Descending the coral wall to 20m, we stuck close to our guide Lee Ann as she had promised us a very special critter, one we had never seen before. The wall in front of us was covered in beautiful corals, including many sea whips that had thousands of rare tiger anemones clinging to them. Lee Ann was closely inspecting each tiger anemone, looking for the well-hidden critter. After several minutes she finally called us over to show us a little shrimp with a colour pattern that exactly matched the tiger anemones, it was a rarely seen and highly prized leopard shrimp. This was just one of the cool critters we saw in our recent trip to Anda.
Anda is a new destination in the Philippines that few divers have heard about. Located on the east coast of Bohol, Anda has only been accessible to divers for the last few years with the building of several dive resorts in this remote area. Anda has quickly built up a reputation as a great area to see cool macro critters on its wonderful reef and muck sites.
For our stay we booked into the Magic Oceans Dive Resort for a five-night package. Anda is located a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the main airport on Bohol at Tagbilaran. The drive to the resort is very scenic, following the coast road and through many small towns. We had heard the resort was quite remote, and the final drive down a narrow dirt track confirmed this. The nearest town with bars and restaurants is many miles away, so the resort includes all meals as part of its package.
Greeted by the very friendly staff, we had time for a quick look around the resort before getting ready for the afternoon dive. The resort has 16 bungalows set around a large pool with fabulous gardens that are home to birds, lizards and crabs. Lush jungle surrounds the resort, and the staff informed us that monkeys are sometimes spotted in the trees. At the centre of the resort is a pavilion for dining and lounging, with a day spa nearby. The well-appointed dive centre is not far from the water front, with a jetty leading to the three banka dive boats the crew use.
The cool critters started on our very first afternoon dive at Turtle Point. This site has pretty coral gardens in the shallows and a reef wall covered in the most beautiful soft corals, gorgonians, sea whips and sponges. With over 20m visibility and 29°C water, which was typical on each dive, we followed our guide Lee Ann along this colourful wall.
IMAGE BELOW - NUDIBRANCHS ABOUND AT ANDA
With macro lens on our cameras, we were on the lookout for critters, but couldn’t help admiring the rich variety of fishes, including varieties of wrasse, triggerfish, butterflyfish, basslets, anemonefish, snappers, damsels, parrotfish, tobies, boxfish and many more. The angelfish family were particularly well represented with pearlscale, regal, bicolor, lamarcks and the usually hard to find bluegirdle angelfish all common. Our cameras got quite a workout on these fishes.
Critter-wise we found nudibranchs, mantis shrimps, candy crabs and a very pretty yellow warty frogfish. Towards the end of the dive we headed into the shallows where we saw dozens of turtles. Green turtles were the most abundant species, but we also spotted two hawksbill turtles. We also watched a yellow-lipped sea krait inspecting every nook and cranny for potential prey.
The next day we got into the swing of things, heading out for a morning double dive. Magic Oceans Dive Resort have around 30 dives sites in the Anda area. A typical day includes a morning double boat dive, an afternoon single boat dive and either a twilight or night shore dive on the House Reef depending on demand.
There were plenty of cool critters for our muck dive at J Edens Place. Swimming over this sandy slope we saw three warty frogfish, including a juvenile only 2cm long, a robust ghostpipefish, banded pipefish, shrimp gobies and several snake eels. There were a number of small outcrops of coral on this slope, that were an oasis for small reef fish, shrimps and morays eels. Sprouting from the sand were also sea pens, tube anemones and larger anemones that were home to saddleback anemonefish, commensal shrimps and porcelain crabs.
After a lovely morning tea of fresh fruits, we next dived a reef wall at Birhen Point. Like a lot of sites off Anda, this site has both coral and muck, with the base of the wall having a sandy plain that was home to thousands of Barnes garden eels. Normally garden eels are very difficult to get close to for photos, but these ones were bold and only disappeared into the sand when you got within touching distance.
IMAGE BELOW - ZEBRA MORAY
The drift along this colourful wall was filled with lovely reef fishes, turtles and also several batfish. The critters included a giant frogfish, two fimbriated morays sharing a hole and a tiny Bargibant’s pygmy seahorse. After the dive the crew told us they had seen a whale shark at this site only two days before!
The critters continued after lunch at Dapdap, another muck and wall site. This dive got off to a great start with two longhorn cowfish. This rare species turns up at muck sites now and then, and we were very happy to photograph one as it slowly grazed. At this site we also saw banded pipefish, sleeper gobies, a marbled snake eel, two flying gurnards and another giant frogfish. The big surprise came at the end of the dive when we spotted an adult convict blenny. Schools of juvenile convict blennies are common in Southeast Asia, and often mistaken for striped catfish. However, the adults, that live in holes in the seafloor, are rarely seen. This was only the second adult we had seen, and it was busy maintaining its home, spitting out mouthfuls of coral rubble each time it appeared at the entrance.
Our plan to explore the House Reef that night were curtailed after a strong onshore wind blew up in the afternoon. Fortunately, the next day the wind had dropped out for our 30-minute boat ride to the resort’s most distant dive site Lamanok Island.
The visibility was a little down at this site, only 12m, but it was one of our favourites with coral gardens, walls, ledges and muck. This is a great spot for nudibranchs, and we certainly saw quite a few, but we also found giant frogfish, robust ghostpipefish, morays, tobies, boxfish and a pretty spindle cowrie on a sea whip. Lee Ann found us a lovely flamboyant cuttlefish, that we watched for some time as it slowly walking across the bottom. Another surprise was the number of oriental bluespotted maskrays, we must have seen at least six. This ray species is only found in eastern Southeast Asia.
After a great dive exploring another part of J Edens Place, our afternoon dive was something special when we went looking for the leopard shrimp. Lee Ann showed us this rare shrimp at Lumayag Point, which is another pretty wall covered in corals. These shrimps have only been found at a few spots in Southeast Asia, so having them at Anda makes it a very special place. This wall had plenty of other critters, including nudibranchs, xeno crabs, morays, tobies, lionfish and even a few flashing file shells, also known as the disco clam.
IMAGE BELOW - HAIRY FROGFISH
With light winds it was the prefect time to explore the House Reef for a twilight/night dive. To make things easier the boat dropped us on the reef edge, so we could descend straight to a coral patch where splendid mandarinfish spawn every day on sunset. Arranged around the coral we saw dozens of these little colourful fish creeping through the coral, but they may have had an off night, as none emerged to spawn. That didn’t really matter, as we got distracted when we noticed that living in this coral patch were also a pair of rarely seen midnight angelfish.
This dwarf angelfish species is easily confused with many similar looking damselfish, and being all black in colour they are very hard to distinguish and photograph. We managed a few photos when one midnight angelfish briefly stopped to get cleaned.
Making our way slowly back to the jetty we saw small cuttlefish, hermit crabs, flatworms, nudibranchs, scorpionfish, lionfish and also a yellow-lipped sea krait. However, the coolest critters were two harlequin shrimps and a rarely seen zebra moray.
The next morning we explored one of Anda’s best muck sites, Larry’s Corner. Only 8m deep, the powdery silty sand at this site is perfect for muck critters. We found three mimic octopus within the first ten minutes, then followed this up with mantis shrimps, shrimp gobies, pipefish, razorfish and a wonderpus. There were also lots of anemones, urchins and rhinoceros sea stars, which provided hiding spots for small fish, shrimps and two hairy frogfish.
Our next two dives were reef walls at Birhen Extension and Mandarin Garden. We saw turtles, batfish and schools of feeding mouth mackerel at both sides. The critters included nudibranchs, giant frogfish, thornback cowfish and some cute boxfish.
IMAGE BELOW - THORNBACK COWFISH
Our final day snuck up on us far too quickly. We enjoyed another muck dive at Lamanok Sanctuary, seeing garden eels, mantis shrimps, octopus and the smallest frogfish we have ever seen – a baby painted frogfish barely 2mm long!
Our final dive at Pygmy House was a great combination of coral and muck and home to some very cool critters. On the sand we spotted a Pegasus sea moth and a fingered dragonet, while on the corals were nudibranchs, xeno crabs, sea whip shrimps and some very pretty egg cowries.
We had a wonderful time in Anda staying at Magic Oceans Dive Resort. It is easily one of the nicest dive resorts we have ever visited, with spacious rooms, very friendly staff, fabulous food and most importantly great diving, with some very cool critters.