation effort. People often say that Thailand is the land of a thousand smiles but actually I feel as though the Filipinos have been robbed of this title; such warm and friendly people.
If the volunteering wasn’t its own reward (and it really was) then the day that I shared the water with my first Whale Shark was a bonus that I could have only dreamed of (read more about that day here). Getting to know the staff and the other volunteers in the month that I was in Napantao was a pleasure and we soon started to feel like a little family- if not a slightly dysfunctional one! I left with a heavy heart knowing that the Philippines is a truly special place and somewhere that I hoped to return to… one day.
Three years on and I’m pleased to be counting down the days once more.
This time I’ll be returning with my girlfriend Sam as we make a whirlwind discovery of three locations in just two weeks. We’ll be heading back to Southern Leyte as I have some unfinished business with a well known pier (more on this in a later instalment) and I’d love to share the Whale Shark experience with Sam this time around. Onwards to the Visayas Region we’ll be visiting Malapascua made famous for the regular sightings of the graceful Thresher Shark and their ribbon-like tail; not to mention I’m keen to see these mating Mandarin fish that I’ve heard so much about. Last but not least we’ll be staying in Moalboal where a mesmerising ball of sardines can be found near Pescador Island along with all manner of critters at the dive sites along Panagsama Beach. The experience is sizing up to be varied and fulfilling regardless of what nature throws at us, but to make things interesting I have decided to set myself a little challenge. In my quest to find creatures great and small I hope to return to the UK not only having seen Whale Sharks once more but I’m determined to find my first Pygmy Seahorse; I know they’re out there but at less than 1cm in size they can be very hard to spot indeed. I hope that I’m up to the challenge… time will tell.
Mat is a travel consultant for Dive Worldwide.