Destination Dive: SMS (Shangrila Marine Sanctuary), Punta Engano, Mactan, Cebu City

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Just a stone’s throw away from the Shangri-La Mactan boat dock is the SMS, known by divers as the Shangri-La Marine Sanctuary where a boat wreck was ‘planted’ by Scotty’s Diving. To become diving instructors and rescue divers , this is the location where divers practice different and highly specialized diving skills so it becomes second nature to them.

After an hour’s rest at Scotty’s Diving, we boarded a speed boat that will take us just a few meters away our entry to our diving location – SMS (Shangri-La Marine Sanctuary). I have not even fully put on my dive suit and we were already there. Though the location of SMS is very near, it was still considered a boat dive as we were taken there by a boat. My DM (dive master) Bernie explained that even if we can swim towards the area, it was going high tide so the waves can be a little rough and it helps when the boat takes us to the exact location of water entry.

Bernie briefed us that the SMS location is a slope dive and we may encounter a slight current to experience a drift dive. He said that at 18 meters, there will be many distractions so be observant and listen to his signals when he gives them.

This dive was a lot better as I had requested Bernie to add more weight on me to help me sink and prevent me from easily floating up like a puffer fish. 🙂 With 7kgs on me, I was good to go and had better control of my buoyancy. Which meant I could enjoy this dive better.

During the dive I saw some new and cool sea creatures on my own on the sandy slope. I saw the grass eels that inhabit the sandy bottom which resembles grass but are actually small eels whose half of the body is exposed from its sandy homes. They can only be observed from a distance because they are quick to disappear if you come close for a photo. A camera with a good zoom should come in handy next time.

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Photo Source: Simon Lloyd’s website.

At a glance you think they are just blades of sea grasses swaying in the current. But when you come closer these ‘grass eels’ will disappear back to their burrows which they rarely leave.

A boat wreck was intentionally put there by Scotty’s Diving crew to help them with their scuba trainings. When I saw the boat wreck, most of it was gone and had rotted but the few wooden parts that still remained has become home to many sea creatures that has attached itself on the structure.

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The boat wreck at the bottom of Shangrila Mactan Sanctuary which was put there by Scotty’s Diving to aid them in their trainings for their divers to become dive masters, dive instructors, rescue and technical divers.

As we swam farther, we came upon this area of the slope where you can see many heavy-duty ropes attached to concrete on the seafloor. The rope must have been there for a long time because barnacles, corals and sea fans had attached itself to it. They use this area to train the divers the many skills required to become professional dive instructors and rescue divers. If you get close to observe the ropes, you will observe small critters that are interesting to photograph like this fish trying to hide from me in the coral (sorry, Bernie didn’t get the photo because it too was playing hide and seek with him)

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The ‘rope area’ where dive instructors and rescue divers practice the skills key to becoming the best in their field as dive masters, instructors and rescue divers.
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Me having a ‘bad hair’ day while playing hide and seek with a shy fish by the ropes who is also doing a great job hiding from Bernie and you.

Then I saw something I rarely see on my dives, a pipe fish (Syngnathidae). It was tiny and camouflaged on the sandy floor. A subfamily of seahorses and sea dragons, a pipefish is also described as a seahorse with a straight body and tiny elongated mouth. It uses its dorsal and pectoral fins to swim.

The last time I saw its cousin, the seahorse, was in Malapascua. It was bright yellow and twirled its tail in some sea plants and hung out there with their other seahorse friends and lives constantly in my dreams. Ever since I saw my first sea-horse in Malapasqua, I fell in love with it. They are so tiny and so delicate even in their segmented bony armour. One day I will take you all to see one! In the meantime, enjoy this personal find of mine, the pipefish.

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A pipefish on the sandy floor curious of me as I was with it before it became bored and swam away.

This dive, I saw once again a juvenile stone fish and it just stared back at me unmoving among the rocks and seaweeds.

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I also saw many lion fish…remember what a lion fish looks like from my dive in Talima?  But this time I saw a lion fish hanging out with a sizeable mantis shrimp shedding its skin. We came close to observe it and the mantis shrimp was slow and didn’t even run away for cover as we approached. Bernie explained later that when the mantis shrimp is shedding/changing skin, he is usually sluggish and moves very slowly. While he changes his “clothing” his lion fish friend keeps him company nearby.

Mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus) are also known as ‘sea locusts’ or ‘thumb splitters’ because of its ability to inflict gashes if man-handled. It also sports a powerful claw used to attach and kill prey by spearing or dismembering it. It’s a creature often misunderstood because it spends most of its time hiding in holes and burrows.

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Mantis shrimps are intelligent, can remember well and recognise individual neighbours that they frequently interact with. You can see him here chilling and having a chit-chat with his spiny neighbour, the lion fish.

As I studied these two and their dynamics, I felt a bit embarrassed because I felt very much like a voyeur underwater. Actually when you are a diver, voyeurism is very much what you do because you are observing the animals behaviour and how they live in their habitat. When I was watching the mantis shrimp and the lion fish relate to each other, I felt like the mantis shrimp was telling me while he was ‘changing clothes’ “Hey! Privacy please!”

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With (DM) Bernie after my dive in Baring and SMS. Like most of the DM’s I dive with, I caught Bernie collecting trash like plastics and nets that were cut and left at the bottom of the sea. He puts them in his vest and disposes of them in the dive shop trash. There is really a need to dispose our trash better on land because those trash end up in our seas.

 

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