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skin diving

Mr. Leatherback at Masaplod Sur Marine Reserve

Jun 30, 2010

Mr. Leatherback at Masaplod Sur Marine Reserve

Different Reserves, Different Strokes
After trying out Malatapay Market's famed lechon, I was off to Masaplod Sur Marine Reserve. I've gone skin diving to nearly all the marine reserves along the Dauin coast except Masaplod Sur (and Mainit). I noticed that even though these marine reserves are all lined up along the same coast, some just 2 kilometers of each other, they all have different things to offer - they all have their personalities. I was about to find out what Masaplod Sur was all about.

Dauin Coastline

The Beach
Getting to the beach was circuitous as I passed through several houses within the village. The beach was even blocked-off according to property lines as lot owners built stone walls right smack within the water - you can't have a walk along the beach. The marine reserve itself had a guard house. Some villagers found it odd that a lone guy would just walk-in from the highway. Usually, a dive boat drops anchor and the merry divers take their plunge.

Reserve Seascape
The water was choppy given the Habagat wind. The current was also on the strong side. No one else was diving and being alone on the far end on such condition gave me cause for extra caution. The coral spread was bigger than I thought. There were sandy patches, but there was more coral area than say, Masaplod Norte. However, in terms of sizeable fish population, Masaplod Norte is still #1 for me (some would argue). Interestingly, there was a well-defined drop-off characterized by coral rubble before it got deeper.

A Lingering Phobia
Somehow, ever since I was attacked by a Titan Triggerfish, my comfort level in the water (specially when skin diving alone in an unfamiliar reef) was no longer with the same derring-do. I was vigilant and ever alert for any big fish darting aggressively. Even with the drop-off, since the bottom is not as clear from the surface, I wasn't sure that if I dive straight down, I wouldn't stray on a Titan nest. For that reason, I didn't feel right diving deep on the drop-off...but I was above it, close to the surface.

This Godzilla Turtle
It was then when I looked to my right that I saw this huge turtle almost beside me. I was completely surprised. With its unusual size, about 3/4 of me, I got scared shitless and froze up. Normally, when I see a turtle, I get all excited and try to close-in hoping it won't swim away. But this one was just huge, I wished it wouldn't come any closer. From National Geographic (or was it Discovery Channel?), I learned that a turtle bite is one of the most powerful bite in nature - stronger than a crocodile or a shark. I was afraid this turtle, given its size, might mistake me for food! When I established a comfortable distance, I tried to follow it, mesmerized by its immensity. At some point, it just disappeared. I was in disbelief of what I just witnessed.

Potential Ambushes
Still reeling from the initial fear of the turtle, I continued my swim and saw a Titan Triggerfish from a distance. Yikes! Good thing I saw it in time. I made a quick maneuver hoping that I won't stray into another nest. My heart rate was already racing. Already on condition-red, a pair of immature barracudas passed my way. Another yikes! At this point, my apprehension was already bordering on near-panic. I deemed it best to go back to shore and recover in my own sweet time.

Mr. Leatherback
I excitedly texted some friends telling them, "...you wouldn't believe what I just saw". Rene, a marine biologist friend, speculated I may have seen a rare Leatherback, a species known for its size. He claims that he has not seen one himself given the hundreds of hours he's clocked with his dives. I don't know for sure what species I saw, but now, I'd like to call MY turtle, Mr. Leatherback. Why the Mr? When you're that BIG, they call you MR.!

Respecting my Limits
I tried to muster enough courage to go back to the water but I couldn't. I just setup my hammock and chilled out before heading back to Dumaguete - thankful for this rare sighting.

Ending Thoughts
I believe we take it for granted that we're on top of the food chain. However, when I found myself in an environment where others rank higher than me, and I'm actually in front of them, I felt small and vulnerable...humbled...shedding away the last vestiges of arrogance. And then I began to appreciate the dimension of these magnificent creatures. Not just Mr. Leatherback, but likewise for the barracudas and the Titan. I am reminded that I'm an uninvited guest who needs to tow the line and just be grateful for the things very few landbubbers get to see.

Wow...I live just a few minutes from what I would consider the world's best kept secret...wow! I'm still in disbelief.

--- TheLoneRider

    How to get there from Dumaguete:
  • take a tricycle and ask to be dropped-off the jeep terminal going to Zamboanguita (the terminal is near Robinson's Place) - P8.
  • at the terminal, board the next jeep for Zamboanguita or Siaton. Just tell the driver to drop you off at Dauin's Masaplod Sur Marine Sanctuary - between km 18 and km 19. P15, 40 minutes.
  • upon disembarking at the highway, walk towards the beach...5 mins.
  • pay P50 to the caretaker and dive!

Reader Comments:

Debra Burnsworth
(Apr 7, 2011) Very useful... thanks. My husband & I live aboard our 41' sailboat in Tombobo Bay & want to visit the santuaries. Any additional info you might have on them would be appreciated.

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