The other attraction about an hour and an half from Donsol is a submerged island in the middle of Sorsogon Bay nicknamed Manta Bowl. The island is at an average depth of 25 meters while the surrounding channels plunge to around 100m. The strong ocean currents coming in from the Pacific provides plenty of food for manta’s and whale sharks and the island provides a great location where recreational divers (who can go down as far as 40m) can see these giants. The area is notorious for very strong currents which can be extremely tiring. Usually we would dive with reef hooks that would allow us to clip ourselves to rocky outcrops and wait for a glimpse of white in the water followed by a shadow that would mark the passing of a manta ray, but the dive operator had forgotten. Fortunately the group that had dived the day before did not experience any current and we were hoping for similar conditions.
On the first dive we got lost! I was expecting it to be a drift dive where we descended and drifted with the current until our air became low enough for us to surface, but we seemed to constantly be swimming into the current. My buddy in particular was taking a lot of strain (especially after the energetic swimming with the Whale Sharks the previous day) and we lagged at the rear. It did mean, however, that I had plenty of time to look out for the “little creatures” on the sea bed – which was not a good thing as we were supposed to be looking up, not down! Because the island is so isolated from the surrounding shallows the reef fish were much larger than I was used to. The clown fish (as in Nemo) were about double their usual size and seemed more aggressive in their behaviour. It was a bit disconcerting. We'd noticed the previous day that the water was very salty and it took me a while to realise that this was the reason that I kept on wanting to pop up like a champagne cork, but some additional rocks in my BCD (diving jacket) helped me stay down. Manta’s seen: 0.
The second dive was far easier (I had taken more weight down this time and we were not swimming against the current) and I saw Carlos – our guide – pointing into the ahead… There it was – I saw a brief glimpse of this shadow moving through the water as I hurried to come forward from the rear it disappeared. The visibility was not very good as the water was full of the plankton that the manta’s and whale sharks come to feed on. A while later Carlos spotted another and sped off to the left. My buddy in the meanwhile swam off to the right scanning the seabed. Now the dilemma - do I break the cardinal rule of diving and abandon my buddy or not? I turned towards my buddy and yanked on his fins (flippers) to try to get him to change direction, but by the time I’d returned to the position of the sighting (with my buddy), the manta had gone… A while later Carlos turned to me and indicated that there was a shark up ahead. I looked, didn’t see anything and then watched for movement and saw 2 white triangles in the distance. It was a white tipped reef shark. Shortly thereafter we surfaced. Manta’s seen: 1. Manta’s missed: 2.
By the 3rd and last dive of the day the waves had picked up along with the current. We didn’t see any manta’s, but I still marvelled at the fish and other sea life on the sea bed.
Usually the 2nd day’s diving is spent at San Miguel reef, but since one of our group had yet to see a manta we decided to go out to Manta Bowl for a 2nd day, but to no avail… We had 2 dives in Manta Bowl and the current was becoming stronger and stronger. We were trying to drift and keep as close to the bottom as possible. At one point we were swimming along the lee side of a small ridge and I was trying to put my lessons from another hobby of mine – glider flying (or to be technically correct – sailplanes) into practise. Well, actually opposite lessons as in gliding we are continually trying to find the patches of lift along the ridge – here I was trying to avoid them…
After the 2nd dive we moved to San Miguel reef which the previous group had derided as “just another tropical reef, nothing interesting”. I guess I haven’t had the privilege of having the whole of South East Asia at my doorstep and we all found the reef fascinating. We saw 4 lion fish, a sea snake, a trumpet fish, and so much more. One dive at that location was not enough, but by then it was time to go home (and we were exhausted). We anchored in the bay of the island pictured above. When one of our party heard that the island was on the market he started trying to find out how much it would cost and how he could purchase land in the Philippines as a foreigner… This was to be his early retirement. The name of the island would be “Nudie Beach” after all the nudibranches which are small soft-bodied shell-less sea molluscs that are noted for their extraordinary colours and striking forms, rather than their human counterparts (although it was conceded that nudihumans of the female gender would be allowed).
It was an amazing trip. Despite only seeing a small glimpse of a manta ray, this was one of those experiences that I will remember for a long time.