None of us had ever seen one before... The thresher shark came from the slope on our right and passed unhurriedly in front of the eight of us, as if it knew it had nothing to fear from the terrestial visitors into it's domain. We stopped and gaped at this great bronze fish, so rarely seen. In awe, I couldn't even hit the record switch on my underwater video camera! The shark swam slowly off into the deep blue, the long sickle-like upper tail scything gracefully through the water, a sight not likely to be forgotten.
This was a scene from our Easter sojourn to the Sulu Sea, and the site was Bancoran Island, rarely visited by the majority of the live-aboard dive vessels due to its distance. This was our third time at Bancoran, and our best so far.
When divers think about the Sulu Sea what usually comes to mind are the Tubbataha Reefs. However, for us it is Basterra that evokes the mystery and adventure of diving in the Sulu Sea, as it very difficult to guess what large forms of marine lurk off the walls of this small sandbar. Yep, we saw another thresher, five manta rays, a big scalloped hammerhead (which prompted us to beat a hasty retreat when it decided to check us out), large numbers of grey, white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, turtles (including a mating pair of greens), tuna, barracuda, and the usual dense schools of fish.
We ended two days of great diving at Basterra with a dinner ashore, the wreck of the "Oceanic" providing an excellent backdrop for the evening's festivities. Weeks prior to the trip, guests were informed that they would have to bring along formal clothes (yes, black evening gowns for the ladies and tuxedos, coats or barongs for the gents). This was the strict dress code for the evening, although slippers, sandals and/or bare feet would be acceptable. The crew of the M/Y Nautika laid out a fantastic spread for us that even included a lechon. We had a great dinner, music and of course, dancing. In the midst of all this a clutch of turtle eggs hatched, so we had all these little turtles frantically scampering towards the full moon and the water. A glorious evening! It was already 1:00 AM when the weary participants returned to the M/Y Nautika for the voyage to our next destination.
Roused from our sleep by the divemasters with cries of diving! diving!, we all staggered from cabins to be greeted by a view of the lighthouse at South Tubbataha. We all geared up and hit the water for the one and only dive scheduled at this site. We were not disappointed... The schools of jacks and barracudas that we came to see were all there, as well as reef sharks and turtles (again).
Now, it's time to move again to Black Rock to see the leopard sharks. They were there, as if we had set an appointment. Dozing on ledges or on sand or coral rubble these sharks are always great to see and if you exert care and approach them slowly it is possible to get quite close to them. Reef sharks, turtles, jacks, one eagle ray and fish galore!
Next day, North Tubbataha. Hmmmm... Big waves. To dive or not to dive? Dive of course! We got in and stayed shallow as we were looking for the shy shovel-nosed shark. We didn't see any, but we saw an eagle ray, sharks, turtles (the usual).
As the waves were too big at North it was decided to go back to Amos Rock back at South, where water conditions were calmer. Oh well, lets try it... Swimming along the wall I see something and it's big. Another manta. This one hang around us for like 15 minutes, enjoying the exhaust bubbles bursting against it's skin. We had some good dives at this site. Did I forget to mention that we found the shovel-nose here?
It was with heavy hearts that we boarded the boat for the return voyage back to Puerto Princesa. Yes, we had a great time! At the airport in Manila, while everyone was bidding each other goodbye a pact was made that we would do the trip again the following year.
For those of you who have never been to the Sulu Sea it is time to go. You haven't dived the Philippines if you haven't seen what this area has to offer .