Recreational scuba divers are typically attracted to coral reefs teeming with marine life like vibrant coral fish, sleek sharks and amiable sea turtles, but the more you dive the more you’ll appreciate the little guys. Those into macro photography in particular are drawn to barren dive sites of mud or sand in search of unique critters they can observe and photograph. The dark substrate provides an excellent backdrop for strange and colorful animals. This type of scuba diving is called muck diving, a popular activity in Dauin, Negros Oriental, which macro divers say offers the best in the Philippines, next to Anilao in Batangas (where I experienced my first muck dives). What’s amazing is that the town’s best muck dives may be easily accessed from the shore.
Liquid Dumaguete is a five-star PADI dive resort located in Dauin, Negros Oriental.
Liquid Dive Resort (marketed as Liquid Dumaguete but is actually located in Dauin, 13 km from the city) offered to take me on a couple of muck dives for a day. This five-star PADI dive resort is tucked away in Barangay Bulak, away from the main highway, offering a one-stop oasis for your tropical getaway. They have native-inspired beachside cottages, a deep swimming pool (perfect for scuba diving lessons), a poolside garden bar and restaurant, and of course an excellently equipped dive shop with experienced dive instructors like Jun, the local dive guide assigned to me for the day. After preparing our dive gear and listening to the dive briefing at the resort, the resort’s pick-up truck brought us to our first shore dive: Masaplod Norte. It was a quiet beach with dark-colored stones and pebbles, which reminded me a lot of Bali’s northern coast – telltale signs of the area’s volcanic makeup. In the horizon, I could see Apo Island, famous for its turtle snorkeling site. We geared up and entered the water. As we finned deeper, we passed by concrete blocks settled on the seafloor, placed there to encourage coral growth. Hiding in the patches of seagrass nearby was our first critter sighting: an ornate ghost pipefish, swimming vertically to mimic floating debris. Next up were squat shrimp hanging out near an anemone. Then, we came across a coral garden, where my eagle-eyed Jun showed me a yellow-colored leaf scorpionfish (I saw my first leaf scorpionfish – a white one – while wall diving in Sarangani.). Out in the blue, a large three-foot-long grouper or lapu-lapu cruises by. In this garden, we also found candy crabs on soft corals and popcorn shrimp in anemones.
Back on the sandy slope, seemingly bereft of life, we came across more wondrous yet inconspicuous critters. There were whip coral shrimp on lone branches of coral, translucent glass shrimp dancing around an anemone like tiny fairies, and -– my favorite encounter of the dive – came face to face with a pharaoh cuttlefish resting on a mound. Farther on, before we surfacing, we found a pair of mating Nembrotha lineolata nudibranchs, and numerous freckled garden eels that emerged from their hideouts looking like long stands of seagrass swaying in the current.
We then moved to the popular marine sanctuary at the town center or poblacion for our next dive site called Cars. I spent the hour-long surface interval on the beach, which had dark-colored volcanic sand. I remember visiting this unassuming beach a few years back, enjoying one of the best snorkeling ever. You’ll be surprised to find a well-preserved coral garden here just mere steps from the brown-sand shoreline. Cars is a muck site located just north of the marine sanctuary. Like Masaplod Norte, this dive site featured a sandy slope – this time with no patches of coral. Our search yielded another ornate ghost pipefish next to a feather star. Paying close attention to the sea floor, we ogled at thumbnail-sized painted frogfish and devil scorpionfish nestled on the sand – both juveniles of the species. A pufferfish and wrasse were devouring a sea urchin not far away.
We came across old, tattered ropes, remnants perhaps of a buoy. Jun continued inspecting them until we struck gold: an adult painted frogfish hanging out with scorpionfish in a tangle of ropes. Dauin was definitely a gem; I would definitely return now and then to uncover more. I was surprised to find so many critters on just a couple of dives – a testament to the bounty of the area, and just how rich and diverse the marine biodiversity is in the Philippines.
How to Get There
Liquid Dumaguete (Liquid Dive Resort) is 13 kilometers south of Dumaguete City. A tricycle ride from Robinson’s Place to the highway junction leading to the resort would cost only PHP 16 per person. But it’s more practical to charter a tricycle to get there at roughly PHP 200, depending on your haggling skills. Getting back to the city, you can hitch a ride on the resort’s truck when they’re divers out diving to the highway, then wait for a passing tricycle or bus heading to Dumaguete City.
Liquid Dumaguete (Liquid Dive Resort) Address: Km 12.5, Barangay Bulak, Dauin, Negros Oriental, Philippines Contact Numbers: +63 35 4003244 or +63 9173141778 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.liquiddumaguete.com