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Balicasag Island, Panglao: Extraordinary Marine Diversity Beyond Compare

Balicasag Island

Scuba diving is one of our favorite activities. Yes, the activity allows us to ride boats, explore islands, bask in the tropical sun, escape the heat, and meet wonderful people. But more than that, it allows us to explore a colorful and sometimes dangerous world that is so bizarre that it almost defies imagination. It helps us realize just how tiny we are in this big, beautiful planet of ours.

Many of the most beautiful parts of this extraordinary world under the waves are in our country. And we will forever be indebted to The Bellevue Resort and its in-house provider Emerald Green Dive Center for giving us an opportunity to explore one of these pockets: Balicasag Island, which is a mile offshore of Panglao Island, Bohol.

We have taken note of the weather that week; most mornings were moderately sunny while it becomes cloudy during the afternoon. To take advantage of the fair weather in morning, Sweetie and I asked the hotel to book our dive at around 8AM when the sun was still bright and unobscured by clouds.

We headed out to the hotel’s in-house dive shop Emerald Green Diving Center at 7:30AM after our breakfast at Lamian Resturant. They also have a branch in our native island Cebu. Emerald Green Diving Center offers a comprehensive array of dive services, from DSD and certification to dive safaris.

Balicasag Island

You won’t feel out of place in this warm dive center. Their visitor’s receiving area is simple, welcoming, and adorned with Filipino themed furnishing and decors. Staff members are warm and friendly.

Balicasag Island

An equipment wash area is provided at the back of the resort. All their dive equipment are safely kept in a well-protected shed.

Balicasag Island

After filling out the necessary forms, meeting our Divemaster John Galo, and fitting and assembling the equipment, we were ready to head off to our day’s dive sites. Check that out; we have the whole pump boat for us!

Balicasag Island

“Are you ready?” our Divemaster asked in which we replied an enthusiastic yes! So off we sailed to Balicasag Island, which was a 45-minute boat ride.

Balicasag Island

One of the interesting things we saw along the way was this large traditional fishing boat. John, being a former fisherman himself, explained that the long curved protrusions are poles for lamps and lines

Fisherfolks who man these boats stay offshore for days to harvest the bounty of the sea.

Balicasag Island

After almost an hour of riding through smooth waters, we arrived at Balicasag Island, which is known for its spectacular dive sites and sandy beaches. A fairly large islet, it is home to a small community of fishermen and resort workers. A lighthouse stands in the middle of the island.

Balicasag Island

Tourists and scuba divers all over the world come to Balicasag Island to enjoy the rich marine life underneath the waves.

Balicasag Island

After choosing a spot and securing our boat to another one, John briefed us on the dive site and plan. This site, he said, had fairly strong currents, which we can simply drift on, saving lots of energy.

Balicasag Island

Black Forest

The first dive site we visited is Black Forest, named so because of the presence of various black corals in shallow depths. This is quite surprising as most species of black corals are found in deep water.

The entrance of Black Forest was an irony of its name. Instead of forests of corals, we found a vast bed of sand and sea grass.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

The abundance of green sea grass could only mean one thing—this is a feeding ground for sea turtles. And our guess was right. Just a few moments after we entered the water and established buoyancy, this magnificent green sea turtle came into view. This one is quite big, perhaps almost 5 feet long. Sadly, these beautiful, gentle animals are endangered species due to poaching, habitat loss, and global warming.

Green sea turtles dine on sea grass, kelp, and algae. We must have disturbed his mid-morning meal as he was still chewing his food while he swam away.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

A pair of clownfish defended their home from three bubbling monsters who actually just came to admire them. Clownfish make their homes in anemones, and the two organisms share a symbiotic relationship with each other.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

That’s a black coral. It got its name from its dark-colored exoskeleton. Underneath that hard shell however is its brightly colored living tissue.

Black corals are listed in the endangered species list, and hefty sanctions are placed upon those who harvest and kill these corals.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

Large sea-born rocks serve as anchors for various corals, kelp, starfish, and other marine organisms.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

They may look like plants, but they’re actually sea anemones. Many fish and other organisms use them as homes and food.

Now, check out the direction of the anemone’s sway. The branches sway to the left because of the current. Black Forest medium to strong currents make it a favorite dive site for drift divers.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

Just look at all that aquatic wildlife! Black Forest is considered by many divers to be one of the most vibrant and diverse sites in the world. In fact, in many instances, divers can encounter jacks, barracudas, eels, and more. I even encountered a large ill-tempered triggerfish which thankfully didn’t bite me!

Black Forest Balicasag Island

After touring the first section of Black Forest, our Divemaster signaled us to start descending towards the dive site’s slope. As we went deeper, aquatic life became even more vibrant.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

The Black Forest’s wall is actually a steep slope that extends to 40 meters or around 130 feet. The slope is encrusted with hundreds of species of corals, plants, and fish. It’s Mother Nature’s extravaganza at her very best. Isn’t that beautiful?

There is a relatively strong current that flows across the slope. It’s really fun and relaxing to just ride with the current.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

We saw plenty of black corals even at a depth of 50 to 60 feet. Its branches are very delicate, so it’s important not to touch them.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

It was our first time to see such beautiful blue-corals. Corals such as these provide protection and shelter for fish and other marine organisms.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

John stopped for a while and pointed out something in this coral. He later told us that he was pointing to a frogfish.

But where? A frogfish is a type of anglerfish that is covered with protrusions and other appendages. It can change color and shape, and it can even be covered with algae. It has mastered the art of camouflage; we can’t even see it in the photo! It uses its superb camouflage ability to catch prey.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

See that large ball of feathery appendages at the left of the photo? We thought it was a specie of coral or marine plant, but John said that these are actually some sort of starfish! Wow!

In the underwater world, you can see more life in 10 seconds than you do in 10 hours up in the mountain.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

Describing the beauty of this colorful, strange, and largely undiscovered and often dangerous world hidden under the blue ocean is extremely difficult for me. Sometimes, in many of our dives, I find myself wishing that I was a creative poet rather than a prolific blogger.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

Even though it was a no-stop decompression dive, our Divemaster did not take chances on safety. We had a 5-minute safety stop at around 18 feet to prevent nitrogen bubbles from forming in our bloodstream. Such phenomenon is called decompression sickness, and in extreme cases, it can lead to paralysis or even death.

While stopping at this depth (and while we were looking for some other interesting things), John launched a surface marker buoy to signal the boatmen above us that we are surfacing, and we’re getting ready to be picked up.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

We boarded our pump boat, shed off our scuba equipment, and transferred to another dive site. We had a one-hour surface interval to allow the excess nitrogen in our bodies to dissipate.

While waiting for an hour, we chatted with our boatmen and Divemaster about our adventures. It turned out that they were very interested in climbing and mountaineering as much as we were interested in diving!

Check out the aquamarine water and the white sand of Balicasag Island.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

For those who do not wish to dive, they can simply don a mask, a snorkel, and a life jacket and simply head off into the marine sanctuary. Clearly marked buoys demarcate the snorkeling area, and local guides ensure that visitors are safe while enjoying the rich marine wildlife.

Black Forest Balicasag Island

Balicasag Sanctuary

After an hour, we attached full air tanks, donned back our gear, and dived. Immediately below the boat is the deep abyss of the Balicasag Sanctuary, a protected area of the island. The snorkeling area is just beyond the left frame of the photo below.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

After establishing buoyancy, we started our descent. The sanctuary’s site begins immediately, and runs to more than 200 feet; this makes it a true wall dive. Without any current, this wall is very ideal for leisurely dives.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Look at that! Corals with ferns growing out of them?

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Just like on land, there are green plants underneath the sea. If you remember your biology in high school, the green color is caused by the presence of chlorophyll, which is critical in the process of photosynthesis.

This is actually really curious because at this depth, the sun’s light is considerably filtered. So how come this aquatic plant is still extremely verdant despite the lack of sunlight?

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Here’s another strange plant life that looks more like feathery wisps than flora. Or is it really a plant? The sea is just so full of unknowns!

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

What in the name of all that is weird are these? They look like a colony of jelly balloons!

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Abundant, large and magnificent fan corals adorn the huge, dark rock wall.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Here’s a large fan of rare black coral protruding from the rock wall. We had to go a little farther off the wall to avoid damaging the delicate corals and organisms that encrust it.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

That deep blue looks really forbidding, isn’t it? Along the wall are geological depressions and caverns where experienced divers can explore.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

After more than half an hour of cruising along the wall, John signaled us to slow down and come forward. At first, we could not make out anything except for the telltale bubble trails of a group of scuba divers ahead of us. We knew that there was something interesting as everyone stopped at a certain place.

As we neared the group of divers, the dark, moving shadow loomed ahead of us. Upon closer inspection, we witnessed a spectacle of Mother Nature—a huge school of jackfish slowly swimming in circles in perfect coordination! The formation looks like a slow tornado of silvery fish!

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Every now and then, the tornado breaks up as the presence of divers, bubbles, and other organisms disturb their formation.

Jackfish are very common in tropical waters and come in many species.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

After admiring the immense school of jackfish, it was time to head to shallower water to check out Balicasag’s coral garden. To do that, we had to swim up this coral encrusted channel which leads directly to the garden at 30 feet.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

We couldn’t help but exclaim a big wow through our regulators. The coral garden is simply magnificent beyond words. Corals of all kinds, colors, sizes, shapes, types, or species were seemingly congregated in this one spot.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Come, I want to show you something, John motioned to us. What could it be? We’ve seen almost an infinite number of corals, and our mind was in beauty overload.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

It turned out that this place is also a sanctuary of giant clams! With their colorful mantles pulsing slowly as they siphoned algae from the water, they were a delight to behold.

Giant clams are listed as vulnerable species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These animals have been harvested for for food, jewelry, and decoration.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

Artificial reefs have been transplanted here to promote coral growth. As you can see, the program is quite successful as the frames are now overgrown with hard corals.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

The Balicasag Sanctuary is so full of corals that we can hardly see the sand bed. This is an ideal standard of a healthy reef system.

Balicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

The Philippines is part of the Coral Triangle, a rough triangle-shaped geographical area that encompasses Indonesia, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Papa New Guinea, and Timor Leste. This expansive area is the termed as the Amazon of the sea and contains a staggering number of species of marine organisms. As of the present, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) considers the Coral Triangle a top priority for marine conservation.

We have a natural treasure right in our backyard. It is very important that we, as individuals or nations, take measures to protect and conserve it.

BBalicasag Sanctuary Balicasag Island

We finally surfaced at 1PM, having seen the immense beauty of Balicasag Island. We sailed through the smooth mirror-like sea back to the resort where our lunch awaited us.

Balicasag Island

Mere photos cannot fully describe the beauty and motion of Balicasag Island’s underwater wonders. So we made this simple video for you so you’ll have an idea of just how beautiful these dive sites are.

It has been said that the Philippines is a diver’s paradise. Now, we can confidently confirm that statement upon seeing the astounding beauty of Balicasag Island. We will surely come back for more as there are still a few dive sites that we want to explore.

Special Thanks

We would like to thank Mr. John Galo for being a wonderful, knowledgeable, and safety-conscious PADI-certified Divemaster. He is one of the best Divemasters we’ve ever been with.

Balicasag Island

Thank you very much, Emerald Green Diving Center and The Bellevue Resort for this fantastic underwater adventure.

Tips

1. To get in touch with Emerald Green Dive Center, check out the contact details below.

The site and the Facebook page is in Japanese, so you might need to copy/paste the text in Google Translate for an English transcription.

You can also get in touch with The Bellevue Resort so that they can help you with your scuba dive tour.

2. Emerald Green Dive Center is The Bellevue Resort’s in-house dive shop. They also offer dive certification and licensing.

3. We didn’t set foot on the island itself, and The Bellevue Resort arranged everything for us. Thus, we are not sure how much are the necessary fees. Like all other adventures, it is recommended that you bring extra money to avoid unpleasant financial surprises.

4. Based on our research, food there is quite expensive. Thus, we suggest you bring your meals to save money. Of course, you will greatly help the island’s economy if you buy food there.

5. In general, it is best to dive in the morning when the sun is shining and at the right angle.

6. Medium to strong currents are present in certain areas in Balicasag Island. For snorkelers and swimmers, make sure you stay within the snorkeling area, which is marked by buoys. Never swim alone or beyond the limits of your ability. We recommend wearing a life jacket or bringing a flotation device with you at all times.

For divers, establish neutral buoyancy as soon as you can to avoid touching the seabed.

7. The dive shop will take care of your scuba equipment, so you don’t have to worry if you are not bringing your own set. Pack light but do bring the following:

  • extra water ( at least 2 liters per person)
  • rashguard and swimming shorts
  • swimwear
  • aqua shoes or slippers
  • sunscreen
  • hat
  • sarong or towel
  • snacks or packed meals
  • personal medication and toiletries
  • waterproof camera
  • mask and snorkel (for snorkelers)

8. Be a safe and responsible diver. Always observe the Leave No Trace principle. Never touch, disturb, tease, or collect marine wildlife. Remember we are in an alien world that demands respect.

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About Adrenaline Romance

Rock climbers. Mountaineers. Sweethearts on adventure. Adrenaline Romance is a photoblog that belongs to a loving couple who has an eternal lust for adventure. The blog contains experiences, tips, itineraries, and other useful information regarding adventuring in the Philippines and beyond.

31 comments on “Balicasag Island, Panglao: Extraordinary Marine Diversity Beyond Compare

  1. I wish I can make scuba diving someday. 🙂

    • Hi Ian,

      Actually, you can. Just mention to the dive shop that you want to avail of DSD (Discover Scuba Diving). With DSD, you can dive without a license. Of course, you will be accompanied with a certified divemaster.

      The downside is that DSD is pretty expensive in the long run if you plan to make diving a regular activity.

      • Can I ask a question about Balicasag Island, Bohol?
        1. How it becomes attraction?
        2. Tourist product narrow sense (souvenir)
        3. Broaden sense (service facilities attraction)
        4. Conservation and preservation process and system made?

      • Hi Andrea,

        Your questions are somewhat beyond the scope of our knowledge, but we’ll try to answer the best we can based on our experience.

        1. It has become an attraction due to its white beach and magnificent dive sites that surround it.
        2. Their souvenirs are made of indigenous materials and are handcrafted.
        3. Balicasag Island has resorts so it would not be surprising that there would be restaurants, restrooms, accommodations, etc. in the island.
        4. Planting of artificial coral reefs, prohibition of fishing, non-allowance of dropping anchors, local education, strict diving protocols, etc. are all implemented to conserve and protect the place.

        We hope this answers your questions. Otherwise, it would be best to get in touch with the Bohol Tourism Office to get more specific details. Thanks! 🙂

      • Can I ask a question about Balicasag Island, Bohol?
        1. How it becomes attraction?
        2. Tourist product narrow sense (souvenir)
        3. Broaden sense (service facilities attraction)
        4. Conservation and preservation process and system made?
        Thank you! 🙂

  2. No words, beautiful underwater world! Envious now.

    Cheers mate from : https://masterryo.wordpress.com/

  3. Beautiful paradise at the deep sea with amazing couple 🙂

  4. what a beautiful post

    take care and happy blogging to ya from Laura

  5. Beautiful! I loved the turtle picture!

    May I know where you guys trained on scuba diving? I am very interested. I am amazed how beautiful the underwater world is.

    • Hi Ayelouise,

      Thank you very much! That’s a big turtle. 🙂

      Gian’s cousin, Jonjie, was our scuba diving instructor. He was also the one who trained and processed our PADI Open Water Diver license.

      Virtually all dive centers have instructors and divemsasters who can take you scuba diving.

      We do suggest you take DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) first so you will have an idea of what the activity entails and determine if scuba diving is really for you. If you decide it’s the perfect sport for you and if you plan to dive frequently, then you may want to procure a diver’s license.

  6. Hey, guys,
    This is just magnificent! Hahaha.. Makasuya. 🙂

    I fervently hope we could try this in the future! Balicasag is indeed amazing.

    Cheers to more fantastic travels!

    • HI Issa,

      Hehe! Sige lang, if you don’t have a license, don’t worry. Most dive shops offer DSD (Discover Scuba Diving) programs so you can dive without a license. However, you would only be able to dive at, IIRC, 30 feet. Many of the spectacular stuff are located at depths more than 30 feet.

  7. This reminds me of my diving in Balicasag, such beautiful place – love to hear that the corals being taken care of and new corals are coming in!

    • Hi Indah,

      According to our divemaster, a large part of Balicasag’s shelf is designated as protected area. So when you dive here sometime soon, chances are, its beauty will be preserved. Balicasag is indeed a diver’s haven. 🙂

  8. Omg! beautiful! I’ve been meaning to try scuba diving.

  9. Wow, all your pictures are beautiful. You two have really the best of adventures. One day, I’m gonna visit Balicasag Island too hehe, so thank you for sharing.

    Gly, The Wanderlust Keeper
    https://chasingpotatoes.wordpress.com/

  10. […] Scuba diving is one of our favorite activities. Yes, the activity allows us to ride boats, explore islands, bask in the tropical sun, escape the heat, and meet wonderful people. But more than that,…  […]

  11. What was your camera setup? Photos were beautiful!

  12. Informative and wonderful blog post! Going to Panglao this October, and I want to try the DSD program. I’m actually new to the whole diving activity, and I was wondering if it would take more than a day to learn the basics and do the actual diving? 🙂

    • Hi Mea,

      That’s great! You won’t regret it; scuba diving in Balicasag Island or any of the dive sites around Panglao is an adventure!

      Regarding your question, if it’s DSD, the briefing won’t take an hour. You will be taught the basics, and a divemaster will be assigned to you. Basically, in DSD, you will be give a “taste” of what diving is all about.

      If, after the DSD, you realize/decide that diving is your passion. Then you’ll take a diver certification course, which could range from 3 to 5 days.

  13. […] boats men actually forced the boats to go, but the coast guards stopped the boat finally. For now, here are some information on the Balicasag island tour. We are hopeful to get our own photos and videos when we go back […]

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