Few places in
the world better demonstrate the ocean's truly amazing ability
to withstand man's best efforts to destroy it than Anilao,
Philippines. Located a mere 3 hour drive south of Manila,
Anilao represents to me, better than any other location
I've visited, the potential humans have on the sea.
Up until the
early 1970s, Anilao was legendary among traveled divers
for not only an amazing diversity of macro life, but some
of the Philippines best pelagic action, as well. Encounters
with a variety of large sharks, schools of tuna numbering
in the thousands, and grouper in excess of 6 feet were commonplace.
Unfortunately, this one location was subjected to a wide
variety of the threats man has been able to create -- overfishing,
dynamite and cyanide use, pollution and siltation caused
As a consequence,
divers no longer look into the blue for their thrills when
diving Anilao. However, even in spite of these destructive
practices, Anilao's reefs house what is undoubtedly one
of the two or three greatest biodiversities on the planet.
Within an area of less than ten miles, divers can encounter
a truly mind-boggling number of species of nudibranchs,
hard and soft coral, reef fish, and virtually every other
small creature imaginable.
As anyone who
has spent any time looking around The Vibrant Sea quickly
notices, nudibranchs are my favorite subject to shoot underwater.
It's no accident that the list of species I've shot in Anilao
is at least three or four times as long as that from any
of the other locations I've visited. After more than 100
dives here, it's truly no exaggeration to say that a dive
in which I don't locate a new species to photograph is the
exception, not the rule!
in particular, called Basura stands out as being one of
the two or three most amazing places I've ever had the good
fortune to dive. While there's nothing even remotely beautiful
about the site and there's little reason to go deeper than
about 30 ft., Basura is one site that never ceases to blow
my mind! While a number of locations around the world offer
outstanding "muck diving", Basura offers what
can best be described as "trash diving" (Basura
literally translates to "trash"). This is the
kind of place where discarded toys house pregnant Thorny
Seahorses (Hippocampus histrix), where old appliances
offer refuge to rare, unidentified Octopus (Octopus sp.)
and where dumped shoes and combs create camouflage for Wartskin Frogfish (Antennarius maculatus) and Harlequin Ghost
Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus).
What really makes Basura stand out though is the fact that these creatures,
considered the highlights of most dives, don't even make the top 10. At Basura,
one is searching for the truly bizarre. Species like Mimic Octopuses (Thaumoctopus mimicus),
known to imitate everything from Sea Snakes to Sea Stars to Jellyfish, yellow-green
Mantis Shrimp (Pseudosquilla ciliata) and perhaps the most bizarre of all, the Bobbit Worm
(Eunice aphroditois). While scientists believe that this species can
grow in excess of 20 ft., all that divers encounter is an inch
or two of ominous-looking jaws designed to snare just about
anything unlucky enough to swim by.
In Anilao, marine identification books are only of so much use as one
constantly comes into contact with creatures that simply have not yet
been discovered or in the least, formally named. Even though
hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of divers have visited
these waters, scientists still constantly identify new species
on Anilao's reefs.
When it comes
to sheer diversity of macro creatures, I've simply never
encountered any single location quite like Anilao. From
the truly bizarre that one can find nightly at a divesite
like Basura to the pristine beauty of a reef such as Beatrice,
Anilao simply offers mind-blowing macro diversity. In is
my sincere hope that by correcting and learning from our
past errors, Anilao's pelagic life will one day return to
it's quality of past days. Talk about photographic possibilities...