Punta Fuego is not a popular dive destination like Anilao or Sabang. This area of Batangas is a playground for the wealthy who have huge vacation homes and large boats
. The coastline is beautiful but the reefs have been the victim of damage from dynamite fishing. From our experience it looks like the reefs are making a nice recovery even though we were told by people that the experience wouldn't be that good. Some of these opinions are probably based on old information. There has been progress made in stopping the dynamite fishing although enforcement of laws is lacking. While underwater we heard several explosions. They were not close but sound travels far underwater so we heard them clearly.
The blue holes are not super large holes leading to caves and caverns like in Belize. These are three round holes where the reef collapsed and you can swim through to the lower part of the reef below. There was one spot with a narrow cave that couldn't be accessed except by the fish that were hiding there. The reef in general was rather healthy with lots of soft corals and critters. There were many varieties of nudibranchs, a couple of very long purple sea cucumbers wrapped around a barrell sponge, two egg shell cowries, baby cuttlefish and the usual varieties of reef fish.
The highlight of the diving was late on Saturday afternoon when we went in search of the migrating manta rays that feed on plankton in the area when it is plentiful
. There were no guarantees they would make an appearance but after about a half hour of waiting and watching a few glimmers appeared out of the murky water. Then suddenly we started to see one, then two and finally a burst of up to 20 schooling mantas for a brief time before they slipped back into the darkness. It looked like a manta fireworks display. This happened a couple more times and at one point a group of three flew close enough to get a good look. They were small mantas, about 3-4 feet wide.Then a single manta flew right under Russ on its way along the reef until it sensed our presence and darted away.
There were a lot of happy faces behind the dive masks except for those who were in another area of the reef and saw absolutely nothing. We were lucky to be in the right place and to be vigilant - only looking for mantas. This one dive made all the planning and frustrations of organizing the trip worth it. Unfortunately we have no photographic evidence of our encounter to post. Due to the dim light and murky water I don't think anybody brought a camera but we "borrowed" a couple of stock photos from the internet to go with our above water pictures.
Our weekend dive trip to Punta Fuego turned out to be a huge success. Thank God. What started as a simple group dive trip turned into a torturous effort in planning requiring a multitude of emails, questions, payment arrangements and an excel spreadsheet to keep it all straight. Jane had taken a leap of faith based on a recommendation from someone who had been to Punta Fuego to dive the blue holes. They gave it good reviews so we tried it too along with 17 other people. Our base of operations was Jo & Johnny's Beach & Dive Inn which is a private home transformed into a comfortable and peaceful resort compound. The inn caters to divers and arranged for three speed boats to take us to the dive sites at Fortune Island, Twin Islands and elsewhere along the coast.