Dive Sites in Malapascua Island, Philippines
Malapascua is a remote paradise island 4 hours away on a bus and 30min on a boat from Cebu, Philippines. It attracts divers from all over the world because of the awesome macro dive sites that can be found nearby and of course because of the Thresher Sharks! I had been lucky to have almost two months to spend on the island (working on my divemaster course) and explore these sites well. In this post you will find short descriptions of dive sites in Malapascua.
Monad Shoal – Thresher Shark Dive
Monad Shoal is the signature dive site of Malapascua. It is the reason why so many people flock to this tiny paradise island and in my opinion Monad Shoal stands up to the expectation.
Once upon a time Monad Shoal was an island as well, but due to continuous seismic activity it is now submerged some 12-14m underwater with slopes and walls going down to depths which are beyond recreational diving limits. Some little outcrops of coral can be seen at the top of this beautiful plateau, however thresher shark shows are best enjoyed at depths of around 20-26m.
Thresher sharks are nocturnal animals and tend to live 300-500m deep which is the reason why they have really big eyes and are mostly seen during early morning hours while the sun is still not too high up. This is also the reason why the use of camera flash and diving lights is strictly prohibited in this dive site.
Long blade-like tail of a thresher shark is another prominent feature of this amazing animal. Although initially one might think the tail is a purely swimming tool it actually is their hunting mechanism as well. The tail is used to stun the prey. Don’t worry too much about it though – divers are far too big for the thresher sharks (which can grow up to 6-7m in length) and are certainly outside of the scope of their diet!
It is important to mention that primarily thresher sharks come to Monad Shoal because it is their cleaning station. This is why divers should pay particular attention not to kick the corals where little fishies that do the cleaning breed and live. Without the corals we would not have the cleaning station and without the cleaning station we would not be able to enjoy the sharks.
Finally, I would like to add that divers should keep an eye open for other marine life seen in this site such as white-eyed moray eel, white tip reef shark, octopus and triggerfish (be careful during breeding season – these guys can sometimes go crazy!).
Gato is another popular site frequented by divers and especially macro lovers of Malapascua. It is home to some really awesome marine life such as frogfish, blue-ringed octopus, ornate ghost pipefish as well as white tip reef shark. Gato Island is also a breeding ground for banded sea snakes and colourful nudibranchs so make sure you keep an eye for those too.
Due to the fact that Gato is around 1 hour away from Malapascua divers normally do two dives in one day. Every site can be explored in various different ways and Gato island is no exception. One way to do it is to just follow the wall. Another (popular) site to check out is the tunnel. It is around 10m in diameter (depth varies between 5m at the entrance to 10m at the exit points) at the entrance and is generally wide enough even for several advanced divers. Total length of the tunnel is around 30m. Keep in mind it gets dark inside so don’t forget to bring your torch.
From the cathedral of the tunnel you can also sometimes see white tip reef sharks swimming around near two exits. If the white tips are not there make sure you check a underneath a big rock which is right in front of the tunnel exits.
Another encounter in Gato is the pygmy seahorse. It blends in amazingly well with branches of the purple-ish gorgonian sea fan where it lives and it also rarely grows larger than 2 cm so it might take some time to spot it.
Finally, keep in mind that during peak season this dive site is visited by hundreds of visitors every day and so is not uncommon to see corals and fish receiving more than a fair share of completely undeserved abuse. Please do not join these people and be a responsible diver who respects and appreciates marine life and the environment.
Turquoise warm water and amazing coral walls are signature features of Capitan Cillo. Beautiful and healthy corals can be seen at the top of the wall as well which is at around 5-7m. You will also notice this site has a lot more fish than some of the local dives around Malapascua.
It is around 2h away from Malapascua so most dive centres will recommend it as a full day trip with two dives (and possibly an additional surcharge for fuel and island tax!). Bring your own lunch or ask your dive centre about barbeque lunch to keep the energy levels up.
Note this dive trip does not normally happen every day so the best thing to do is to either arrange the dive trip well in advance with your favourite dive centre or join the one that plans to go on a particular day.
Another wall dive site usually done as a day trip from Malapascua Island. Pack your own lunch or order a barbeque with your dive centre and enjoy warm water dives with great visibility and abundance of marine life.
Expect to see some lionfish, moray eels and a variety of hard and soft corals as well as colourful nudibranchs on your Kallangaman dives.
Unlike in Capitan Cillo, basic facilities and equipment rental are available on the island.
Local Malapascua Island Dive Sites
The list below features “Local” dive sites of Malapascua which can be found around the island. Keep in mind current is sometimes quite strong in these sites and they are normally a few degrees cooler than Monad, Kallangaman or Capitan Cillo.
A local dive site also known as the Mandarinfish “bum-bum” dive which is normally done just before the sunset. Other common encounters include various shrimps and crabs as well as cuttlefish.
It is one of the most popular dive sites in Malapascua Island so keep in mind it might be busy at dusk time.
Also, there are random bits and bobs dropped around the Lighthouse area such as parts of Philippine Banka boats which act as artificial reefs for fish. Depth varies from 5m to 12m which is ideal for beginners or those just discovering scuba diving.
Quilliano is a pinnacle with top at 12-15m and walls going down to 21-23m. In this site there is a good chance of seeing Zebra Crabs living symbiotically with the sea urchins. Shrimps and cuttlefishes are frequently seen here too.
Beautiful soft coral garden can be enjoyed at the top the pinnacle which is suitable for divers who want a pleasant local island dive.
Located north of Malapascua this is a popular local site which features a hard and soft coral wall and beautiful coral garden at around 12-15m.
A number of gorgonian sea fans can be seen growing along the wall which means there is a chance of spotting a pygmy seahorse here. Other likely encounters include various types of nudibranch, frogfish and moray eels.
A beautiful coral and rock formation extending to depths of 28-30m. Large frogfish can be seen in this site along with beautiful nudibranchs and moray eels. Seahorses including a fairly rare pygmy seahorse are also a common encounter here.
An amazing coral garden can be found at the top at around 16-15m.
Lapus Lapus / Lapus 2
Lapus Lapus is a dive featuring a small soft and hard coral wall well suited for beginners. The depth of this wall is 14-18m. Colourful nudibranchs can be seen on this dive although deeper sections which extend to 22-24m are frequented by cuttlefish, seahorses, crabs and mantis shrimps.
An easy site with sandy bottom and hard coral formations at around 7-12m. Suitable for beginners or people just discovering scuba diving.
Encounters include lionfish, juvenile barramundi, anemonefish and common seastars.
Please note that this list is not comprehensive and a small number of other dive sites can be found around Malapascua such as Sol Boat/Ka-Osting which is usually done as night dive (15m max depth) or Dona Marilyn, a 98m long Filipino passenger ferry which sunk in 1988. The former is now a shipwreck site, however, the unsuccessful recent attempt to lift it out left the wreck heavily damaged and at present is not frequently visited by scuba divers.
Other new dive sites are being discovered around the island every year so this list is likely to expand as Malapascua continues to establish itself as one of the primary diving locations in Philippines.
PS. Big thanks to my instructor Marlene for sharing her photographs and Little Mermaid Dive Resort for the training and opportunities to explore these awesome dive sites. If you are considering trying scuba diving yourself you might also want to read this and this.