While on a trip around Romblon Island in the Philippines, I made friends with an animated Italian expat in Romblon town. He insisted that we check out Agpanabat Turtle Sanctuary on the southern end of the island. I'm glad we did, there were some fascinating coral reefs and underwater caves there!
Words & Photos By Nathan Allen
This is Marzio, an Italian who married a Filipina from Romblon. Together they operate JD&G Italian Restaurant in Romblon Town. Here, Marzio is making his way into the water so we can snorkel and explore the fascinating underwater world of Agpanabat Marine Sanctuary.
It took us a while to swim out to the corals, but we were handsomely rewarding once we did. Check out these intricate formations in about 2 meters of water...
This sanctuary was declared as a nesting site for endangered Hawksbill sea turtles, but we were not fortunate to see any. I hear that sightings are becoming rare.
Let's hope that this is because they are nesting somewhere else, and not because they have been hunted or have died off. Anyhow, I quite enjoyed photographing the marine life around the sanctuary.
Below you'll see...wait...is that a sea turtle? The funny thing is that I did not notice it until afterward when I was looking through my photos. I think it's just an optical illusion, but it certainly does look like a turtle, right?
Anyhow, in this picture you'll notice a very unique feature about this coral system - it has space underneath, kind of like a cave! It almost seems like the corals are floating just above the sea floor. I've really never seen anything quite like it.
Here are more detailed corals and underwater landscapes. Below I spotted a lone clownfish, guarding his young above its home in an anemone.
Perhaps along with Triggerfish, I call Clownfish the "Pitbulls of the sea". They don't care how big you are, they will swim right up to you and try to scare you away.
This one even bit my mask a few times. Good thing he's only 25cm long, instead of 1 meter!
By the way, I took all these underwater photos with my Olympus TG-4. You can find the new model (in Asia) on Lazada HERE.
Perhaps due to overfishing or other environmental factors, there's not a large number of fish here. However, I did see a pretty big school of the species above. I think they might be Butterfly fish, but I wonder if anybody has an idea? They seemed to be curious about me.
Sunscreen: If you're going to wear sunscreen, please apply it at least 15 minutes before going in the sea. It's best if you can apply it in a cool place, so that you don't sweat it off right away. The chemical oxybenzone is found in many brands of sunscreen, and it can damage coral reefs. You can try "Safe Block", which can be found in the Philippines. Also, some sunscreens made for kids seems to be OK. I use Banana Boat Kids SPF 50.
Life Vest: The best corals are in 2+ meters of water, so you need to be a strong swimmer, or wear a life vest. I travel with an inflatable life vest - it helps me stay still at the top of the water for long periods while I photograph the corals.
Reggae Vibes De Isla Romblon
Right next to Agpanabat Turtle Sanctuary, you'll find this native-style / hippy homestay & Restaurant. Full disclosure: I did not stay here, but it looks really eclectic & cool! I did meet Rose, the owner. She was very kind, and seems to be involved with some good environmental advocacies. She also offers meals that are quite good.
She may have a snorkel and mask you can use for the sanctuary, but in remote places like this, it's always best to be prepared with your own, just in case.
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How To Get There
Check my general Romblon Island post for more info on how to get to this region of the Philippines. Once on the island of Romblon, you just need to find transportation to barangay (neighborhood) Agpanabat, on the southern tip of the island. It's about 18kms from town (along the coast).
I'm really not sure if a trike will bring you all the way here, though I think anything is possible for the right price :) I would guess a trike ride should be 450-600 pesos, perhaps.
You can also rent a motorbike directly from Marzio at his restaurant, JD&G Italian Food in Romblon Town proper.
- Nathan Allen
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