The Philippines is an island nation with over 7000 islands of all sizes. Located in the coral triangle the waters around these islands offer the worlds highest marine biodiversity.
The list of top dive destinations is long including Tubbataha, Anilao, Apo reef, Malapascua, Dumaguete, Moalboal, Apo island, Pescador island, Coron, but have you heard of Romblon? No? This destination has to be on the wish list of any diver who likes macro.
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Romblon got famous for the “Ghost Nudi”
I only heard about Romblon through a friend who wanted to see a Melibe Colemani. This weird creature is also called the holy grail of nudibranchs or ghost nudi. It is see-through with white ducts looking like a pile of strings. A rare creature and one has to be very lucky to find it, except in Romblon.
Only discovered in the area in 2015 it already attracted loads of divers. Yet this is by no means the only reason to visit this remote place.
The only dive shop on the island describes the different ways to get to the island on their homepage and it seems a bit confusing. The easiest way is to get from Manila to Batangas and take an overnight ferry to Romblon. Not so hard, is it? Booking early to get a spot in a 4-bed cabin. This allows a good nights sleep on the way there, theoretically.
I shared my cabin with 3 very loud locals who were talking all night. With some delay we arrived in Romblon at 7 am. A short tricycle ride along the wonderful coastline past typical houses and little shops brings the divers to the cosy resort. There are 5 basic but surprisingly pretty huts with sea view through the mangrove trees.
The friendly staff welcomes the new arrivals and serves the first breakfast right away. Especially the fresh coffee is very welcome. As there is not much else to do than diving we jump right in a do two dives on our first day.
The resort has two small dive boats which are used to reach the dive sites. All sites are fairly close from 5 to 40 min away. The surface intervals we spent at a bistro or on a beach with coffee and refreshments. We did two morning dives back to back and one afternoon dive. It is also possible to do night dives.
More details about how to get to Romblon, about the season and the climate can be found in the Guide to Romblon diving.
The diving in Romblon
The first dive did bring us to a site with a lot of leaves. One of the hightlights in the area is hiding here – different types of butterfly slugs or Cyerce. We did find Cyerce nigra and bourbonica. Already after this first dive I know it was worth coming here.
One of the first questions the owners get from probably almost every new arrival is about the Melibe Colemani. Did you see it recently? How are our chances to find it? Can we go there right now?
And the answer is yes, yes you will see it, yes we will go there later. So to stop us from asking about it we go find it on the next dive. And yes, they found it for us. Many of them.
We then spent half of our dive trying to get good pictures. Which was much harder than expected. You kind of need a black background to even make out the nudi on the photos and they move quite a lot which doesn’t exactly help. But yes! We did see the holy grail of nudibranchs. And I got some alright pictures. We would go back again on a different day, where I finally manage to get an awesome shot.
Besides the Melibe Colemani a very close relevant which is equally hard to photograph lives in the area too – the Melibe Engeli. Their homes are different and I find them even more difficult to find. After a few days of diving with the experienced spotters finding the most exciting critters for us I even start to find both Melibes on my own.
The owners of the Three P Holiday and Dive Resort – the 3 Ps and K – are probably the best western spotters I could dive with so far. In addition they are challenging each other with finding new rare critters. Besides the Melibes and the Cyerces they found many special slugs and nudibranchs as well as rare shrimp. A high amount of fascinating creatures. I can’t even tell how many species I have seen that were new to me. Some of my favourite shots are collected in the photo journey to Romblon.
The density of creatures you will see during the reefy macro dives is lower than in places like Anilao. Yet there is so many special critters to explore that it is definitely worth the search. Especially for divers who have already been to macro diving destinations before. If this is you – you will love it! I did.
Every time one of the spotters called us over to show us something I did already get excited even before seeing what they found. And it was never a disappointment. Only sometimes the critters were getting smaller and smaller and harder to photograph. Which is fine though. I am always happy to see a rare creature, one I haven’t seen before even if it is only a few mm long.
In addition to the nudibranchs and shrimp four kinds of pygmy seahorse live in the region; Hippocampus bargibanti, denise, severnsi and pontohi. I saw three of those.
As bargibanti can be seen in many areas we only went to find the other species. The denise even came in two different colors – yellow and pink.