Seadoors Wildlife College January 2020
written by Thomas Vignaud
Heat. A feeling of relief when seeing my bags on the carousel. A short drive, and here I am once again on the great Seadoors yacht, meeting old and new friends. It’s late already so after a quick briefing, it’s my turn to introduce myself and explain to the group what we’re going to learn and explore in the incoming 8 days. Dinner is great like always, and the boat leaves the port on its way south to be in time for a very early dive on the next day !
5 am – I’m already awake and hear Yannick, the Cruise Director and fellow diver and photographer (link to Yannick Instagram) banging on doors to let everyone know it’s time to get ready ! 40 minutes later we are underwater, watching whale sharks passing by as the sun rise up.
It’s a good opportunity to discuss with everyone the positive and negative effect a place like Oslob can have. There are many passionate discussion about it and it’s always an interesting chat !
We’ll spend the rest of the day diving in a protected area nearby, allowing us to see whitetip reef sharks,
blacktip reef sharks, sting rays and many other marine creatures. Speaking of which, we had time for about half of the (long!) presentation on Marine Groups that I adapted to diving, with many underwater photographs I took over the years. It’s a great way to start appreciating the richness of the Ocean !
To finish that first day that started at 5am, a fourth dive at night ! Black sand and many magical creatures ! A great treasure hunt where no one does the same dive ! Some saw a big turtle, others seahorses, squids, rays or slugs. I was lucky to find a Flamboyant cuttlefish, some bobtail squid and a few of the terrible bobbit worms among many other things !
The next morning is Apo island !
Dinner, hot shower, and well-deserved bedtime with my head full of the things we’re already seen on day 1 !
The next morning is Apo island ! If you’ve been there you know how rich this place can be. I’m very excited to find the particular atmosphere between black sand, colorful soft coral, large and smaller fish, and occasional turtle and sea snake ! First dive was a drift dive allowing to fly on top of a great garden. We were lucky to be interrupted by a pregnant banded sea snake while looking at a candy crab (this one scared Greg, one of the dive guide, as she came touching his legs while he wasn’t watching !). I also found a “mutant” nudibranch, with both rhinophores coming out of the same hole ! and some non-mutant ones for comparison. Apo is always worth a few dives and we spent our day here, and found many other things – for example a couple of Hairy lobster and even two sea spiders (pycnogonids) !
We also had time to finish the overview of marine groups that day, as well as “marking” targets to find – in other words, what are the high value target we want to find during our dives ! This is important for photographers obviously, but also for anyone with interest in marine biology because we get to see and observe specific features in the wild of things we’ve learn in the presentations.
It’s also a good time to discuss how to find those critters, are many of them have very specific association – like pygmy sea horses, hairy lobsters, emperor shrimps…
Next day is Bohol !
We visited a wreck and its inhabitants, before exploring more of the wall were we also did the second dive – very rich ! Frogfish, many species of clownfish and shrimps, sea slugs, and all the things such a complex ecosystem has to offer !
We also used that day to spend some time visiting Bohol on land, and my talks of the day were specifically diving deeper into sea slugs, then octopus – two interesting groups to learn about !
For the next day we moved in another location but still next to Bohol. A great place with a beautiful, very long wall, and a cool cave ! We found a few turtles, sea slugs, mantis shrimps, flat worms, pygmy seahorses among other things ! I was lucky to find a mating dance of a couple of Canthigaster males fighting over a female.
That night, some of us decided to jump in for an unplanned exploration night dive ! We had some trouble finding an interesting spot, but ended up finding a lot ! Octopus, sea slugs, squids, many fish and other weird creatures !
We then went to Southern Leyte.
We then went to the south of Leyte – one of my favorite place ! the landscapes are spectacular from the boat, truly a tropical paradise full of dense forests. Underwater is crazy too, with millions of fish, amazing coral gardens with so many species and extremely healthy and productive ecosystems. We’ll spend the next couple of days here, from crazy dives to more crazy dives !
Also an opportunity to freedive with whale shark in the area !
That first day in Leyte we talked about sharks ! As my specialty it’s always nice to share more about sharks ! It’s hard to compress the richness of the Seadoors Shark Colleges were I talk about sharks for 10-15 hours into just a one hour talk, but I did my best to keep it short !
The following day I focused the talk on… shrimps ! Are you thinking “boring” ? Think again ! They are amazing in beauty, diversity, complexity, and capacities !
Back to underwater Leyte !
One of those tiny, paradise island !
After that diving frenzy in Leyte, we started to move up and arrived to Kalangaman – one of those tiny, paradise island !
We spent the day diving there, and were luck to find harlequin shrimps among many other cool shrimps, some clownfish eggs, sting rays and other cool stuff !
Oh, and I was visited by a large female thresher shark on the wall, passing just a couple of meters away from me ! Of course I had my macro photo setup…
That day, I focused my lecture on fish! Or specific species that are interesting for divers and photographers. Yeah, I talked about ugly, too! I finished the presentation by mentioning a few important points about whales, dolphins and all the topics about them.
En route for Malapascua !
En route for Monad shoal ! We arrived early enough to do a dive in the late afternoon, hoping to see manta. Some of us saw a small thresher, but other than that no luck for large animals as the current and visibility weren’t good.
A few of us jumped in under the boat for another night dive, and its rewards
In the early morning we jumped in to check for the thresher. Again, we weren’t lucky with the visibility as it was only good in the first 20m. We still saw a few, but it wasn’t as great as it can be ! Nature rules : )
We then moved to Capitancillo for the last dive of the trip.
I noticed some coral has been covered in rocks, maybe from the last typhoon, and a lot of Crown of Thorns (Acanthasters) were around. Bad news for that reef with so many beautiful and large plate coral !
I spend the talk of that day talking about conservation and science, and the importance of looking after the natural world.
As we were heading back to Cebu, photographers shared the photos of the trip, which gave everyone the time to reflect and fully appreciate what an awesome week we all had. It was also the opportunity for a small improvised quiz on the marine species we photographed !
That trip was another great experience filled with smiles, stories and sharing ! Like always with Seadoors, the food and service was great, the staff amazing and the dives well selected and prepared to show everyone as much as possible.
Stay tuned and follow https://www.instagram.com/thomasvignaudphotography/ and https://www.instagram.com/seadoorsliveaboard/ as we are preparing another Wildlife college and Shark college if that’s what you prefer to focus on ! I am looking forward to meet you in person and share our love for the Ocean !
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