Leontien van der Knaap
Thresher sharks at Malapascua
Off the coast of Malapascua, a small island North of Cebu (Philippines), Monad Shoal rises to some 20 meters below the surface of the Visayan Sea. This rather unspectacular underwater plateau is a cleaning station for thresher sharks that rise from the deep to get their early morning grooming by the resident cleaner fish. To get there in time to witness their morning ritual, boats leave from Malapascua at 5:30. The sun is not up yet and for most of the divers that are joining it's even too early for coffee. It is for me: I'm sleeping with my eyes open.
Fortunately, the half hour boat ride to Monad Shoal allows for plenty of time to actually wake up and go about setting up your gear. On entering the water, the sun is just coming up and does not yet manage to get some light in the grey water. Monad Shoal is completely flat and apart from some nudibranch and mantis shrimp, the thresher sharks and mantas are the only attractions. However, thresher sharks are shy and have the benefit of very good eye sight. They'll happily skip their morning ritual if they spot any diver on their way up from the deep. This means we have to stay well away from the edge of the plateau and have to hope the other divers there do likewise. Unfortunately, that's not always the case which means they might get a glimpse of a thresher shark but all the other divers will just log an uneventful dive. However, it's an unforgettable experience when you do get lucky and suddenly a thresher appears at some four meters distance. Their large eyes give them an otherworldly appearance and their long tails lend elegance to their rather stocky bodies. To be honest, we drowned our camera earlier this holiday but I'm sure I wouldn't have wanted to miss one second of watching them so I don't think I'd have taken any pictures if I did have my camera with me. We stayed for three days on Malapascua and had the opportunity to see thresher sharks on two out of our three early morning dives.
Diving at Monad Shoal is probably best done with Nitrox as you will want to wait for the thresher sharks as long as possible. Other really nice dives around the island included a late afternoon dive to watch mandarin fish mating, a dive at Calangaman Island and a dive at Gato Island where some 10 white-tip reef sharks lay sleeping. We dove with Swiss-owned Sea Explorers and can recommend this dive centre to anyone: very professional, very well-organised and really good local guides. And, with their six dive centres in the Visayas area they offer a great opportunity for island hopping.
However, travelling times can be long and we felt that visiting three islands in two weeks (like we did) is too much. Next time, we'll either take some more time or limit ourselves to two destinations. At Malapascua, we stayed at Hippocampus Beach Resort which is nothing fancy, but fine for us.