Diving in the Philippines’ Sogod Bay is so good we’re returning to Southern Leyte’s best-kept secret, this time with underwater videographer Tony Exall
Diving Sogod Bay – Dive Happy Episode 33 Show Notes
- Sogod Bay Whale Sharks Podcasts – Jessica Labaja – Jessica describes the whale shark research work of LAMAVE (Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute) in Sogod Bay
- Diving Sogod Bay Podcast – Phil McGuire – long time resident of Sogod Bay and the owner of Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, Phil discusses Sogod’s past and future as a dive destination
- Diving Sogod Bay 2017 – my indepth trip report about visiting Sogod Bay, along with lots of practical info on how to get there
- Whale Sharks at Sogod Bay (video) – video from my first Sogod trip in 2007, shot by Pedro Batestil
- Coral Cay Conservation – the marine conservation NGO located in Sogod Bay
- PhilippineDiveHolidays.com – Tony’s dive travel agency
- Sogod Bay Scuba Resort – where Tony and I always stay when visiting Sogod Bay
- Peter’s Dive Resort – one of the original Sogod Bay resorts
- Southern Leyte Divers – another of the pioneering Sogod Bay resorts
Diving Sogod Bay – Dive Happy Episode 33 Transcript
[0:00:06.7] CM: Hello. Welcome to Dive Happy, the podcast about finding the best scuba diving in Asia. I’m your host, Chris Mitchell. On this episode, I’m joined by Tony Exall, an accomplished underwater videographer and founder of travel agency philippinediveholidays.com. Tony, welcome back.
[0:00:24.1] TE: Thank you for having me.
[0:00:25.6] CM: So Tony, Sogod Bay in the Philippines is somewhere I’ve featured before in this podcast and I’ve been back to several times over the last 10 years. In fact, pretty much I’ve been there every year for the last four years. But you loved it so much, you ended up living there for a while. What is it that makes Sogod Bay so special to you?
[0:00:45.4] TE: I have a very special attachment to the place, but I’ll tell you more about that in a bit later. In general, Southern Leyte is just a wonderful place for diving. Primarily, because it’s – well, number reasons. Firstly, it’s really, really quiet there. There’s very few operators. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but the diving is wow. They have some absolutely stunning, properly stunning reefs. There’s a variety of different types of diving there. There’s wall dives, drift dives, adrenaline dives, macro dives, all kinds of stuff. If you’re a wreck nut, this is not the place for you. If you love marine life and looking for the weird and wonderful on the reef, it’s awesome place to go to.
[0:01:31.0] CM: Wow. Okay. What took you there originally? I believe it was because you were working with Coral Cay Conservation, right?
[0:01:41.1] TE: Yeah. It was my introduction into the Philippines. I went to Southern Leyte and “discovered it”, purely by a coincidence. I left the UK, decided I wanted to go over to Southeast Asia somewhere for an indeterminate period of time, maybe one or two whatever years, with the idea of getting professional dive qualifications and working as a go to earn a few quid, just to pay my way.
I traveled as it’s like a flash packer, if you like, or executive backpacker in the past, but I’ve never been by myself and I’m always, always with somebody. I thought for the first few months of being away, why didn’t I sign up to some organisation to soften the blow, to be around other Brits or foreigners, rather than being in at the deep end, be by myself?
I signed up to Coral Cay Conservation, which is a British NGO that deal with surveying the coral reefs and working with the locals to create sanctuaries and that thing. I’ve signed up to them as a volunteer for three months. Cut a long story short, I actually ended up becoming their manager, or expedition leader as they call it. They had a base in Southern Leyte that’s called Padre Burgos. In the end, I stayed with them for nine months. Fell in love with the place so much and got to know the local dive centres.
Then after I finished with Coral Cay, I then went to work for a dive resort called Southern Leyte Divers, owned by a German guy, Gunter. It was just awesome. Actually, I mean, I didn’t earn much money being a DM. I think my busiest month was the March of 2005, where I was literally doing three or four dives a day, working my butt off, filling tanks and all kinds of stuff and I earned basically a 100 quid in a month. It was the least amount of money earn for the greatest amount of effort I’d ever put into a job, but loved it and it got me to properly understand Southern Leyte and I just fell in love with the place.
Like yourself, I try and get back there every year and do as much diving as I can. It’s a great place, because I’ve done a lot of dives. I’ve done over a 1,000 dives in Southern Leyte now. Whenever I go back there, there’s always new dive sites, new things to see. It’s such a big area. I mean, it’s not massive, but when you’re just in a dive centre and there’s only four or five dive centres in the whole place, so there’s not that many people who go there. Therefore, the most dive centres just keep on going back to the same old places. If you start exploring around, you can find some really cool stuff.
[0:04:27.5] CM: Right. Well, I mean, there’s a lot to pick up on there from what you just said. I mean, the very fact that Coral Cay is based there, points to the fact of what you said at the beginning, which is that the reefs in Sogod Bay are staggeringly good. I mean, they are without I don’t know, without parallel in the Philippines, I think as far as what I’ve seen. Would you agree?
[0:04:49.1] TE: There’s some other places that have got some really nice coral that will compete with it, like Caballero. Certain parts if you dive in behold a lonely beach. You go to a dive site called Balicasag, fantastic hard coral reef there. Also, Apo Island just off of Negros. It’s that whole mix. These other places, not necessarily Caballero, but certainly Balicasag and Apo are really busy places.
It’s just having that mix of – there’s more dives, there’s slopes, there’s all-out muck dives and so on in Southern Leyte. Beautiful, beautiful mix. In terms of the hard coral reef, yeah, there’s nowhere better. There’s some that you can put on the same level as Southern Leyte, but I’ve not dived Raja Ampat in Indonesia and I think the reefs from the video that I’ve seen, when you look on YouTube and stuff, is very comparable. You may not necessarily get the same quantity of fish life in Southern Leyte, but certainly the reef itself with the small fishes, the macro life that lives on there, something. I can’t see anywhere beating that.
[0:05:56.8] CM: Sure. I mean, I’ve dived Raja several times and I always think of Sogod Bay is Raja on the cheap, which is a very flippant assessment. I mean, you’re quite right. I mean, it doesn’t – I mean, Sogod can’t compete with the sheer, what would you say? The abundance of marine life that you see in Raja over the typical seven days, but you certainly see enough in Sogod to not feel you’ve come away and had a bunch of quiet dives or whatever. There’s always something there. In places like Napantao, the marine preserve, well the very famous site with all the anthias and so forth, I mean, that is just flat-out stunning and it’s hard to [inaudible 0:06:35.0].
[0:06:36.8] TE: I just love that dive site. I regularly suck my tank dry when I dive that site, regularly.
[0:06:44.7] CM: I mean, what do you particularly like about it? Is it just you just cooing at the prettiness, or do you have specific missions when you go to a place like that?
[0:06:52.4] TE: I’ve done 90 plus percent of my dives in the Philippines. I don’t necessarily have the same – I dived a little bit in Indonesia, Ambon, Lambie, Banakin. I haven’t had the same experience of some of the great places in Indonesia, like Komodo, Raja Ampat, or blah, blah, blah. Certainly in the Philippines, there’s not many dive sites where you see that number of fish, not necessarily big fish, but just the sheer quantity and biomass that’s going on there. I mean, there’s very few places in the Philippines that compare with it. Possibly Verde Island in Puerto Galera has a larger number of fish on a similar area, but it’s just –
[0:07:32.5] CM: Oh, wow.
[0:07:34.1] TE: It’s that everything with it, the amount of fish. There are literally tens of thousands of anthias there, plus the fusiliers that come in. Then you have the giant [inaudible 0:07:44.7] coming in trying to hunt on the fusiliers and everything else. The huge bushes of black coral that just had not been disturbed is incredible; properly pristine. I hate that word, that pristine and sustainability and all these nonsense, but Napantao, it’s relevant, it’s accurate.
[0:08:09.8] CM: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, that coral is obviously, well like all coral, it’s very delicate, but it’s grown to – no, no, no, in some cases, a meter and a half high. I mean, it’s just nuts how long it’s been there –
[0:08:20.1] TE: And the rest. Yeah.
[0:08:22.0] CM: Yeah. And just left alone. When you’re at Coral Cay, was that one of the key sites that you were surveying?
[0:08:28.5] TE: No. We were based over the other side. When you look at the map of Southern Leyte, it’s like a wisdom tooth. You’ve got Sogod Bay in the middle, in between the roots, if you like, and then in the mouth of the bay, there’s the Island of Limasawa. I would just love to be a rock star and do a concert on Limasawa. Can you imagine how recording with it? It’s like, “Hello Limasawa!” Anyway. It’s a great name for an island.
We were based on the western side. On the very southern point is the Tankaan Peninsula. We had our base on the western side of the Tankaan Peninsula. I did most of my diving around that site and coming around towards Padre Burgos town, which is the inside of Sogod Bay. With Coral Cay, Monday to Friday you’d survey and then Saturday is fun diving. Most of the time, we’d either go over to Limasawa or over to Napantao, depending on the weather in the time of year and so on, because it’s not that big a bay, but when you got the habagat, which is during the rainy season monsoon, the wind comes up from the southwest and it can really make you choppy big waves. When you’re on just a 30-foot tanker boat, its heart and mouth stuffed when you got waves that are higher than the boat. It’s interesting stuff.
[0:09:44.6] CM: Sure. Absolutely. It’s funny, you say – I mean, so you’re completely right. It’s funny you say it’s not that big a bay, because to my mind, because it’s basically, usually when I’m there, it’s flat calm and you can see right across the other side of the bay. Is it feels huge, because you get that amazing sense of the sea and the sky and you’re surrounded by these beautiful, they’re not mountains. They’re very big hills, rolling greenery and catching clouds. In terms of the above water natural beauty, it’s spectacular, but it always feels when you’re out in the middle of the water, it feels you’re in a very big expanse of water where anything could come up.
[0:10:27.1] TE: Yeah. Also in the middle of Sogod Bay, I’ve heard this that summer, I don’t know if it’s actually true, but it’s the deepest bay there is. The middle of the bay goes down to 1,500 meters.
[0:10:38.2] CM: Holy moly.
[0:10:42.0] TE: Yeah. I’m sure the black water divers would love to have a bash in there. I don’t think any operator actually provides that yet, but in the future if somebody were to, then I think that would be really quite interesting place to do a black water dive, which for those people that don’t know what a black water dive is, is night dive, but you go out into deep water, you put a rig with very powerful lights on, leave it in the water, you put it down to 10, 15 maybe 20 meters, leave the lights on for about an hour or so and then all the weird stuff that’s loose in the deep does a nightly migration and is attracted by the lights. Then photographers, videographers, whoever then go into the water after about an hour so two hours and then you photograph and video all the weird stuff that comes up. There’s some really cool things to see. Yeah, I’m sure Southern Leyte would be awesome to do that.
[0:11:29.3] CM: Yeah. I was really just recently actually about how a couple of people started doing that in Analao and had some amazing results.
[0:11:38.6] TE: Yeah. Almost every resort that supports photographers and so on is do a black water now. It’s a real craze from going right across the Philippines now. Anybody that’s got any deep water, they’d give it a go.
[0:11:48.2] CM: Oh, wow. Well the other thing with the deep water at Sogod is what brings its most famous, as you might say, export. That’s not right, is it? Import would be a better word. Is the huge whale shark influx attraction. Yeah, so the whale sharks that turn up. When you were a Coral Cay, that was what? About 10 years ago?
[0:12:09.4] TE: That was 2004. A long time ago now.
[0:12:13.4] CM: Were there whale sharks there then?
[0:12:15.5] TE: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. In those days, we didn’t know – I mean, you hear stories from the locals, where you go up to – did you ever dive Liloam, which is the small channel between. When you’re staying in on the western side and you look across the bay, so there, at that bit of land right in front of you that Napantao and all those dive sites are on is actually an island, Panaon Island. If you go further up the bay, you’ll come to a town of Liloan, where there’s a very small channel that goes through. That’s a really cool adrenaline dive actually. You start on the pacific side. When it’s going from low tide to high tide and the water comes surging through this channel. You drop in and it just sucks you through and spit you out the other side. It’s quite entertaining.
[0:12:59.2] CM: Holy moly.
[0:12:59.9] TE: Because there’s only 12 meters deep right underneath. There’s a bridge that goes over it. Directly underneath the bridge is maximum 12 meters and there’s huge boulders and you go shooting through there and you think you’re going to go whack into one of the boulders, but the water will naturally take you over the top. It’s safe, but it’s quite entertaining watching a less experienced diver, their eyes end up being bigger than their mask, because they see this massive boulder coming towards them, thinking they’re going to be strawberry jammed on the side of it, but actually no. You’re just taken straight over the top.
In days of old, you hear stories where people, the older generation where there, before sharks were culled in the way that they are now. These two go to the – there’s a little lighthouse just on the corner there and they used to go out swimming and there’ll be so many whale sharks, they could literally step from one whale shark to another whale shark, to another whale shark.
[0:13:49.3] CM: No way.
[0:13:50.4] TE: Literally walking across their backs. Yeah.
[0:13:53.0] CM: Wow.
[0:13:54.2] TE: Just incredible. Those days are long gone and unfortunately.
[0:13:57.7] CM: Sure. I mean, there’s still plenty of sharks in Sogod Bay every, year isn’t it?
[0:14:02.2] TE: Yeah. The season is going back to the original point when I first went there, we saw them, but we didn’t quite figure out where they would be. Then Coral Cay, I think in the nine months, there was only, actual you saw a couple. It wasn’t until I started working – After I left Coral Cay, I then spent six months or so working for Southern Leyte Divers, then I went off and did my instructor course and then came back the following season and a freelance between Peter’s Dive Resort and Southern Leyte Divers.
In the Christmas of 2005 going into 2006, we had a couple of Swiss guys that had been there for three weeks. The weather was rubbish and they dived everywhere. I said, “Oh, where else can we send them?” I said, “Go over the other side to Sonok, which is the almost at the southern point of the eastern side of Sogod Bay; a really, really nice sanctuary up there. Fantastic soft corals and more of a soft coral garden, rather than a hard coral garden, but you’ll see froggies and some quite nice fish life over there. They went over there.
It’s about an hour and a half boat ride from where the dive resorts are. They came back and they said, “We’ve just seen whale sharks.” I was like, “Really?” “Yeah, on a dive in Sonok.” I said, “Well, you want to go back there?” They went back the next day and they saw them again. We started going out there, going into Sonok sanctuary. It’s not particularly deep dive site where the coral is. Have you dived Sonok?
[0:15:28.9] CM: No. Hilariously, I have been there looking for whale sharks while snorkelling, so I haven’t dived it.
[0:15:33.8] TE: Okay. In the sanctuary, the coral dissipates right about 12 meters or so, then becomes a bit of a slope before a drop-off. We had go down to about 12 meters, dump our air, just kneel down and just wait. More often or not, a whale shark would go by. Now when you’ve only got in January, the vis can be not as good as it is later on in the year, when you get to March, April, May. When you’ve only got 10 meters visibility and then all of a sudden, this 7 meter lump of fish swims straight by you, it’s exhilarating. It’s very exhilarating.
After we did our dive, most of the time we saw them, sometimes we didn’t. Then we get back onto the boat and the local fishermen are going around in these little boats that may be maximum of 10-foot long, probably less than that; just a silly little boat. They’ll be paddling away, trying to fish and so on. Quite often, their way over to us saying, giving us the shark sign. “There’s a shark down here.” We’d go over there. We’ll bring the boat over there. We jump in and there’ll be a shark in front of us. I said, “Hold on a minute. Why are we randomly just going into the sanctuary, dumping our air, doing a dive there? Maybe we see it, maybe we don’t. Why don’t we just employ the local fishermen to find the sharks for us?”
We’d hire half-a-dozen guys, pay them, I don’t know, a few quid for a few hours of searching. We gave them masks and so on. They’d got potter around and look for signs, fin coming out the water, or fish jumping, or shadows or whatever. In those days when we first started it, they’d find a shark, show us the direction that shark is moving in, we’d bring the dive boat in front of that trajectory and with all our dive gear, then we jump in the water. Sometimes you wouldn’t see the shark, the shark would veer off. Sometimes you just see the tail as it disappeared, but sometimes the shark would stick around.
There was quite a number of times where it was like, this 5, 6-meter shark would be swimming around us for 20 minutes, half an hour and face-to-face. It was just awesome. Absolutely awesome. Then the locals — more and more people heard about it, more and more people were going to Southern Leyte, liveaboards were starting to go in there. The local community then saw how tourism was expanding and then went to Donsol, which is further north than Southern Leyte, which is where whale shark tourism first began. They would only allow snorkelling and you’d have a proper briefing and there was a lot more rules and regulations and they try to do the right thing up there.
Southern Leyte then took those points onboard and then stopped diving specifically to see the whale shark. If you’re on a dive and a whale shark turns up is fair game, but you couldn’t then jump in with scuba gear on to a shark and observe it for whatever amount of time. You could only do by snorkelling, which in hindsight, I think is a good thing.
[0:18:36.7] CM: Yes, I agree.
[0:18:37.2] TE: It stops that panic. Trying to get into the water with scuba gear on, people get really agitated, because it’s not so easy to move around. There’s a potential for tripping and hazards and stuff if you’re scuba diving. As you know, they come up really quite shallow and they just sometimes, they just swim around you for ages. It’s just wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.
The upside of Southern Leyte over is obviously contentious place of Oslob, where you’ll see a lot of sharks there, which you can do on scuba there. In Southern Leyte, generally the water is clearer and it’s natural.
[0:19:17.5] CM: Definitely, that feeling is like you say, that if you go out snorkelling and see the whale sharks and everything’s very sort of sedate and calm and whale sharks would’ve been properly looked after. Then there’s the joy of if you’re doing a dive on an amazing dive site like Napantao and then a whale shark just happens to swim by, which is what happened on my last trip to Sogod, it’s just like, well that’s just absolutely super-duper. The question I was going to ask you about that area, Sonok, right?
[0:19:46.3] TE: Sonok. S-O-N-O-K.
[0:19:48.1] CM: I was talking to Jessica, one of the directors at Lamave, did a chat with her recently. That’s the area that Lamave are based in as well, right?
[0:19:58.3] TE: Yeah.
[0:19:59.1] CM: What is it about that particular area that attracts the whale sharks? Why are they all congregating around there, rather than else around the bay?
[0:20:08.1] TE: Who knows? They don’t always go there. They change their location from year to year sometimes. Probably about five or six years ago, probably about six years ago you didn’t see them over there, but they were on Limasawa.
[0:20:22.0] CM: Oh, wow. Really?
[0:20:23.5] TE: You’d see them on the west side of Limasawa. Most of the time they go over to the eastern side of South Panaon. Sometimes at the very, very southern tip, sometimes a little bit further north up towards Sonok itself. Generally, that stretch along there that normally they are around that way. Some years there’s not many sightings, sometimes there’s loads. They’re the whale shark season is roughly November through to the end of April going into May, just depending on the water conditions and if there’s – we think they’re there for feeding, but it’s not really – you don’t get that much plankton there. It’s much, much better visibility than you would get in Donsol. Donsol is all out feeding place, so the vis is really quite poor. The shark goes down to 5, 6 meters deep, you don’t see it, because it’s just so thick with plankton and green water. Whereas in Leyte, you can slope 30 meters down, “Oh, there’s a shark.”
[0:21:23.4] CM: Moving away from those sharks and back more to the general sense of the dive in there like you alluded to before about this amazing mix of different things you can see on one trip. I’ve always stayed over on the western coast there, which is the – if you like, the traditional coast. Have you tried being based on each coast and taking different groups, the different coasts and do you have a preference, or take your advice which side to go?
[0:21:48.8] TE: When I take groups there, I stay in Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, which is just down – you dive with Peter’s haven’t you?
[0:21:54.4] CM: I always dive with Sogod Bay Scuba Resort.
[0:21:56.3] TE: Okay. Right, right. Yeah. I’d stay there, which is just 4 kilometres north of Padre Burgos town. I think there’s four dive resorts on that side. Then the German guy has got another resort on the eastern side, not far from Sonok, around that way. I’ve never stayed there. I’ve heard people giving quite good reports of the place. I personally would prefer to – well, it’s just a darn-side easier getting to Padre Burgos than it is over the other side. There’s a long way to get there. More convenience. Plus, I think it’s an easier place to be based to get to the good dive sites without having to do long distances all the time.
Because over in Sonok, there’s – Sonok Point is a nice dive. They have some really good muck diving around that way as well as. If you want to get up to dive sites like Max Climax, which is the house reef for Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, or Medicare, or the Padre Burgos jetty, or little MB up by Malitbog, it’s a long way and you have to start out extra early. You don’t get back till late. You spend all day on the dive boat. If you’re doing that day after day after day, it becomes tiring.
[0:23:08.6] CM: Yes. Okay. Yeah, okay. That’s fair enough. I mean, I was thinking there must be a reason why most of the dive resorts would concentrate on the western side and that will be why. Because effectively, the house reef, Max Climax, I mean, the coastline just stretches in either direction and there’s just essentially – there’s another dive site and then another one and another one and it goes along the coast, isn’t it? For little MB and also for the amazing night dive under the pier, I mean, those are two fantastic macro areas. I mean, is macro your thing?
[0:23:42.5] TE: I love macro. Yeah. I love everything. I think if I had to choose one type of diving, it will probably be macro. Yeah.
[0:23:49.1] CM: Oh, really?
[0:23:50.3] TE: I think so. Yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd with all that. I do that the megafauna, things as well. There’s only so many times you can – it sounds really rubbish to say. I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but there’s only so many times you can look at a manta.
[0:24:08.9] CM: Oh, my God.
[0:24:12.8] TE: In January of this year, I was in Socorro. In six days diving, we saw more than 20 oceanic mantas. It’s wow. To do that time after time after time after time, opposed to spending ages on a sandy slope looking for a hairy frogfish, or a mimic octopus, or a flamboyant cuttlefish, there’s nothing certain about it.
What I like about the macro stuff is you start to see animal behaviour. You can see them. I’ve got this lovely little bit of video of a mantis shrimp coming out of its hole, clubbing the hell out this poor little crab and you can hear, you can hear the – as it’s throwing this club and making contact with the crab. It’s wow in a nerdy way.
[0:25:07.4] CM: I absolutely agree. Just yes, I always – because you’re a videographer, I always assumed you just liked the big stuff, because it fills the screen.
[0:25:16.0] TE: Yeah. Don’t get me wrong. I loved it and I’m going to hopefully in October, I’m going Cocos and I want to see a whole school of a hammerhead swimming around me. That would be awesome. If I had to choose one type of diving, I think it would be macro diving.
[0:25:30.9] CM: Okay. Just jumping back as you summarise, because already we’ve talked about – we’ve just talked about macro, we’ve talked about the whale sharks, we touched on the amazing reefs at Napantao. We’ve mentioned Limasawa, but we haven’t actually talked about the dive in there, because that for me I think is possibly my favourite spot everywhere, or anywhere in all of the bay. I mean, would it be for you?
[0:25:54.6] TE: No. Napantao would be my number one.
[0:25:58.1] CM: Would it be a close second though?
[0:25:58.8] TE: But, it’s a very, very close second. I’ve got a very, very strong attachment to Limasawa. What you don’t realise, or most people realise when they go over there, there’s a couple of dive sites. Going back to the Coral Cay thing, Coral Cay are being quite instrumental in helping the local set up sanctuaries. All of the dive sites that you would normally do on Limasawa, so dive sites like Adrian’s Cove and Zack’s Cove, or Gunter’s Wall, or whatever they call it, and there’s a few dive sites in between. That is now one massive sanctuary, which is about 2 kilometres long and it’s the biggest one in the bay.
Over the land, and it’s been the sanctuary for about five years now and you can really see the fish life coming back. Not that it was completely wiped out of fish beforehand, but you get lots and lots of schools of the fusiliers and the anthias and the smaller fish. Every now and then depending on how the current works out, you’ll get some bigger fish coming in having a sniff on the small fish. Now back in 2005, do you remember the dive site Zack’s Cove?
[0:27:00.3] CM: Yes. Oh, yes.
[0:27:02.4] TE: That was utterly, utterly destroyed by crown-of-thorns. From the very, very shallows, to just literally, 1 or 2 meters of water, so there’s a reef top that gently slopes from I don’t know, probably of 30 meters, 20 meters long. Then there’s a drop-off that goes down to the abyss. It’s super deep. From the very, very shallows, all the way down to at least 50 meters, 30 meters wide was just a carpet of crown of thorns. Literally, you could not see the ground with crown-of-thorns.
[0:27:40.0] CM: That’s terrifying.
[0:27:41.8] TE: It’s absolutely awful. This colony, if you like, of crown-of-thorns which is steadily moving northwards up to a dive site called Adrienne’s Cove, which around there is arguably the best hard coral reef in Southern Leyte. Over a period about three months, all the dive centres would go out there, sometimes with customers, sometimes anybody that knew how to dive, we’d take them out there, you go down with a rice sack, pair of barbecue tongs and just the half-dozen rice sacks and fill up as many crown-of-thorns into the bags as you could. Tie it off, tie it onto a line, the guys on the boat would then pull it up and then we bury them on the beach.
We estimate over a period of about three months, we took out over 30,000 crown-of-thorns with the objective of saving Adrienne’s Cove from the infestation and we did it. We managed to do it, but this is why – whenever I go back to dive and there was another infestation a few years later as well. I mean, it literally killed everything except for gorgonian fans and sponges, everything else was dead. Now when you go back and there was another infestation in about 2008, I think it was.
Now when you go back, you’d never know. In fact, it looks more beautiful, more healthy than it did before the infestation, just when a crown-of-thorns destroyed it all. Every time I dive it, having seen how the life has come back has benefited from just being left alone being created into a sanctuary, I cry. I honestly cry, because it is amazing. Absolutely amazing how nature will recover if it’s left alone.
[0:29:14.0] CM: Yeah. Well, that is amazing mate. Also, I mean that is one of the great things about Sogod Bay and it’s one of the reasons I keep returning is that it actually feels like the reefs are getting better, rather than being degraded, which is what you see in some of the other places. Now it’s wonderful to see.
Like you say, because of so much of local community effort, between Filipinos and foreign divers and the foreigners living there and everyone’s banded together, and also been lots of very progressive, very proactive government help from the local over the years, the different mayors that come in seem to have done a lot to help as well. It’s very heartening too and it’s all moving in the same direction and everyone seems to recognise just what a remarkable place it is that it needs to be looked after.
[0:29:59.2] TE: Yeah. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword promoting it and doing these podcasts, talking about Southern Leyte.
[0:30:04.5] CM: Absolutely.
[0:30:06.0] TE: One of those beauties is it’s so quiet. By promoting it, you’re just going to get more people there.
[0:30:11.1] CM: That’s the thing. I mean, there’s plenty of room still, yeah, like we said earlier, there’s still plenty of room for more, I don’t know, more dive shops to open. It’s a big old area. I think there’s a few years yet before it becomes anywhere near busy.
[0:30:24.3] TE: Yeah. It’s also the topography of Southern Leyte actually prohibits the number of resorts being open there as well, because the highway certainly on the Padre Burgos side, the highway goes so close to the shoreline that you can’t have that picture-perfect white sand beach and then under Philippine laws, they must be 20 meters from the high tide to the commercial building. I mean, under the resorts over there have actually stuck to that, so there’s an element of risk for them too. You can’t have that measurement, have a resort and still be beach side, rather than the other side of the road. And the truth, there aren’t great beaches. You don’t go to Southern Leyte for beaches. There some if you look for them, but it’s –
[0:31:08.2] CM: It’s there to look at, it’s not there to sit on.
[0:31:12.0] TE: It’s a diver’s place to go to.
[0:31:14.5] CM: Yeah, absolutely.
[0:31:15.0] TE: It’s definitely nice.
[0:31:16.6] CM: As we finish up then, I’m just reminded that the redoubtable Phil McGuire from Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, I talked to him four years ago on this podcast. He was one of the prime movers in trying to make Maasin Airport come to fruition. It’s four years later and it still hasn’t happened and obviously, no one’s seem to know what might happen there, which obviously if an airport arrives in the region, that could change everything, but I don’t know.
[0:31:42.4] TE: Yeah. I think it’s going to be a small airport as well. I don’t think it’s big enough for 737s to land there. I think it’s only going to be the twin prop planes that will be able to land there, which is going to be I think, I’m not a 100% certain, but I think that’s the case, which means it’s going to be quite limiting and relatively expensive to get there, because all the – Well actually, Cebu Pacific if they’re going to fly there, but I don’t think they are. I think one of the reasons it’s been able to happen is because PAL, Philippine Airlines has supported the project. I don’t if PAL and Cebu Pacific will be able to fly there.
With them, because you only get on the twin prop planes, it’s the same as flying into Coron. They only allow you 10 kilos and then you have to pay something like 200, 250 pesos a kilo for all the weight.
[0:32:28.6] CM: Ouch, ouch, ouch.
[0:32:31.7] TE: Yeah. It starts to add up, especially if you’ve got a big camera gear and so on, it can start costing a few quid. Yeah, I mean, that’s Southern Leyte. It’s a little bit fiddly to get to. The two ways of getting there, if you come through Cebu then you have to get a ferry over to Southern Leyte or to Leyte. The easiest way is, or the most number of crossings and the quickest crossing itself is from Cebu, the port area in Cebu using ocean jet, or [inaudible 0:32:58.0], or Super Cat goes to a place called Ormoc. Then from Ormoc that you’ve then got about a four-hour, three and a half, four-hour journey by then to get you around to Padre Burgos.
There’s other ferries which are slower that come in to Bato Hilongos and Maasin. Maasin being the capital of Southern Leyte. I can’t remember the name, but the ferry operator that comes in to Maasin now. Then from Maasin round to Padre Burgos is only 45, 50 minutes. They generally leave early in the morning, like 5 or 6:00 in the morning, which is not necessarily helpful when you’ve flown in that day.
Most of the time, if you fly in to the Philippines and then go to Southern Leyte, most of the time, you’d need to spend a night in Manila or Cebu before then traveling down. Then if you come in through Manila, you can fly from Manila down to Tacloban. Then from Tacloban down to Padre Burgos again is another four and a half hours.
[0:33:56.4] CM: Yes. That’s normally how I do it via Tacloban. Every time I do it, I get to the end of the bum numbing three and a half hour drive down in the middle of the night after traveling all day and swear, I’m never doing this again. Then by the end of the dive of the week, I’m like, “This is brilliant. I’m going back again next year.” Yeah, as my friend Dom says is that you forget the journey as soon as you get there. It’s a miserable journey frankly and you just forget it as soon as you start diving.
[0:34:24.1] TE: There’s gold at the end of the rainbow.
[0:34:27.3] CM: Yeah, exactly. Mate, well, I’ve got to say mate, just having this conversation with you has just made me really want to get back there again. It is actually the place I missed the most, diving, I have to say. I was actually – I know, we don’t talk about the lockdown on this podcast, but I will this one time. I was actually due to fly out to Sogod Bay a week before lockdown began in Manila. I obviously had to cancel that trip. Yeah, gutted.
[0:34:52.6] TE: I was meant to be there for three separate weeks this season, so I’m gutted I’m not going to be able to get there. Next year, I’ll be there. I’ve got two or three weeks planned for next year, so I’ll be there.
[0:35:02.5] CM: Awesome. All right, Tony. Thank you so much for talking about Sogod Bay.
[0:35:06.3] TE: Pleasure. Enjoy.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:35:09.1] CM: Thanks very much for listening to the Dive Happy Podcast. You can see the show notes for this episode and browse all the other episodes at divehappy.com/podcast. You can also sign up for the Dive Happy newsletter so you get notified when the next episode comes out. Sign up at divehappy.com/podcast. I pinky promise, I won’t spam you.
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