Sea Turtles in the Philippines

Elliot Simpson

Cebu in the Philippines is one of the larger islands with a bustling airport and city centre. We however didn’t visit to explore the concrete jungle, instead we had our eyes set on Moal Boal, a small village on the coast with an abundance of aquatic wildlife and crystal clear warm waters. First, we would need to find our way down there!

We were about three weeks into our travels at the time we arrived at Cebu. Upon arrival in the Philippines I had contracted a rather nasty chest infection that had knocked me for six for the majority of the time. With portion sizes being very small and travelling around in the heat I was struggling to recover, so when we got to Cebu I just wanted the most comfortable way down to the Moal Boal. This would be in the form of a taxi who’s driver was hell bent on driving as fast as and reckless as possible. I made a note of the company and vowed to never get a taxi with them again, alias we had made it!

The balcony on our accommodation overlooked the ocean, we were absolutely buzzing, and quickly began our search for snorkelling equipment so we could make the most of the few remaining hours of the day. It didn’t take long before we were approached walking down the narrow lanes of the town by someone renting snorkelling gear. The gear was at the end of it’s life and probably very cheap to begin with considering it’s rental price, but we didn’t care, we just couldn’t wait to dive in.

After acquiring our gear and getting my underwater housing ready we set out in search of the one of the main attractions of Moal Boal- the turtles! We lucked out, within minutes we found a huge sea turtle munching on the sea floor. I’ve only ever seen one of these before when I was a teenager so this was a really special moment. With it’s shell the size of my torso I swam along side it watching it gracefully gliding through the water. The setting sun burst through the surface adding to this already beautiful scene. We stayed out until the sun dipped below the horizon, admiring the colour reflecting off the calm sea. The perfect end to a long day of travel, it only left us wanting more.

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The second day in Moal Boal was all about finding somewhere for brunch and then getting ready for the main event, seeing the sardine run, this spectacle is where millions of sardines group to together and can be seen from above or below. We had signed up for a free-diving course to learn some tips on how to dive a bit deeper without oxygen to see this magnificent act of nature. However, on the day it was deemed that I was too congested to dive due to my chest infection from the weeks before. We left feeling deflated and rather annoyed that we were on the other side the world and couldn’t dive properly (well, I couldn't). Instead we rented some snorkelling gear and went for a dip. Spirits were soon lifted when we swam just out from the reef drop off to find a turtle rising from the deep. With nothing around us but deep blue water I snapped a few shots of minimalistic dream, before it swam away (they are surprisingly fast). What an awesome start to the day, it would only get before from here.

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The snorkelling equipment we had rented was falling apart, with my flipper becoming less and less effective with each stroke. We found the comical side of it and continued to search for the big shoals of sardines that brought us to Moal Boal. Eventually we found a group of people at the surface frequently popping their head under so we investigated. I’d never seen anything like it, there must have been tens of thousands of sardines swimming in unison below our feet. When we dived and swam near them they would create a ring around us, but wouldn’t come too close. It was a truly surreal experience. We tried to dive down a little bit and take a few photos with the fish surrounding us, this proved hard without any weights and a very bouyent underwater housing for my camera, but we keep trying! Hours past quickly and before we knew it the sardines had moved on to their next location.

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After only spending a couple of days in Moal Boal eating delicious açai bowls for breakfast from Shaka Cafe, diving with faulty equipment and blocked sinuses, and swimming with sea turtles and sardines, we didn’t want to leave! But we had to continue on with our plan to see the rest of the Philippines. Maybe one day I’ll be back and will be able to dive properly, but I’ll always remember the epic time we had there.

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