Off The Beaten Track: Diving in Malapascua, The Philippines
Into the blue
It was going to be a relatively 'short' journey - just under 4 hours by plane from Kuala Lumpur to Cebu, a 3-4 hour car ride to the jetty north of Cebu, followed by a 40 minute boat ride to Malapascua, a small island in The Philippines. While I'm used to long haul flights with transits in London, Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore, travelling via multiple modes of transport somehow seems to be more tiring. But even though Malapascua was not quite a hop and a skip away, nowhere worth diving comes easy.
With powder-soft white sand beaches and countless dive schools scattered across the island, Malapascua is best known for its world-class diving, most notable of which is Monad Shoal, a protected marine park, where thresher sharks come to get cleaned by wrasses that feed on parasites on the shark's bodies on an almost daily basis. It's probably the only place in the world that divers are able to see thresher sharks so frequently and at depths much shallower than their natural habitat. Given that the shark dive was at 5.30am daily, it was also the only time in my life I woke up before 4am almost every day for an entire week, but what an amazing experience to be able to watch these graceful creatures circling the waters right before our eyes, and GoPros.
Sharks aside, Malapascua offers a rich abundance of sea and coral life with over 20 dive sites to choose from. On one early morning dive, we went in search of hammerhead sharks at Kimud Shoal, another sunken island much like Monad Shoal, where the sides drop off to more than 200m. Although we weren't lucky enough to spot any hammerheads, diving in this deep blue abyss made me appreciate the incredible vastness and beauty of our ocean, the heart of our planet, flowing over almost three quarters of our planet, responsible for regulating climate, producing most of the oxygen we breathe and absorbing vast amounts of carbon dioxide we produce. "You may never see the ocean, you may never touch the ocean, but the ocean touches you - with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink," says Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who La Mer supports in her work for ocean conservation.
Damage to the ocean while not so obvious on the surface, are more apparent underwater, and saddening, especially when you come across reefs with widespread damage - bleak, colourless scenes much like those you see in post-apocalyptic type movies.
In view of World Oceans Day, the simplest thing we can do to save our planet is to cut down on our use of plastic - a recent report suggests that at least 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year and that there may be more plastic than fish in our waters by 2050; by the time our children are able to dive, chances of them seeing a plastic bottle float by would be higher than seeing a thresher shark.
Continuing its work to support ocean conservation especially since the ocean is a vital source for the brand, La Mer has worked with ocean conservationists Philippe and Ashlan Cousteau, champion free diver Tomoko Fukuda and actress Elsa Pataky to share their ocean-inspired stories, and in doing so hopes that you will likewise be inspired to do your bit for a better, cleaner ocean.
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Where to stay:
Evolution - with the best beach on this side of the island, Evolution also offers tech diving and a great team of instructors and dive masters.
Where to eat:
The Craic House - for a healthy falafel wrap, seafood pasta (check out the daily specials) and craft beers.
La Isla Bonita - where you go if you're craving some adobo.
Angelina - for a great thin-crust pizza and even better homemade gelato.
Buena Vida - for a buffet breakfast with healthy options