Butterfly sea slug (Cyerce nigra)
Nestled in the heart of the Philippines is an island rich in biodiversity and geological wonder. Lush rainforests daub the landscape and rare, alien-like creatures hardly visible to the naked eye traipse below the shifting surface. For those willing to make the trek to get there, Romblon boasts magnificent marble boulders, stretches of powdery sand beaches, and an endless supply of peculiar creatures for macro enthusiasts.
Part of an archipelagic province in the Mimaropa region, Romblon is geologically known for its Italian-grade marble, making Romblon the marble capital of the Philippines. With such a revered resource, one might expect to find easy access to such a place. However, getting to the island requires an eight- to 10-hour ferry ride from Manila. Although this inconvenience certainly has its benefits, not everyone is keen to make such a journey, and this in turn keeps the reefs intact and the extraordinary species that reside there protected.
Juvenile Cyerce nigra sea slug
After the ferry crossing, I arrive on Romblon and receive a warm welcome from the gracious and hospitable hosts of the Three P Holiday and Dive Resort. The resort and creation of dive sites were a labor of love by three German brothers: Peter, Patrick, and Philip—hence the three P’s—and their parents Oswald and Sally. With so many critters underwater, it makes sense that Philip’s wife, Kati, is the founder of ID Please—a Facebook group to help identify newly discovered, unnamed species. Indeed, the three brothers and Kati are exceptional critter specialists.
The Three P is the only dive resort on the island that specializes in macro and super-macro critters, and I was keen to submerge and begin the treasure hunt. As this was my second time visit, I had a good idea what was waiting for me beneath the surface. Unfortunately, however, I misplaced some key components of my Canon EOS 5D Mark II housing. But the Three P crew were kind enough to let me borrow their Canon G-series camera.
As Kati and I set out across the house reef in search of Pontohi’s pygmy seahorse, I attempted to acquaint myself with the new camera gear. At first, using unfamiliar equipment was a bit stressful, but I tried to make the best of it. Interestingly, the water was a bit chilly, despite my full wetsuit and hood. Within a few minutes, the discovery of a cluster of Pontohi’s proved to be a welcome distraction from the brisk water.
I was amazed to find the group serenely situated in just 11 feet of water, on a small algae-covered rock. My heart began to race as I observed these beautiful and rare seahorses, which alternated in color from black to white. For roughly 20 minutes, I fumbled with the camera settings and took multiple test shots. Regardless of this slight obstacle, after an hour I came away with some images I was content with.
Pontohi’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus pontohi)
Butterfly sea slug (Cyerce bourbonica)
Honeycomb butterfly sea slug (Cyerce sp.)
With a long critter wish list to tackle and only seven days to dive, I knew I needed my own camera equipment. Fortunately, after a day and a half of waiting, my replacement parts finally arrived. Embracing my camera, I immediately hurried back to the same spot to find the Pontohi’s, but they had vanished. The water seemed a bit colder and the visibility had dropped to about 50 feet, but I was determined to find them!
I continued scanning my surroundings for subjects to photograph, and sure enough, I once again came across the delicate and petite cluster of Pontohi’s. Lingering in just 20 feet of water, they seemed to be patiently awaiting my return. Taking a deep breath, I set up my camera with a perfect composition and captured some great shots.
Wide-angle photography found along walls include giant fan corals and gorgonias
Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise)
Over the course of my time diving around Romblon, I witnessed an amazing variety of macro subjects throughout the house reef and other local dive sites. I thoroughly enjoyed encounters with the phantom nudibranch—the “holy grail” of nudibranchs—two different species of butterfly sea slugs, glittering pipefish, Braun’s pughead pipefish, severnsi seahorses, and mantis shrimp. Beyond the small stuff, wide-angle enthusiasts should have no problem spotting sharks, while beautiful walls and canyons littered with giant gorgonian and fan corals.
Whether you’re a macro lover, fun diver, explorer, or beginner, I highly recommend a visit to Romblon—just be sure to bring a working camera! Believe me, it’s worth the effort it takes to get there. My weeklong expedition around Romblon was full of adventure and exploration, and I am quite certain there are more mind-blowing critters and dive sites still waiting to be discovered!
The “holy grail“ of nudibranchs, the phantom nudibranch—Melibe colemani
Romblon offers plenty of wide-angle opportunities as well
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