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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.

Hypselodoris bullockii
Hypselodoris bullockii

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 by overdevelopment.

Coleman Shrimp
Periclimenes colemani

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!

Long-spine Porcupinefish
Diodon holocanthus

One divesite, 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),
Flamboyant Cuttlefish
Ascarosepion pfefferi
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
Squat Lobster
Lauriea siagiani
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...