Diving Malapascua Island

by Graham Collins

Malapascua is a small island off the northern tip of Cebu island, that has some unique features to interest divers. It is only 2.5 km2, so all dive sites are accessible wherever you are based on the island.

Diving Malapascua
Diving Malapascua/DepositPhotos

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Getting to Malapascua

We flew direct from Hong Kong to Cebu on Cathay Pacific, the alternative is to go via Manila, then on to Cebu. Cebu airport is comfortable and efficient, but is a bit stretched when the larger planes arrive.

The journey to Maya at the northern end of Cebu province takes between 2.5 to 3 hours depending on traffic. From Maya it was an open boat ride (with a sunshade) across to Malapascua, from half to three quarters of an hour, depending on the boat.

Be warned, it will cost per piece of luggage to transfer to the boat, and at low tide you will take an intermediate small boat out to the ferry that takes you to the island, which will also be charged, so get some small denomination notes before you go.

When to go to Malapascua

Visibility is often best between October and April when the weather is calm. Water temperatures are around 28 oC. This is the optimum season for seeing thresher sharks especially at Monad Shoal. It is also a good time to see hammerhead sharks from December to April, particularly in January and February. It being high season, everything is busier during this time.

From May to September is monsoon season. You can still dive though and manta rays are more commonly seen then.

Exotic Island Dive Resort

Diving Malapascua
Exotic Island Dive Beach by Graham Collins

Established since 1998, this is the pioneer resort for diving in Malapascua. There are 3 levels of rooms: Twin single beds with a fan, Twin single beds (or a double bed) deluxe with air con, and Twin double beds and air con as super deluxe.

The centre is 5*+ PADI and National Geographic certified and can arrange dive courses from Open Water through to IDC training. There are 5 dive boats available, 4 large capable of journeys of 1 hour + away from the island, and one smaller boat used to visit nearby dive sites.

Our dive guide was Toto who has 10 years diving experience around Malapascua, and a wonderful eye for spotting the smallest and well camoflaged creatures.

The Diving at Malapascua Island

Every resort has a house reef and the one at Exotic is mainly artificial with objects such as dead Jimny's, metal frameworking etc deliberately sunk onto the sand to form a reef, with depths of 8-14m. Corals are now well established over much of the sunken items, and there is a good variety of macro life to look for.

Hairy Squat Lobster in the Philippines
Hairy Squat Lobster. Daniel Lamborn/Depositphotos

On our visit we dived at East Garden, Monad Shoal, Gato Island, Kemod Shoal, North Point, Pantaw-Pantaw and Timok Island.

East Garden is a marine reserve, so the hard and soft corals are well established and undamaged. The depth is around 12 m. There is lots of macro life including small crustacea living on sponges and corals.

Monad Shoal is one of Malapascua's unique dive sites This is a sea mount, or sunken island about half the size of Malapascua itself. The depth of the top plateau is between 15-23 m, and is surrounded by a sharp drop-off. If you get there early in the morning, there is around a 50% chance is seeing one or more Thresher sharks which come up from the depths to be cleaned at the various cleaning stations around the edge of the plateau.

We left the resort at 5:00 am, and had a 30 minute boat journey to the shoal. When we got near the first cleaning station a large (12 foot nose to tail) Thresher shark was already there, and which stayed for 25 minutes. There are also Devil rays around to watch and in April the Manta rays return and come for cleaning as well - we saw a juvenile.

Thresher Shark, Monad Shoal
Thresher Shark, Monad Shoal/DepositPhotos

"The main reason that divers visit Malapascua is to see their famous thresher sharks on Monad Shoal (season all year round, but best time of day is early morning). I dived their twice and was lucky both times, with manta rays showing up there too. The visibility was not great at 15 m so photo opportunities were limited, but the encounter is well worth it."
Sheldon Hey, July 2017

Gato Island is also a marine reserve and is a limestone rock about 1 hour from the resort. It is famous for the numbers of sea snakes in the water around it. On the day we went the water was quite rough, so we moored at the south end in the lea of the island where the water was a bit calmer. Normally divers go half way around the island and get picked up at the other side, allowing a full tour in two dives. Lots of White-tip Reef Sharks resting in the caves which are all around the island. Again excellent hard and soft coral life.

Diving Malapascua
White tip reef sharks. Photo: Graham Collins

Reviews: 5 Star Rating: Recommended (1)

"Small island with a swim through that bisects from one side to the other. Several reef sharks, with the reefs around the island having an abundance of macro life; frogfish, seahorse, nudibranch (inc. large spanish dancers).."
Adam Jennings, March 2019

"The area's most famous dive site is Gato Island, which is a sea snake sanctuary, complete with white tip sharks and a cave and tunnel or two. Pretty much all the diving is close to the tourist area and the water temp is 30C, so it's comfortable diving all round."
Sheldon Hey, July 2017

Kemod Shoal , is a similar shoal to Monad shoal, but smaller in size and further away. The aim is to get here very early (we left at 4:30 am) swim off the plateau at around 10-12 m and out into the blue, then drop down to 30 m, and fin slowly through the water in hope that the Hammerhead sharks will be about. On the day we went, they were not, but still an interesting diving experience.

Seahorse, Malapascua, Cebu

North Point has pigmy seahorses, and frog fish the highlights,

Pantaw-Pantaw is a relatively new dive site, where we saw two frog fish, two octopus, two nudibranchs mating, shrimp and miniature crabs.

Goby on seawhip

Timok Island (depth 12 m) - again a 15 minute ride from the centre, excellent for nudibranch spotting.

More Comments on the Diving of Malapascua

"Malapascua Island, off the Northeastern Coast of Cebu has Thresher Sharks and Manta Rays that regularly visit the cleaning stations on Monad Shoal in the early morning. Further out, there are several wrecks, including a Japanese warship that lies upright with the shallowest portion at about 40 meters and the Dona Marilyn, a passenger liner that went down in a typhoon over 20 years ago and is conceivably the most beautiful wreck in the Visayas due to the profusion of dendronephtya and black coral bushes that cover most of the ship. Gato Island meanwhile, is a marine Sanctuary. There is an 80 meter long tunnel that cuts through the Northern tip and divers will find the walls covered with yellow sponges and all kinds of shells. The immediate surroundings contain huge boulders and ledges where nurse, white tip and bamboo sharks congregate for a midday nap."
Yvette Lee Expeditionfleet

"Malapascua really does have thresher sharks; even in really bad chop, one came in, when the dive center said there would likely be none. I've seen things there (boat dives, in or near the sanctuary) that I couldn't identify even with a very good guidebook; huge variety of nudis. The drive between Moalboal and Malapascua is scenic, though long. The public water-taxi (boat shuttle) from the Cebu mainland to Malapascua is a small open boat that rides low in the water, especially when some of the occupants are big westerners with SCUBA gear."
Joy Sabl7

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