Field Notes From Donsol & Ticao Island in the Philippines – March 2011

This trip turned into a bit of a “nightmare” thanks to poor weather/diving conditions and picking up a nasty sinus infection en route. Here, I quote from a feature that I wrote about the experience. – JC

Donsol– On the first interaction, the visibility was at its worst, possibly three meters maximum and probably less. This made it impossible to see the shark approach, and I wasn’t able to see anything until it was literally passing underneath me. You couldn’t see the whole animal and it reminded me of some dives in the UK when the visibility is bad, where instead of suddenly finding yourself face to face with a pier leg or a diver that suddenly appeared out of the gloom, it’s a 25 foot plus whale shark!

Nonetheless, on my first interaction we got four whale sharks and on the second visit (after my Ticao Island visit), we got two sharks. For the second interaction, the visibility was improved, allowing snorkellers to just about see the whole animal, and we were able to remain with one massive specimen for quite a long period.

Photographically, the lens of choice could only be a fish eye (a 10.5mm Nikon in my case) but it was very difficult thanks to the conditions and I was unable to get anything on the first interaction that I could possibly be pleased with, so I’d have to hope that it would be better a few days later. I selected higher ISO’s of 400 and 640 due to the dark water, and set the camera to shutter priority.

Six days later, on the second interaction after my Ticao Island interlude, I was able to benefit from the slightly improved conditions to capture I couple of images that I thought best represented the conditions I experienced, but in a way that was acceptable to publish. For these, I used similar settings to those described above, and basically persevered among countless snorkellers and difficult conditions until the whale shark moved on.

Ticao Island – From a photographer’s standpoint, the Manta Bowl had subjects that you would wish to photograph, if only you could get close enough to do so. The lone manta looked as though it might grant us a close pass but it frustratingly veered away not to return, so I was only able to get one image of it in the middle distance. I took very few photographs on these dives thanks to the strong currents, hanging on with reef hooks, and the inability to get close to anything. It wasn’t the conditions for “photo-diving”.

On the second day, we visited an area known as San Miguel located at the northern tip of Ticao Island, more than an hour by boat from the resort. It’s characterised by rocky islands typical of the Philippines and other areas of the Far East.

There are several dive sites in this area, mostly offering slopes and walls adorned with impressive soft corals. The area is reputedly good for nudibranchs and other “macro” reef life, but I wasn’t able to complete the day.

<Read about this trip here>

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