May 27, 2014 Leave a comment
At 34 sq.km., Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP) in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro is the largest atoll-like reef in Asia. Its surrounding contiguous coral reefs–the second largest in the world (second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I believe)–is home to a diverse marine ecosystem. Compared with Tubbataha National Marine Park, Apo Reef has a higher diversity of corals.
Although the main geographical features of Apo Reef is submerged, there are three islands worth exploring–Apo Menor or Binanggaan, a rocky limestone islet with few vegetation; Cayos del Bajo or Tinangkapang, a barren coralline rock formation; and of course, Apo Island, the largest of the three and home to a thriving mangrove forest and lush beach vegetation, which serve as home to several rare and endangered bird species, such as the Nicobar and Imperial pigeons.
Stories of manta and sting rays; moray eels; several shark species, including thresher, gray and white tip, and hammerhead sharks; and 50-kilo tunas and other pelagic fish frequenting the drop-off around the reef and the 30-meter deep channel between Apo Menor and Apo Island whet my appetite to dive. I was all pumped up for a day or two of diving, but the exorbitant fees curbed my enthusiasm–blame it on my lack of research. No, I’m not being a cheapskate, but the fees they’re charging is too much! Consider this:
PhP2,000 per day equipment rental;
PhP300 refill per tank;
PhP800 dive master fee PER DIVE;
PhP1,650 environmental fee for local divers; and
PhP8,000 boat rental!
Even if I brought my own SCUBA gear, the dive master fee PER DIVE (if I intend to do three dives per day, that’ll cost me PhP2,400 already!), plus the environmental fee, plus the boat rental IS DEYM TOO MUCH! Heck, my head’s already spinning just doing the math. Three dives in Moalboal and Malapascua (Cebu), Apo Island (Dumaguete), and Balicasag (Bohol) didn’t cost me more than Php5,000, ALL IN–boat and equipment (with tank) rental, dive master fee, and environmental fee. In Boracay just last month, I did two dives for just PhP2,400 (negotiated rate)!
Oh well… SCUBA diving isn’t everything in Apo Reef.
Just skimming through the surface will introduce you face to face with various hard and soft corals, and an assortment of smaller, yet colorful fish. If you’re lucky, hawksbill and green sea turtles might drop by to say “Hi!”.
And after you’re done snorkeling, you can stroll around Apo Island and marvel at some of its rock formations or climb up the lighthouse and get a 360-degree view of Apo Island with its shallow lagoon surrounded by a verdant mangrove forest. Atop the ‘parola’, you may even catch a glimpse of the vast coral reef!
…or maybe, you’re the type who’s contented to just sit by the beach, enjoy its fine white sand, and be lulled into a blissful stupor, while catching the sun rise or set.