Diving with Thresher Sharks at Malapascua Island, Philippines
For Christmas 2017, instead of heading home to Australia we decided to visit Malapascua Island in Cebu, Philippines. Malapascua Island had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time, as it is one of the only locations in the world that you can dive with Thresher Sharks almost year round. Having only 5 days off work it was the perfect location and distance for a short break from Hong Kong. We were lucky that some friends of ours didn't have plans for Christmas as they had just been home to the USA for Thanksgiving, so the group set off to Cebu for the break for some sun, sand and sharks.
Two years ago, Rich and I visited the Philippines around the same time of year although unfortunately we found out on the way to the airport that our accommodation was severely damaged in the previous days (i.e. it no longer existed) so we had to madly book last-minute accommodation and diving at another island nearby. This time around we were fortunate enough that a passing typhoon moved further south from Malapascua, although it was incredibly sad to read about the trail of destruction it left across other islands nearby. We were extremely lucky with the weather, after the storm passed we had clear sunny days for the rest of the week.
Malapascua is a fairly remote island, and therefore a little time consuming to travel to. Like most great scuba diving locations - the harder it is to get to, the better the diving. We took a 3 hour direct flight from Hong Kong to Cebu then arranged a transfer via car from the airport to the northern port. The car ride took roughly 4 hours and once we arrived at the port the following rickety boat journey was another 80 minutes to the island. The ferry had an open roof with a tarp-type tent cover over the middle of it and it was bucketing down on the boat trip to the island so we were absolutely drenched by the time we arrived. Turns out that transit to Malapascua is an adventure in itself.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Evolution Dive Center which has clean and comfrtable accommodation on site, and we arrived right at the front door step as it is located directly on the beach where the boat pulled in. Staying at the dive school was 100% worthwhile as we had to be up at the insanely early (or really late...?) time of 4.45am each morning for the Shark Dive.
Evolution has a restaurant / bar on site, which served hearty western and local cuisine including plenty of great post-diving meals. Breakfast was included in our accommodation package (banana pancakes everyday for me please...) diving and equipment were hired separately. The accommodation was within close walking distance to a number of other dive schools, restaurants and the main drag which was particularly great when we were heading home after a cocktail fueled Christmas Eve dinner!
DIVING WITH SHARKS
Although it seems counter-intuitive to wake up at 4.45am while on holidays, it was the only time of the day that you could reliably see Thresher Sharks at the cleaning station. Our dive instructor gave us the full run down on the site we would visit called Monad Shoal, which is a 45 minute boat ride away. Monad Shoal is a sunken island that requires a line dive which means that when you exit the boat with your scuba gear on, you have to quickly swim to the moored line and hold it during your decent to the bottom which is roughly 20-26 meters deep.
As a semi-experienced diver, I was honestly quite stressed on the first dive. And when I say quite stressed, I mean PETRIFIED. At the surface there was a seriously strong current and a number of what I'll call 'incidents' such as Rich being pulled away from the line by the current and me swallowing more seawater than I care to remember. Once we made it to the bottom however, the current cleared up and we saw our first Thresher Shark, a 5 meter long beauty.
Thankfully our next two shark dives were much more relaxed and we had 20+ sightings of Threshers circling over our heads.
Thesher Sharks are a unique, nocturnal species hence our early starts each morning to catch them at the "cleaning station" which is where they have smaller fish clean the parasites off their skin. I was really keen to see their distinctive, long tails in real life - if you haven't seen one before have a look at the image taken on one of our dives below! They are really are stunning creatures, and I highly recommend visiting Malapascua to see them and in the process support the local community with tourism income.
As well as Monad Shoal, we dived at Gato Island - a vibrant underwater aquarium full of macro life, with an under-island 40m long swim through, plenty of soft corals, nudibranch and the odd sea snake - and squeezed in a night dive at the Lighthouse. We managed to bust a pair of cuttlefish mating on the night dive, and spent ten or so minutes watching them dance around in circles with each other and with a fellow diver!