Muck Diving in Dauin
Harlequin Ghost Pipefish
Muck diving doesn’t sound like much fun… but it is. Usually an exploration of sloppy shoreline shallows and decaying piers and pilings, muck divers forgo the glamours of brightly colored reefs and blue-water sea mounts for an underwater world of sand and seagrass littered with abandoned tires and rusty car wrecks.
‘Why?” you ask.
It turns out that a lot of very difficult to spot undersea life has a tendency to hang out in these areas. Muck diving is to scuba diving what bird-watching it to wildlife viewing. It is not for everyone. It is for people with patience who thrill at the discovery of smaller, hard-to-spot creatures. And Thomas and I are hooked.
In the Philippines, muck divers head straight to Dauin to begin the hunt. It is considered one of the premier muck diving locations on the planet. On a bad day at Dauin, you can spot more rare animals than a decade out on the reef. Sadly, many divers passing through Dumaguete on their way to famous Apo Island, never know that they are just minutes away from a truly unique, world-class dive site.
Despite the fact that we were diving late in the the rainy season (not really primetime at Dauin), our two dives through the famous sandy slope blew us away with a treasure trove of unbelievable critters. Just minutes after we entered the water our fantastic divemaster, Nonoy, led us to our first harlequin ghost pipefish – that’s a tiny, yet phenomenal little creature that ranks quite highly on many divers’ wishlists. Seconds later a flying gurnard. Another minute and we discovered a rock with at least four kinds of lionfish. Off to the right, an Ambon scorpion fish. Insanity.
Glen, the assistant divemaster, called us over to see porcelain anemone crabs. Back to Nonoy who had spotted a huge cuttlefish which exploded into a series of complex color shifts, waves of purple and black shot across its skin. Was it a warning or a greeting? Next juvenile midnight snappers, juvenile sweetlips, garden eels, and a large peacock flounder. I was breathlessly zigzagging back and forth taking it all in. Male and female Pegasus fish and a posing banded pipefish! Honestly, I’m tearing up thinking of all the people who race past Dauin. Mantis shrimp, commensal shrimp, dragon shrimp. And those are just the things I can name.
Our second dive also began with another impressive find, a tiny, two-inch flamboyant cuttlefish!!! We sat watching the tiny piece of art in action as it stared curiously back at us and burst a symphony of colors communicating who-knows-what to us. When Thomas accidentally kicked up a little sand, the tiny creature went jet black with disapproval. Amazing.
The rest of the dive was as spectacular as the first featuring several large, very communicative cuttlefish, a quick glance of a Harlequin shrimp, more Pegasus fish, barracuda, groupers, and some beautiful nudibranchs including Nembrotha kubaryana (black and green with neon-orange highlights.) Really, I could just keep listing animals. Let’s just say that the site is a treasure trove for macro divers and photographers.
Dauin shows that there is still a lot for travelers (and divers) to discover out there. If you’re not a diver, the names may not mean much, but the long list should help illustrate the incredible biodiversity of the area and, for once, I am happy to report that the coastline along Dauin appears to be relatively well protected with buoy fences up to keep boats out and guards on duty to prevent fishermen and aquarium collectors from raiding the place. I love it when I can report that something seems to be functioning.
On the downside, experienced muck divers will be heartbroken to discover that the super-famous coconut mill pier site has been destroyed. The crumbling pier is being rebuilt and construction work has devastated the macrolife at the site. Local dive shops begged authorities to stop work on the pier and even offered to pay higher preserve fees to help fund the construction of a second replacement pier, but unfortunately the pleas fell on deaf ears. So not all news is good news in Dauin.
Despite the loss of the pier, there is much for divers to discover in Dauin. Snorkelers and divers both will be thrilled to discover that there is also some excellent coral growth right off the beach in Dauin just waiting to be explored. In fact, one rather hidden area had some of the best soft-coral growth I’ve ever seen in shallow water as well as some enormous giant clams. The area was so impressive that we spent an additional three days snorkeling Dauin after our dives.
How to Dive or Snorkel Dauin
Budget divers can best organize dives to Dauin, Apo Island and Sumilon through less expensive shops in Dumaguete. We organized ours through Harold’s Mansion and were quite satisfied with our dives. Trips organized in Dumaguete generally include transportation to the Dauin sanctuary site.
Snorkelers can rent equipment in Dumaguete and take an inexpensive jeepney from Dumaguete to Dauin and then walk to the beach reserve.
Higher-end travelers/divers can stay in resorts in Dauin itself, which is quite a nice little village with a pretty stone cathedral. Dives can be organized through the resorts to the Dauin reserve as well as other nearby sites including Apo Island.