One of the reasons we spent so much time in the Philippines was to check out the diving scene so that I could complete my ‘Advanced’ diving certificate. We’d heard that the diving scene in Palawan (more specifically Coron and the Bacuilt archipelago) was good and a little less busier than the rest of the Philippines so we decided to check it out.
Majority of the dives around Coron are Wreck dives. Here is a site to check out a little more detail but very quickly the wrecks are a result of a US strike on September 24th 1944 on Japanese Imperial Navy ships moored in the Bacuilt archipelago. The US did pretty well out of this day of strikes and managed to sink majority of the Japanese fleet hence the wrecks. In fact the US fleet still holds a reputation as being one of the most fearsome in Naval history. All of the wrecks are in very good condition and continue to be a major diving location in the Philippines.
As we saw with Mozambique, the dive centres in Coron varied greatly in quality with Sea Dive providing the only real option for diving in our opinion. Run out of professional facilities (not a tin shed like some of the others in town), with quality equipment and comparable prices Sea Dive was the hands down winner. They also are located right on the water and have a nice bar and decent restaurant – although in Coron having decent food doesn’t seem to be that hard.
We had 2 full days of diving ahead of us (6 dives in all) and our first day of diving started not too early (8am for gear sizing and setup) and with a beautiful clear day and glass like water conditions. With all of our gear set and transferred on to one of the Sea Dive boats we were on our way. It was about 2 hours out to the first site so the morning was pretty relaxing and was spent chatting to the other 5 divers and chilling in the sun watching the scenery. The scenery itself is stunning with the islands amongst the archipelago covered in jungle and fringed with stunning white sandy beaches.
Admittedly I was nervous but excited at the prospect of heading into a huge wreck but also thought what an amazing way to complete my Wreck Dive specialty. Our divemaster was an extremely passionate diver with a wealth of experience and was fantastic at calming our nerves but also exciting us at the prospects of entering into the depths of the wreck and thankfully with only myself completing my advanced course Kelly and I were the only two divers diving in our group.
Our first dive was to be on the Akitsushima, a Japanese Warship which was a Sea Plane tender and over 118m long. We stepped off the boat and started to descend down into the warm ocean. As with majority of wreck dives, the visibility wasn’t great with possibly only 5 metres of vis descending down to the wreck itself. The Akitsushima loomed out of the depths and we were faced with a huge rusting ship lying on its side. We spent the dive skirting around the ship checking out the remaining anti-aircraft gun mounts and the host of corals and marine life living in and around it. We then pushed on and went in to the huge split in the ship that was left by the bombing where I got my first taste of being inside a wreck.
At first I couldn’t see anything as it was pitch black for a good 15 – 20 seconds until my eyes adjusted to the darkness then all of a sudden I could see everything. We were in a huge compartment inside the ship, the entire surface covered in rust and silt and it was very eerie. The visibility suddenly jumped as there was little to no current flowing through the wreck. We then pushed on squeezing and maneuvering our way through the wreck trying not to silt up the bottom, sides, ceiling etc. When we got out we made our way back across the side of the ship looking at the corals and marine life that have made the ship their home over the last 60 years. With a final push up the buoy line we left the wreck in the depths of the ocean below.
Our second dive of the day was on the Tai Ei Maru. Another behemoth of a ship at 137m long and lying on its starboard side. This was a tough dive as the current was extremely strong and we had to hold on the permanent moor line all the way down until we got into the wreck. We pushed through its cargo rooms and engine room staving off thoughts of claustrophobia through some of the narrow passages and emerged somehow (thanks to Patrick our divemaster) out of the ship – how he know’s his way around so well is beyond us. We admired the corals and huge amount of marine life on the ship as we finished off the dive and ascended to the surface leaving a huge school of fish swimming around us.
Our last dive of the day was on Lusong Reef, a shallow wall running a couple of hundred metres along the shoreline of an island. The reef was stunning and teeming with macro life and corals and was a fantastic way to end the day.
A 9am start and even better sea conditions greeted us on the second morning as we lazily wandered down to the dock to board the boat. Our first dive was a strange dive and is known as the craziest dive site in the Philippines. Barracuda Lake is a lake on Coron Island (randomly the town of Coron is not on Coron Island) named as such for the single Barracuda swimming in its depths. What makes this lake so special is not only the location, but also the scenery, its crystal clear water and the thermocline that occur in its waters.
We moored about 50 metres off the island and swam across to the ladder / staircase that leads into the lake (these are recent additions – it was formerly a trek across limestone rock to get to the lake). As advertised the scenery in the lake itself is absolutely stunning, with blue, blue waters and sheer limestone rock walls surrounding it. We jumped into the water and straight away I did my necessary Navigational course requirements so that we could get into the dive itself. As we started to descend down we noticed the resident Barracuda swimming past about 15 metres in front of us.
As we got down to 4 metres the first of the lake’s thermoclines started to hit us with the water temperature going from 30 degrees celsius to 37.8 degrees in a matter of a metre. It was like dipping into a hot spa and was stifling. After a minute or so we got used to the temperature change and started to descend following the bottom of the lake down. The sandy bottom had such a fine silt covering on it that you can actually push your hand down into the silt up to about your mid wrist.
The second thermocline was at about 14 metres deep and was where fresh water meets salty sea water creating a strange effect almost like oil and water in a glass. You could see the waters distinct layers and with the fresh water being clear and the salty water having a rippling effect.
We pushed on with the dive skirting around to feel where the fresh water feeds into the lake then back up in to the higher thermocline but this time feeling the sudden temperature drop. We ended the dive watching a host of cleaner shrimps run all over us and the long swim back to the boat.
Back on deck and full from a nice lunch we sailed off for our next 2 dive sites. The next dive was a Japanese freighter called the Tangat and at 122m long was a huge ship. We checked out a ‘jail’ of sorts on the ship and made our way through some huge oil tanks. Again the wrecks were pitch black inside and eerily quiet and still.
The Olympia was the last of the wrecks and a stunning example of how marine life have made it their home. The ship is another Japanese Freighter and we entered through the propellor shaft, then spent a bit of time exploring the huge cargo and engine room of the ship before popping out and along the top. The amount and quality of coral on this site was amazing and we were able to see some amazing marine life and a huge array and quantity of fish including Scorpion fish, Clown fish, Parrot Fish and Crocodile Fish.
All in all Coron was an amazing diving experience and well worth the trip out. Having spoken to some fellow divers the diving in other parts of the Philippines is also amazing so for anyone with diving on their agenda then the Philippines is well worth a look.