Here I discuss research conducted by Dr Csilla Ari and Dr Dominic D’Agostino on the Giant Manta Ray. Their study provides evidence for behavioural responses in Manta’s that are known to be prerequisites for self awareness in other species. Given that Manta Ray fisheries exist globally, where does that leave us ethically?
LOL – Lauren on Location – Calanggaman Island diving, a wedding, and the final dive at Monad Shoal.
On the 29th of May Gordon and I headed across to Calanggaman Island, a few hours South from Malapascua on a fun dive with Divelink. The first dive was an incredible wall dive, with huge soft corals and sponges, caves which pocket the wall and lots of reef fish as well as invertebrates to keep everyone happy.
During the surface interval we pulled alongside the impressive sandspit at Calanggaman Island which gets exposed at low tide, and joined a wedding reception! Perhaps not the usual surface interval – but I wish it was! Nick & Flor Martorano were the perfect hosts and didn’t mind one bit that a bunch of diver’s some in wetsuits some in bikini’s had effectively crashed their wedding! To be fair it wasn’t as random as it sounds, Nick is good friends with Gary Cases (owner of Divelink) who was the best man and Nick & Flor had spent several days on Malapascua in the run up to the wedding where we were all introduced. By happy coincidence they live in Palau (where I am headed on the 9th of June) where Nick works as a dive instructor and underwater photographer/videographer (see www.oceanwonders.org) so hopefully we can catch up there.
The Bride and myself (probably the strangest wedding outfit I will ever wear!)
Following great food and a cheeky beer we completed a second dive (which the newly wedded couple joined us on) and then headed back to Malapascua, we had barely left Calanggaman when we were fortunate enough to see a whale (which is believed to be a sperm whale) at the surface then diving down raising its tail fluke in the air! Incredible!
A Sperm Whale
This week was my last diving Monad Shoal, and I was treated to a fantastic final display of Thresher sharks, Manta Rays, banded Sea Craite (Sea Snake) and spotted dolphins. Also a particular highlight for me was a Grey reef shark which came on to the cleaning station when I was conducting a fish census, I wouldn’t perhaps get so excited over a grey reef shark under normal circumstances, but although the grey reefs have been captured on an unmanned video camera no-one has seen them in person at Monad Shoal, so I was delighted with that unique sighting!
Well ‘Tempus fugit’ as they say… I can hardly believe that this weekend marks my last few days on Malapascua Island working for the Thresher Shark Research and Conservation Project, I will be going to Palau shortly and will continue the blog from there, from what I have learnt so far I cannot wait to dive there and hope for some more amazing experiences!
I would just like to thank everyone – staff and volunteers of the TSRCP for my time here which has been incredible, but of course the real star’s of the show, that have literally taken my breath away are all the inhabitants of Monad Shoal, with special mention to the Thresher Sharks and Manta Rays!
Can I pick a favourite? Staying true to form I would have to pick the Thresher Sharks…..
LOL – Lauren on Location – another fantastic week for Lauren as she logs up her 100th dive and along with some of the members of the TSRCP team she goes freediving around Malapascua Island.
Most sites are quite shallow with the deepest freedive logged at 10m; however the most fascinating site was “coral gardens” located out of bounty beach. As the name suggests there’s lots of coral coverage with relatively few non-colonized sandy patches, there are many species of small reef dwelling fish (although we didn’t see any larger fish indicating the health of the reef is not as good as it could be) and you could literally spend hours here looking at and photographing the reef.
The Coral Gardens
The start of this week was a bit of a milestone for me as I logged my 100th dive. I was lucky, on my 100th I got a Thresher Shark circling and on dive 101 I had another fantastic Manta Ray visit with it passing so close and going over my head! I never thought I would be writing about manta ray sightings as often as I have been – the week previous to this I saw 2 manta rays and 1 thresher shark all circling together at the same time, I thought I was going to explode I was so excited! I couldn’t decide where to look; this practically resulted in whiplash from snapping my head back and forth between animals!!! I am told that such sightings are by no means typical and so feel extremely fortunate to be experiencing this number/quality of sightings.
Yesterday I was struck with an entirely new challenge, I had cut open my heel on my booties when Freediving at the weekend this had become infected (I will spare the readers the gory details –let’s just say it wasn’t looking good!) and my ankle was swollen, having already made the decision to get up at 4:20am and go out on the boat I was determined to find a way to dive.
Whatever it takes ….. the 1 fin wonder!
I tried pulling on my wetsuit, but there was no way my ankle could bend in that direction so instead I was kitted out in Helen’s rash vest and Gordon’s board shorts, to keep the shorts up, I tucked the rash vest in the boardie’s, which came half way up my chest and the pull cord was doubled up and tied around my back, to top it all off I wore one bootie and one fin for all the dives !!! After providing everyone with a good laugh at my expense I was pleasantly surprised with my 1 fining ability, however there are some amusing videos in existence with my foot kicking out at about 100 times of the finned one!! Turns out my effort was worth it as I got the best Thresher Shark sighting I have ever had and was able to get some pretty good shots!
Today I remain on land willing the infection not to get out of control and to let me get back in the water with both fins as soon as possible!
Best Thresher sighting yet.
Manta Ray eclipsing the sun as it passed overhead (the next few shots I couldn’t get the whole animal in view as it dropped even lower!)
LOL – Lauren on Location – Eye to eye with a Manta ray
Fiesta’s in the Philippines are usually held to celebrate a patron saint or to mark the passing of a season, different city’s/islands in the Philippines hold fiestas at different times of the year depending on the decisions made by the local Barangay (Christmas being the exception where everyone celebrates together).
One of the boats decorated for the fiesta’s boat parade
The 12th of May marked the only local fiesta of the year on Malapascua Island; I believe this was held in honour of the “Virgin de los Desamparados” the “miracle” of the island and the patron saint of the local people. She appeared as a piece of driftwood that wouldn’t burn, after some time people decided that it was an appearance of the virgin Mary and it was painted and dressed as such, and now resides in the village church. However I must admit that for me the true “miracle” of the Malapascua Island festival was my survival!!! Never have I experienced such displays of local hospitality (otherwise known as outrageous amounts of food and drink), given the expense involved of holding the fiesta for the local people their generosity is unparalleled.
“Lechon” spit roasted pig is the most popular fiesta meal
The fiesta for me began at around 11am when I was presented with a shot of Tanduay Rhum; thankfully we had then been invited to lunch, followed by a sort of late lunch and 2 dinners! Of course each engagement meant more beer than food, the afternoon descended into somewhat of a haze for me I had even stopped noticing the heat (40 degree plus), however I am (somewhat) reliably informed that after taking a bottle of beer (large beasts called Gold Eagle) to our cooks house to thank her for a bottle she had shared with us, we (myself and the rest of the TSRCP crew) left after 15 bottles had been consumed! I was then pretty much finished off with a final shot of Tanduay!
Thankfully in the days following the fiesta I was rewarded with yet more unbelievable dives with the Manta Rays. On one dive I was conducting a fish census, over a cleaning station I was so absorbed in what I was doing that I had not noticed the approaching manta ray, when I looked up I was literally reg to gills with the manta, it was so close that I could see it’s eye watching me! Incredible! The following day we also watched a manta cruising along the edge of the shoal while on a 12m safety stop, a fantastic view which showed how graceful these giants are.
I am currently in Cebu City awaiting the arrival of Gordon my fiancée (- crazy guy!), I cannot wait for him to get out to the Island and begin to experience what I have had the pleasure of so far on this adventure!
LOL – Lauren on Location rounded off a fabulous week of diving at Monad Shoal with 2 dives at Gato Island (about 1 – 1 1/2 hrs boat ride N.W. of Malapascua Island) today, which was absolutely incredible, the visibility was particularly good especially on our first dive and the water was like glass.
Managed to see a number of White-tip reef sharks, hanging out under ledges and in caves which was incredible and of course my highlight, however the sheer abundance of soft coral cover was outstanding especially the pulsing coral which was absolutely mesmerizing and definitely had the ability to put me in a trance like state.
Gato Island – a view from the water
The second dive included a cave dive, which was excellent if not somewhat disorientating in the complete blackness, we also saw more white-tip’s including one free – swimming.
Whitetip reef shark
During the week I had enjoyed all sorts of macro life (such as octopus, squid, cuttlefish, scorpionfish, stonefish, lizard fish etc…) as well as 3 of the most impressive elasmobranch visitors to Monad shoal; Thresher Sharks, Devil Rays and Manta Rays.
I had missed the Manta Ray visits the previous week due to my ear infection and was beginning to get desperate for a sighting.
As we descended for our final dive of the day, I began to make out abstract white shapes in the water; I was puzzled until I realized that the white patches were linked together and formed the absolutely massive body of a Manta Ray estimated at 5m (conservative!) across from wingtip to wingtip! The ability of this behemoth to move so gracefully underwater was fantastic, it held such a presence.