Macro at Mactan

Shrimpfish razorfish Mactan

Shrimpfish (razorfish) can be spotted in the seagrass at Mactan

Mactan Island in is where you land when you fly to Cebu. Located next to the second biggest metropolis of the Philippines, it is also a major diving destination. However, it is not a place that people rave about when it comes to diving in the country.

Perhaps it is because the commercial development of the island: the coast is lined with private resorts and there is no beach to speak of. It receives large numbers of Asian tourists, and there are lots of jet skis zooming up and down the coast and divers in the water. However, what Mactan lacks in rustic charm, it makes up for with some major advantages (especially for HK divers). These are the reasons why I keep going back:

  • The nearness of the diving to the airport. Most of the seaside resorts are only a 20-minute drive away, and for Hong Kong, it’s a direct flight, making it a great way to cram in some warm-water diving for a long weekend. This nearness also makes it a great little add-on to any other Cebu destination such as Moalboal or Malapascua.
  • A convenient training ground. With good visibility, year-round diving, a dramatic drop-off to 80m+ and a large wreck nearby, it is a great place for Hong Kong divers to come for technical training, as many do (including me); this kind of diving is not possible in Hong Kong due to shallow topography.
  • A remarkably good reef, considering the traffic. The coral is decent to very good. Although there is not much in the way of ‘big stuff’, there is still a good amount of reef fish, including some impressive bait balls; on one occasion, I watched a great barracuda catch and swallow a small baitfish, the first and only time I have ever witnessed this.

I am loath to label this spot a ‘photographer’s paradise’, because I think that it is possible to take interesting photos pretty much anywhere you dive with the right mindset and a bit of creativity. Having said this, I have found the reefs at Mactan to be remarkably rich in small creatures. On my most recent Easter 2015 trip, I did a couple of dives here for macro photography, and had a lot of fun.

Macro by day

We conducted an afternoon dive at the Shangri-la Sanctuary. This is one of the lovelier spots along the Mactan coastline with rich and diverse coral growing on a gentle sandy slope, including an impressive ‘forest’ of blueish staghorn coral with a healthy fish population. A slight current made this dive a bit of a drift which hindered photography somewhat; I mainly just went along snapping fish along the way. Timing a dive here at slack tide would make for a great photo dive I’m sure.

Gallery: click on photos to view
Macro by night

In general night dives tend to be conducted in the shallows, where there is a bottom, as there is little point in going deep for nocturnal critter-spotting. However, diving at night along the edge of a drop-off definitely adds a bit of a thrill: seeing the vertical reef unfold before your torch beam in its true colours and all its drama is incomparable. At Mactan, Kontiki house reef makes an excellent shore-based night dive of this type.

Not only does night-time transform this fairly average reef wall into a psychedelic experience, but nocturnal life here is incredibly rich. With every fin kick I had to pause to snap yet another interesting creature out on its nightly business. Swimming across the seagrass between the shore and the drop-off revealed small octopi, cuttlefish, porcupinefish, sleepy shrimpfish and more. There were many nocturnally active bigeye, cardinalfish and sweepers. The coral itself was crawling with crabs of all kinds from hulking sponge crabs to tiny spider crabs mimicking bits of weed. The highlight of the dive was spotting three harlequin ghost pipefish together in a crevice: small, medium and large. I was very happy to have spotted these shy creatures by myself.

Gallery: click on photos to view

This is the second time I have done a night dive at Kontiki house reef, and on that previous occasion it was just as productive. Not only that, but there are no other divers to be seen, you have the place to yourself! A night dive here is not to be missed, whether you are a photographer or not.

For all my diving at Mactan I have used Kontiki Divers. Check their website for details.

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