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Malapascua Island overview
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Scuba Diving in Malapascua Island, Cebu, the Philippines
Dive Site: Gato Island
Location: 11°26'48"N; 124°1'50"E (Malapascua Island, Cebu)
Description: Reef / cavern
Depth: 12 metres max (39 feet) to the tunnel, 30m to the seabed (100 feet)
Visibility: 15 metres (50 feet)
Gato Island is a marine reserve located around 1 hour boat ride from Malapascua Island. Often done as a day trip following an early morning dive at Monad or Kemod shoals its likely you'll dive here and then have lunch on the boat, making a second dive before returning. Or perhaps you'll stop here for a dive en-route back to Malapascua from the wreck of the Dona Marilyn. Whichever way you dive Gato Island, the highlights are the "cavern" dive and white-tip sharks. Running through the island is a cave or tunnel of around 20 - 25 metres length. More of a cavern dive than a cave dive (although there is a short section in the middle of the tunnel where it is not possible to see external light) you do need a torch to make this dive. The tunnel is relatively shallow in depth, around 12m at its deepest, which makes it accessible to most levels of diver. It is clearly marked at the larger of the two entrances / exits, as ropes can be seen near the base of the small building on the edge of the island, running from the surface downwards. The seabed slopes away from the entrance here and down to around 30m before dropping away again. If you are diving outside the cavern and away from the island wall take care as there can be a fair amount of overhead boat traffic.
Coral heads and rock formations outside the larger cavern entrance are home to banded sea snakes and small seahorses. All around both entrances / exits and through the cavern itself there is an abundance of common sea urchins, an extra incentive to maintain good buoyancy and further reinforcing the need for a torch. The cavern itself has plenty of overhead space for the most part and ample room for several divers simultaneously. As with all dives, large groups of divers can make things much less comfortable, but the coarse coral sand in the tunnel soon settles if disturbed so there is little chance of visibility becoming zero, as long as you have a torch. If you have entered through the larger of the tunnel openings then you'll be exiting through a smaller gap (the tunnel ceiling drops down but the exit is wide). White-tip sharks often swim around you at this point providing an inspiring backdrop against the blue water as you exit from the dark. As you exit there are plenty of rock formations and a large rock which breaks the surface directly in front of you. The base of this has small overhangs and caves at seabed level to investigate before the seafloor slopes away. It was in these small caves we found a number of sleeping white-tip sharks, around 2m in length, tucked as far into the overhangs as possible. Whilst beyond the reach of an overeager diver they made for some great photographic opportunities. Depending on the current and which way through the tunnel you have been it is possible to head around the outside of the island reef where soft corals are in abundance, pipefish hang on the wall and clownfish dart out at you as you drift back to your boat.
Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor
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