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Scuba Diving in Malapascua Island, Cebu, the Philippines
Dive Site: Kemod Shoal
Location: Malapascua Island, Cebu
Depth: 12 metres + (40 feet)
Visibility: 15 metres (50 feet)
Kemod Shoal is very similar to its much more famous bigger brother, Monad Shoal. Also an underwater seamount rising from the abyss, it has a flattish reef top starting at around 12 metres before sloping away at an ever increasing angle. At around half the depth to the seamount summit, Kemod has more in the way of coral growth and small fish life than Monad, with anemones and clownfish as well as some good hard coral growth. More noticeable however is its size or rather how small it is when compared with the seamount top at Monad Shoal which is at least 1.5 km in length. The top of the shoal at Kemod is probably only a few hundred square metres making it a much smaller site. Our dive resort had only been diving this site for 4 weeks before we arrived so it was not an established dive by any means - made more evident by the use of a GPS to locate it (the only time our crew used one) and the absence of any other dive vessels. I was reliably informed that they had first found the seamount on April 1st and had yet to bring many divers here. In the few dives the guides had made they had however encountered both hammerhead and thresher sharks with predictable regularity.
One of the other instructors at the resort was keen to bring me to Kemod where just the two of us could make a dive and check out the deeper wall. On the boat ride out we saw several devil rays breach clean out of the water and two pods of dolphins and after a discussion about whether this was to dislodge parasites we decided that it was probably done, "just because they could". Upon arriving the two of us kitted up at our leisure before slipping into 12 metres of water atop the seamount. There were some large pieces of fishing net stretched over parts of the reef top which will need to be cleared to avoid any possible entanglement. Following this netting to the wall we came across an anemone with a single clownfish. The fish was bloated much like a pufferfish, something neither my buddy nor I had seen before - perhaps she was pregnant? As we descended to 30m I stared out into the blue and almost immediately detected shadows and silvery flashes - at first I thought it was a large shoal of jacks or travellies. As I swam out further I realised these creatures were very dolphin like in size and shape and it was when I saw the tail movements and distinctive flat snouts that I knew I was looking at a school of up to 200 hammerheads. If only we had been ascending from below and able to see the silhouettes we may have got an idea of the sheer numbers but this school of pelagic was vast. They swam silently by, eyeing us almost as warily as we eyed them and then within seconds melted back into the blue. We spent the next 30 minutes straining into the blue but this was to be my one and only sighting of these awesome creatures. Ascending up the reef wall a free-swimming feather star passed us by, its many black legs dancing in the water. Only under the glare of my camera flash did we realise this creature was a bright red colour. Heading back to the boat I could hardly wait to get my regulator out and talk about the experience and more importantly plan my next dive at Kemod Shoal.
I certainly didn't have to wait long. After our sighting the dive centre decided to make the early morning dive the following day to Kemod Shoal instead of the usual 6.00am departure for Monad Shoal. Making the 30 minute boat ride we slipped beneath the waves and soon located the fishing net and now familiar deformed lone clownfish in her anemone. Reaching the same point we had seen the hammerheads at yesterday we elected to head in the opposite direction along the reef wall and despite our optimism today was not the day for a repeat sighting of the school of hammerhead sharks. However during our ascent up to around 20m the three of us looked up towards the surface to see a thresher shark swimming at around 15 metres. Passing just a few metres above us it cruised gracefully past before swimming away over the top of the shoal providing a magnificent view of its incredibly long tail. Then it returned swimming towards and over us giving a true perspective of its pectoral fins and silver belly. This was easily the best and closest encounter I had with this type of shark during my time in Malapascua and it was a fantastic experience - I can't help wondering if Kemod Shoal is the new Monad Shoal.
Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor
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