Most people would party with family and friends but this year, I decided to celebrate my birthday underwater, with the cuttlefish, mandarins, seahorses and thresher sharks in Malapascua.
I felt a mix of emotions- anxiety and excitement- about going on a solo backpacking adventure on my birthday. There was a missed flight and long bus and boat rides but these were all worth the adrenaline rush and serenity I found in the island paradise.
Each dawn, as the sun peeks from the horizon and paints the sky pink and blue, thresher sharks rise into the cleaning stations of Monad shoal. In the shallower parts (24-30 meters) of the sea mount, pelagic thresher sharks (Alopias pelagicus) get cleaned by cleaner fishes for parasites in their skin. There is nowhere else in the world you can get front row seats to this live NatGeo moment.
We had our afternoon dives at Gato Island, a supposedly Marine Protected Area (they’re having problems on enforcement against illegal fishing). The underwater of this rocky island and its caverns are hiding places for reef and bamboo sharks and other interesting macro life.
We were too late to witness the courting rituals of mandarin fishes which happen at dusk. Nevertheless, we saw some of these creatures sleeping in the safety of Acropora beds. Night diving was like a game of Mystery Case Files, where we looked for critters with our flashlights. We spotted seahorses, crabs and pencil urchins.
There is still a lot to see in Malapascua. Apart from the dive masters, I was the only Filipino diver in all the dive teams during my visit. I envy the foreigners who stay there for weeks, and even months to explore more of Malapascua and the Philippines. I look forward to more Filipinos seeing and experiencing the beauty in our backyards. And I also look forward to more people appreciating and protecting our environment.