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Moalboal: Snorkeling with Millions of Sardines in the Philippines

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

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From Boracay to Isla Gigantes, Guimaras Island, to Mararison Island you will find awesome snorkeling spots. When you explore the depths of the ocean in the Philippines, you are just caught in this awe moment. While snorkeling in the Philippines, I have observed a myriad of tropical fish, big eels, venomous scorpion fish, turtles, and many other sea creatures. However, when I vacationed in Moalboal, Philippines, my snorkeling experience quickly changed in an awesome way.

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Vacationing in Moalboal

Moalboal is a small fishing barangay that is situated in the south west part of Cebu in the Philippines. The municipality of Moalboal, which is surrounded by magnificent islands, is about 3 hours from Cebu city. One of the islands in Moalboal is Pescador Island. “Pescador” in Spanish translates as fisherman. This island is replete with fish species and frankly the villagers make a living catching and eating fish. Pescador island is one of the island hopping spots that I traveled to while vacationing in Moalboal.

Cheap Scuba Certifications in Moalboal

Every day many divers are flocking to this area. What I noticed when I was in Moalboal is the cost of a diving certification was about $200. That is super cheap compared to about $500-$800 you would either pay in the states or even in Japan, Hawaii, or even Guam. This is the typical price of a PADI diver certification.

Snorkeling Gear and Clothing for Men

Scuba Pro Seawing Nova Open Heel Fins

SeaDive Monarch RayBlocker-HD Mask

Go Pro Hero 4

Underwater selfie stick for Go Pro

Amazing Wetsuit

Awesome Swimshorts

Awesome Diving Booties

Amazing Rash guard

Snorkeling Gear and Clothing for Women

Amazing Diving Fins for Women

Excellent Mask for Women

Excellent water camera for women

Underwater Selfie Stick for Go Pro

Excellent dive suit for women

Sexy Swim suit for women

Excellent booties for Women

Island Hopping Orientation Brief

Prior to boarding a small pump boat, we listened to a 5 minute orientation. Basically, the instructor informed us about the three spots we would be snorkeling at and that we could not touch the fish or the turtles.

Three Island Hopping Spots

First Spot: Pescador Island

Immediately after the orientation, we took pictures before we boarded. I recommend you buy the Canon EOS 80d for excellent photography.

At 0700 a.m., we boarded a small pump boat along with two great tour guides enroute to an awesome island hopping experience. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and it was very mainit (hot) even at 0700 a.m. We took a 10 minute boat ride to our first destination- Pescador Island in the Philippines. We were allotted 30 minutes to snorkel with a myriad of tropical fish. It is a paradise. I could see myself just spending hours scouring this ocean city at Pangasama. One of my guides was a diver and he took me into some deeper waters. 70 feet down I could espy some huge fish. Usually at this depth, you can spot a shark. I am speaking from experience. Needless to say, I was unable to spot a shark. The corals though were magnificent as they sparkled constantly on the ocean floor.

Recommended Sunglasses

Second Spot: Sardine Point

When 30 minutes elapsed, we boarded the boat and headed towards another snorkeling spot, which was located on Pangsama beach. This time, we would see turtles and sardines. I was elated. The boat rode took about 5 minutes and we were at our destination. I was shocked to find the water depth about a foot depth. I was very bemused how I could see a sardine in 1 foot of water. This is a joke, I thought. When the boat came to a stop, the guide pointed in the direction of the sardine. I quickly donned my fins and mask and grabbed my go pro and slipped into the water. Even at about 1 foot depth, I could see small fish.

Surrounding me was about 6 crowded boats with other snorkelers witnessing sardines. I headed towards the boats. Within about 10 yards, I spotted a pool of fish movement. As I inched closer, I was baffled by the sheer size of sardines.

What are sardines? Sardines are small bullet shaped fish that resemble herrings. Sardines feed on zoo plankton (microscopic plants and animals). Typically, sardines are ranked at the top of the food chain because all kinds of predator fish including tuna, needlefish, and sharks feed on sardines.

My Encounter with Millions of Sardines

I seriously could not wrap my mind around the millions of sardines swimming in front of me. I have never seen sardines while snorkeling especially this innumerable school. The water depth had quickly increased at least 40 feet. It was amazing how quick the depth of the water had altered. I was in 1 foot earlier and then the next thing I know I am swimming in about 40-50 feet of water. I plunged down to the bottom several times and was unsuccessful. The pressure of the water intensified as I descended towards the bottom. I was able to reach a foot from the bottom until I could no longer exhale. I then slowly ascended to the surface. When I looked up to the surface, a wave of sparkling sardines gradually altered different patterns and forms by sporadically turning and twisting in all directions. What is more appealing though is that from a distance while underwater, I could observe a hurricane like formation of sardines. Several times as I plummeted towards the bottom, I looked up and was blindfolded by the endless and undulating dark cloud of sardines. The sighting was absolutely breathtaking. The thick cloud of sardines prevented me from even seeing the sun. That gives you an inkling of the number of sardines in the area. All of a sudden though I saw other fish creating a stir with the sardines. Alert and cognizant of my surroundings, I spotted a school of large tuna chasing after the sardines. The tuna would dive bomb towards the sardines attempting to snatch one of them for their morning meal. I watched this feeding frenzy transpire for about 10 minutes until finally the tunas disappeared.

Third Spot: Turtle Spot

I swam with the sardines for about 20 minutes until I was told we would see the turtles. What I did not realize is that the turtles were located in the 1 foot of water next to the boat. One of the guides showed me two beautiful turtles at “Turtle Point.” I snorkeled to the bottom of where the turtles were and tried to get some great selfie photos and videos of the spectacular creatures. When 10 minutes elapsed, it was time to board the boat and head back to our destination where we first started. The island hopping experience was wonderful.

After snorkeling at Sardine point and Turtle point, we headed back to our destination.

Snorkeling the Next Day

The next day, I scoured the Pangasama beach, where our resort was located. I heard divers talking about diving with sardines. The next morning, around 0700 a.m., I donned my diving suit, grabbed my fins, mask, and go pro and headed out to the ocean. While standing on one of the beaches next to the Chili bar, I espied four to five boats out in the distance and there were people snorkeling in the area. I immediately thought “this is where the sardine point is.” Filled with happiness and energy, I swam out to the boats. When I reached one of the boats, I noticed a cloud of sardines- perhaps the same ones I had snorkeled with the day before. The endless wave of sardines surrounded me in all directions.

Snorkeling with the Sardines for Free and Without a Guide

This time though I was without a guide and I felt free. I snorkeled with the sardines for about an hour and decided I would venture out on my own and explore other sea creatures. I snorkeled about 5 minutes along the reef and noticed the sardines had disappeared. It is true that there is a holding point for the sardines, which come in the mornings.

Second Time Swimming At Sardine Points

Why are the sardines at “Sardine point?” It is truly a mystery why the sardines hold at this point. Perhaps there are more zooplankton at the point, but that cannot be validated for sure. A bigger mystery is how did the sardines survive from all of the predators in the ocean? The answers to these questions are at least hypothetical because even oceanographers cannot accurately answer these questions. What is hopeful at least from a tourism perspective is that the city of Moalboal have been making a serious effort to retain the population of sardines for the purpose of tourism. In fact, it appears to be the case that the city has placed stringent regulations on the sardines in Moalboal. We were informed at the orientation that the locals are not allowed to net the sardines.

The Encounter with the Poisonous Black and White Sea Snake

Furthermore, as I continued to freely cruise along the reef, I happened to look down and observe a white and black sea snake swimming at the bottom. Not knowing that it is one of the most poisonous snakes in the Philippines, I quickly dove down and recorded this magnificent creature. The snake looked at me and just calmly swam away.

Soon after this sighting, I espied a starfish and a school of beautiful clown fish and other species of fish swimming in the area. This school of fish reminded me of the clown fish I had swam with while residing in Diego Garcia.

I also passed by a scuba diver while snorkeling. Along my journey, I spotted at least 10 scuba divers. This place is considered a scuba diver heaven.

The Encounter with the Massive Barracuda

Then when I thought the snorkeling experience was over, I encountered a massive barracuda. Instantly, I stood motionless and just kept my eyes glued to this vicious predator. I have caught many barracuda over the years while fishing, but I did not realize I would be face to face with one in the water. The barracuda inched closer towards me. Here I was alone. No swimmers in my area but me. What was shocking was the depth of the water was only 3 feet and the barracuda was just hovering on top. The fish moved closer to me and then stopped. I just continued to just zero in on the barracuda and not make any movement.

Then the barracuda turned towards deeper water and disappeared. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture the barracuda on video. I decided I would retire for now and snorkel back to the shore. When I reached the shore, I just said to myself, “I just encountered a massive barracuda!” Wow!

After finally reaching the shore, I had noticed that I had swam for at least 45 minutes. I had been enthralled by beautiful ocean city that I had lost track of time. That therefore placed me in a huge predicament. I was lost and did not know where I was. When you are in a situation like this, it is good to know Tagalog. And thankfully, my Tagalog skills paid off-- at least that day.

How to get to Moalboal?

If you are coming from the Cebu- Mactan Airport in Cebu, I would recommend taking a taxi to the South Bus Terminal in Cebu City. The cost may be around 250 pesos or $4.82. Once you arrive, you can purchase a yellow Ceres bus ticket enroute to Moalboal. The cost of the 3 hour trip is around 150 pesos or $2.89. This is cheaper than the cost of a taxi. If you decided to use a taxi, you may be paying around 3,000 pesos. Personally, I would opt for the conditioned air bus. After you arrive in Moalboal, you can take a habal-habal tricycle to Pangsama beach for about 50 pesos or $0.96.

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