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Nudibranch at Monad Shoal, Philippines dive site - Courtesy of Rik Vercoe

Nudibranchs mating at Monad Shoal, Philippines dive site - Courtesy of Rik Vercoe

Scuba Diving in Malapascua Island, Cebu, the Philippines

Reader Reviews:

Dive Site: Monad Shoal

Location: 11°18'37"N; 124°11'27"E (Malapascua Island, Cebu)

Description: Shark dive

Depth: 24 metres max (79 feet)

Visibility: 10 - 15 metres (30 - 50 feet)

Rating: ****

This is the dive which has put Malapascua Island on the diving map, so to speak. Monad Shoal is a rather uninspiring seamount which rises out of the depths and has a flattish top at around 20 - 24 metres. There is little in the way of coral on the top of the 1.5 km long seamount and it can be swept by strong current. So what's all the fuss about? Why travel thousands of miles to dive here? Well, in a word, or two if you want to be precise - thresher sharks!! Monad Shoal provides something that to my knowledge is pretty rare indeed - the chance for a recreational diver, with a minimal dive qualification, to dive with a deep water shark species in just 20 metres of water. If I were an underwater seamount I can think of less impressive claims!! The common thresher shark (alopias vulpinus) and pelagic thresher shark (alopias pelagicus) are truly deep water sharks living in depths as deep as 350 metres, so to see them in less than 20 metres of water would certainly seem to be a rarity. It's not entirely clear why these creatures frequent Monad Shoal and its surrounding area in the Philippines, but I can tell you first hand that they do. The most viable reason I've heard since arriving here is that they use the seamount as a cleaning station for wrasse to remove parasites from their skin and clean their gills and mouths. Whatever the reason, they are certainly here.

We left Malapascua Island and made the 30 minute boat ride to Monad Shoal arriving a little after 6.00am. In the water at 6.30am, we descended using the bow anchor line which was dropped over the eastern edge of the plateau. As we dropped off the line onto the edge of the plateau at 20 metres we were greeted by the first and only thresher shark I saw on this dive. Cruising past us in open water at around 15 metres depth it was around 3.5 metres in length - truly an awesome sight with its long scythe like tail. This tail which grows to around the same length as the shark's body virtually doubles the length of the creature. Seeing its graceful motion was well worth the early start and the following 50 minutes spent stationary on the seamount with no further sightings - all worthwhile. The best strategy here seems to be to pick a spot on the edge off the drop-off and remain more or less in one place for your dive, allowing the sharks to pass by if they choose to make an appearance. I'm not convinced of this strategy (it would seem to be a better way of keeping groups of divers together than a way of increasing your chance of a sighting). I would have much preferred to descend over the side of the seamount to a deeper depth and then view from below where the sunlight above would have aided in spotting these and other shark species off the wall.

As mentioned there really isn't much else on the plateau and this morning we made our second attempt at a sighting, unfortunately to no avail. Sitting at 21 metres on the drop off I tried to analyse the behaviour of the small cleaner wrasse and fusiliers hanging near the wall. For the most part they danced about their business, however at one point (around 30 minutes into our dive) a group of the nearest cleaner wrasse seemed to become excited before darting out into the blue and beyond the limits of my visibility. The fusiliers were also missing and I had to wonder if the wrasse were heading out to meet a passing thresher? Within a few seconds other wrasse too the position of their departed friends and the fusiliers were back, slightly out into the blue and above us. A second group of divers from our boat located only 30 metres to our south on the drop-off were passed by not one, but two thresher sharks at around the time I thought I had noticed the change in behaviour of the smaller fish life. Perhaps coincidence, but perhaps it may be possible to pre-empt their shark's approaches. Unfortunately viz is not great (around 10 to 15 metres horizontally) which is apparently usual at the site, so the sharks are going to have to get pretty close for the chance of a good photo.

On the third morning we had an excellent sighting of two threshers who cruised past and back towards us several times before departing. Unfortunately the photos I took are very far away and the viz was very poor, but to see 3 sharks on 2 out of 3 dives here is certainly a testament to the claims I had read (with some scepticism I have to say) about sightings being virtually guaranteed. Little did I know that the sightings made on my third and final dive at Monad Shoal were to be thoroughly surpassed by a new dive site we made our next two dives on, called Kemod Shoal.

Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor

I dived this site at 6.30am in a small group in August 2005. Our guide was confident we would see threshers as long as we lay quietly and did not move about while on the bottom. We descended to 22 metres and waited near the edge of the flat topped seamount. Sure enough after a few minutes we could make out the distinctive tail fin of a large thresher shark as it swam up over the edge and circled about 10 metres away. We tried to edge towards it to get a better view but it seemed to keep the same distance away. It then disappeared and a few minutes later another reappeared again staying 10 to 15 metres away. The viz was only so so, but still a thrilling encounter. Also seen on this dive were plenty of batfish and puffers possibly coming for a clean up. Quite a remarkable dive for my 2 sons who had only just earned their open water licences!

I dived this site again in August 2006 this time at 2pm in search of mantas. After about 20 minutes at about 21 metres in one spot with no luck we headed to another point about 30 metres away near the edge of the mount. Again we waited patiently. This time we were rewarded by the stunning site of a huge manta at leat 2.5m across, bearing down straight towards us only veering off at the last moment. The creature repeatedly circled giving us a fantastic view, at one point passing within touching distance. The beast had lost its tail either to a net or a shark. As we started running low on nitrox we headed back to the buoy line only to encounter an even bigger manta, this time a full 3m across, again circling repeatedly. This individual had a fine tail but had lost a mandible. We stayed low as long as we could observing its circling then started a slow ascent, one of our group on the guide's octopus so as not to miss a minute of the show. Even as we ascended the manta kept in view affording us a fantastic view of its black and white dorsal body. As always Graeme our guide at Thresher Sharks Divers ensured we enjoyed maximum bottom time. What a great final dive of a wonderful trip!

Steve Palmer, PADI OWSI

Yup, they are there. 3 out of 4 dives we saw them. Awesome sight!

Bunny, DM

We have just returned from Malapascua and yes we not only saw the threshers at Monad but also the hammers at Kemod. If this wasn't enough we then saw the biggest manta ray ever, again at Monad, and also devil rays (saw them leaping out of water as well). We saw the banded sea snake at Gato and the mandarin fish on a night dive at Lighthouse. What absolutely briliant diving. Our dive guides from Exotic Resort have got to be the best ever. A long journey to get there but well worth it.

Our friends did a Monad dive and saw the threshers, manta and four devil ray all on the same dive.

Jen Gaskin

I must disagree with Rik Vercoe's comment about how "there really isn't much else on the plateau" of Monad Shoal. This is one of the most stacked macro sites I've dived (if you can keep your eyes off the sharks/mantas). In 14 dives on the Shoal I saw either a thresher or manta or both on all but 2 dives (which depends on the time of day). We also saw pygmy seahorses, perhaps 15 species of nudi, stonefish, scorpionfish, several species of moray, octopus, cuttlefish, spearing and peacock mantis shrimp and array of other stuff. If I could only dive one site from now until the day I die this would probably be the one I'd choose.

Tai Haku | 17/06/2009

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