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Anilao’s rich marine life and amazing underwater landscape charm even the most seasoned of divers. Itinerant adventurer Marimi de la Fuente shares the splendors of the Philippines’ premiere marine sanctuary.

While growing up, my family would spend beach vacations just about everywhere in Luzon and the Visayas. I was accustomed to the sea, and I swam and snorkeled almost all the time as a child. I was no stranger to the underwater world, so it was an instinctive move for me to take up diving.

But as I quickly discovered, diving is a totally different matter. Once you’re in the water and swimming above colorful coral reefs teeming with weird and wonderful life, everything appears to be magnified and in your face. And as Jacques Cousteau famously said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

As a graphic designer, the natural progression was to purchase an underwater camera to record what I was seeing. The astounding marine life in Anilao is just too magnificent not to share with friends unable to dive for whatever reason.

Anilao in the 1970s and 80s was a near wasteland underwater. Divers would spearfish and surface with trophy catch like giant trevallies (talakitok), or 10 kilogram groupers (lapulapu). Local fishermen caught sharks by the hundreds to satisfy the Chinese fondness for sharkfin. There was rampant dynamite and cyanide fishing.

Fortunately, all that changed with the advent of environmental awareness in the 90s. Divers finally recognized Anilao’s unparalleled wonders. Marine sanctuaries were declared and Bantay Dagat was formed. And because of Anilao’s unique subaqueous geography, where oceanic tides rush in Batangas Bay, with upwellings bringing in deep nutrients and an abundance of planktons, marine life easily  bounced back to its near original state. Of course, the days of the leviathan fish and numerous shark species will probably take a whole generation to reappear, but the beauty of the reef and its wonderful creatures still abound.

Recently, the Verde Island passage, of which Anilao is a part of, has been identified as the source for almost 90 percent of all marine life found in the Coral Triangle. And what is around Verde Island? The industrial ports of Batangas where shipbuilding, construction material marine staging areas,  fuel  refineries and other heavy industry are located. Then, there is trash from coastal communities, where the far-reaching consequences of this problem and garbage floating in the sea continues unabated and seems unrecognized by the local government.

Anilao’s marine ecosystem is in grave danger. We may lose this Godgiven wonder unless stakeholders in the Anilao, Mabini, Batangas Bay area undertake drastic conservation. The diving world has finally recognized its remarkable biological contribution to marine life in the Coral Triangle.

I hope my photos will raise a deeper awareness for this wonderful gift that I have been fortunate enough to discover through diving. I am by no means a professional photographer, nor do I own professional equipment. I merely record my underwater experiences and share this splendor for all to see.

DIVING INTO A NEW WORLD

Anilao with its many dive spots opens a whole world of underwater adventure to the seasoned diver and the newbie alike. Each location offers a different subterranean experience, given the wide diversity of fish and fauna that dwell in it. Here are five areas one shouldn’t miss exploring

1 Bahura Kanto
Big pelagic fish can be seen in this area, schools of emperor fish, barracuda, bluefin jack fish and blacktip reef sharks. Best enjoyed when there's minimum or slight current condition.

2 Koala aquarium
The mid water is often patrolled by big pelagic fish like skipjack, yellowfin tuna, wahoo and great barracuda. There are seasons when a big school of small scud, big eye, red fusilier can be seen also in the mid water. Below the drop-off area are hundreds of red tooth trigger fish, yellow-striped sweet lips and sometimes, blacktip brown reef sharks and dog tooth tunas.

3 Sombrero Island
Named after a type of headgear, the waters around the island have a slight to moderate current that flows from any direction, but occasionally there may be no current. Considered one of the best locations for newbie divers, it’s called the coral garden of Anilao and has thousands of underwater fauna to see.

4 Kirby's rock
Populated by many yellow nudibranch, as well as longnose hawkfish and yellow lined and harlequin sweet lips. This place is often visited by black and white frog fish, a golden pygmy sea horse, twin spot lion fish, sea snake, a small group of talakitok and the striking purple fire and bluelined dart goby.

5 Cavan cove
Ideal for open water training, especially in the rainy season. Just outside the cove is a sandy area good for underwater photography, where you can spot a zebra fish goby, yellow shrimp goby, a devil fish and more creatures. The dive here can often be done by beach entry for training and entry from boat for fun divers which moves toward the bahay kambing area. Not so many big fish but it has a wide variety of reef fish in the area.