Anilao, Batangas: Marvelous Muck Diving in Secret Bay

Thorny Seahorse at Secret Bay, Anilao

Thorny Seahorse (Hippocampus hystrix) at Secret Bay, Anilao, Batangas

While most recreational divers are naturally drawn to the coral reefs, macro photographers often choose to scour featureless seabeds instead. The muck diving spots in Anilao reputedly rival more established ones elsewhere in Southeast Asia such as those in Sabah, Bali or Sulawesi. Lying along the species-rich Verde Island Passage, Anilao lies along what marine conservationists have declared the most biodiverse waters in the entire planet – the “center of the center” of the Coral Triangle. But, wait, what on earth is muck diving? The Wikipedia definition of “muck diving” is:

Muck diving gets its name from the sediment that lies at the bottom of many dive sites – a frequently muddy or “mucky” environment. Other than muddy sediment, the muck dive substrate may consist of dead coral skeletons, discarded fishing equipment, tires and other man-made garbage. In addition, the visibility is usually less to the reef or wreck sites of the area.

Fishermen at Anilao

Fishermen walking along the shore of Calumpang Peninsula with Maricaban and Sombrero islands in the distance

Most muck divers are macro photographers, because the calm and shallow water of these dive spots provides a friendly environment to shoot fascinating creatures that hide in the muck. At Secret Bay, a popular muck spot off the Calumpang Peninsula, the turbid water revealed a sandy slope seemingly bereft of any life, save for a few goatfish grazing with their tendril-like whiskers. Three spotters joined our dive, gently probing the seabed with their steel tank bangers in search for subjects. They quickly discovered another frowning frogfish with a peeping mantis shrimp close by.

Later, a thorny seahorse curled its tail around a patch of seaweed to fight the current. I cleared my fogged up mask and scrutinized the grey sediment, as seemingly inanimate objects came to life. Patches of sand became fluttering cockatoo flounders, and roughhewn stones turned into helmut gurnards with iridescent fins that gingerly propelled them over the seabed like underwater butterflies. Finally, a trio of squat shrimp skittered around an elegant anemone. Indeed, the mysterious muck yielded a treasure trove of the beautifully bizarre, yet another testament to the region’s astonishing variety of marine life.

Helmut Gurnard at Secret Bay, Anilao

The butterfly-like flying gurnard (Dactyloptena orientalis) are more colorful when they’re juvenile

Muck Diving at Secret Bay, Anilao

You’ll be surprised what you find along this lonesome slope =)

Where to Stay

  • Buceo Anilao Beach & Dive Resort has lovely hillside cabanas and excellent diving facilities on the southernmost end of the peninsula, providing easy access to Secret Bay and the islands. Sitio Balanoy, Barangay San Teodoro, Mabini, Batangas, Tel: +63 928 7997436.
  • Crystal Blue Resort provides a warm and friendly nook set amidst tropical garden terraces. Their divemasters are experienced spotters for marine life photographers. Sitio Balagbag, Barangay Bagalangit, Mabini, Batangas, Tel. +63 908 8726401.
  • Aiyanar Beach & Dive Resort has luxurious casitas, a well-equipped dive centre, and an infinity pool overlooking Balayan Bay. Plus the dining hall serves mouthwatering fare. Sitio Looc, Barangay Bagalangit, Mabini, Batangas, Tel. +63 917 5940056.
Painted Frogfish at Secret Bay, Anilao

A red painted Frogfish (Atennarius pictus) – a master in camouflage!

How to Get There

Anilao informally refers to the collection of dive sites in Mabini and Tingloy in Batangas province, roughly 130 km south of Metro Manila. Buses regularly depart from terminals near Gil Puyat LRT Station for Batangas City Grand Terminal, where you can take a jeepney to Mabini town or Anilao pier. Tricycles may then be chartered to your dive resort for PHP 100 to 200, depending on the distance. Total travel time takes three to four hours. Alternatively, dive resorts may arrange private transfers from Manila.

 Scuba Diving Tips

  • The best time for scuba diving in Anilao is during the drier months from November to June. Visit on weekdays to avoid the weekender crowds that descend from Manila.
  • During boat dives, protect your valuables and equipment from salty wind and water with Sea to Summit 35L Hydraulic Dry Pack, an innovative dry bag that can be worn like a backpack!
  • Master your finning and buoyancy control to avoid damaging the coral reef or muck site.
  • Avoid touching or collecting any marine life. If necessary, hold onto dead coral or rock.
  • Refrain from disturbing or harassing marine life when photographing them. Be courteous to the animal (and other photographers). After taking a few shots, move away and find another subject.
  • Watch out for obscure but venomous animals such as lionfish, stonefish, scorpionfish, cone snails and blue-ringed octopuses.

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