Although Dauin is known around the world for its amazing muck diving, tourism here started for a completely different reason – reef diving and sea turtles. Situated about a 30 minute boat ride from Atmosphere, Apo Island was the original destination for tourists visiting Dauin and Dumaguete in Negros Oriental. It was only after this tourism started that the muck diving here was discovered. In 1985, Apo Island was declared a marine sanctuary and destructive fishing methods, such as dynamite, cyanide, and muro-ami (smashing rocks into coral to chase fish into nets), are now banned. The sanctuary was founded by the community living on the island. They made the decision themselves to create a sanctuary, with the aid of a Filipino professor from Silliman University just down the road in Dumaguete, instead of having it forced upon them by politicians or legislation.
Apo Island is one of the best and most successful examples of a community based sanctuary. It is so famous that the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago patterned its main exhibit after the island. Apo Island is very famous for its numerous sea turtles – keep reading to find out why they are so abundant in Apo Island…
Photo by David Hettich
Apo Island has been protected for 30+ years and this is immediately visible when you enter the water. The soft coral gardens at five meters are completely untouched, even with daily diving pressure. There is very little coral bleaching and no signs of destructive fishing anywhere, as is the case in some other dive destinations in the Philippines like Malapascua where you can still hear (and feel) dynamite while diving. The soft coral transitions to hard coral as you make your way over the wall or down the slope, depending on the dive site. Although not as vibrant as the soft corals, the hard corals are incredibly healthy and abundant.
Photo by Bo Mancao
The reef fish are also abundant at Apo Island. A great thing for photographers is that many of the fish at Apo Island are not found on the Dauin coast due to the extreme differences in habitat. One of my favorite fish, the gilded triggerfish, is everywhere at Apo Island but is nonexistent on the coast. There are plenty of other reef fish to be seen, such as longnose butterflyfish, anthias, many species of clownfish, trumpetfish, as well as parrotfish.
There are good macro opportunities at Apo Island, with many candy crabs and orangutan crabs to be found. There are plenty of nudibranches and beautiful flatworms, the occasional frogfish, and I have even seen a blue-ringed octopus while teaching an advanced course! You can see squid and day octopus as well. As for the bigger stuff, there are plenty of sea kraits around as well as jackfish, barracuda, tuna, wahoo, and the occasional shark. We saw a whale shark a few months ago and we see a thresher shark every few months. I was lucky enough to see one breaching at Rock Point West, launching itself a few meters into the air multiple times. I have seen false killer whales during surface intervals after hearing them sing throughout the previous dive and there was even a manta ray sighting in July this year by one of our friends.
I have saved the most popular animal for last – the sea turtles. Turtles are the main reason our guests go to Apo Island. There are two species that can be found there – green turtles and hawksbill turtles.
Green turtles, although normally brown, are named after the color of the fat beneath their shell which turns the soup green as well. They are even called ‘Soup Turtle’ in Dutch! Green turtles are normally found in shallow water (0-15m), either grazing on algae in extremely shallow water or taking naps in the soft coral. They can also be found cleaning their shells on exposed rock or letting butterflyfish do the job for them. Their main diet includes sea grass, algae, sponges, and the occasional jellyfish, and algae is something that Apo Island has plenty of in the shallow water. Green turtles can be identified by their bullet-shaped head.
Hawksbill sea turtles can be found in shallow water but are normally deeper as their diet is mainly hard coral with the occasional anemone. Few things are funnier than a clownfish family attacking a sea turtle to the point that it speeds off in frustration (or fear). They can be identified by their pointy beak, which is used to cut off chunks of hard coral, as well as a shell that looks like it was puzzle put together with the wrong pieces – overlapping and bent/curled tips.
Apo Island is not a nesting ground, but it is a feeding ground for female sea turtles. The lack of poachers, 30 years of sanctuary protection and plenty of food ensures that turtles keep coming to Apo Island to feed. Occasionally we see a male turtle, but almost all of them are female. How to tell the difference? Male turtles have long tails like a lizard while female turtles have a very small tail.
One of the best aspects of Apo Island is that it can be enjoyed by snorkelers and divers alike. Many times our snorkelers see more turtles than our divers due to the large amount of algae covering the rocks in depths of water less than 2 meters and it is always possible to go for a snorkel between dives as long as you are not freediving. Most of the turtles are used to human presence, considering there are no natural predators or poachers in the area, and I have seen the same individual for months at a time, usually in the same area. If you want to see beautiful coral and have an awesome turtle experience then Apo Island should definitely be on your itinerary. We offer trips almost everyday and the snorkel tours are perfect for children since we have life jackets and life rings available as well as a guide to tow them along if they do not feel like swimming! The next time you find yourself at Atmosphere, sign up for a day trip to Apo Island. You won’t regret it.
Daniel Geary / your marine biologist
Do I have to stay for joining U’r tours to Apo Island?
Is there a posiblity to get a taxy from U’r place to Cebu City?
How much & long can it be?
We want to come on /12/2017
Hi Gad, no you don’t have to stay with us to join our tours, but there are also many other independent tour companies around Dumaguete offering Apo island tours and that might be easier. From Cebu city it would take you around 5 hours to get here, there are also daily flights from Cebu to Dumaguete with Cebu Pacific Air.
Hi, do I have to take a tour to go to see the turtles. Or you just can go by your own?if it’s like that What is the name of the beach? Many thanks ☺️
Hi Daniela yes there is a public boat going from the town of Zamboanguita to Apo Island, south of Dumaguete daily.
Is the marine sanctuary still closed until now?
Hi Cecille! Yes the “Sanctuary” is still closed but as it only takes up around 10% of the coastline around Apo island, you can dive or swim with turtles in any of the other areas and they are just as beautiful.
What’s the best way to get to Apo island from Oslob?
Hi! The best way is to take a ferry from liloan to Dumaguete (Liloan is only 20 minutes from Oslob) and then hire a van to take you to the ferry station for Apo island further south – its about one hour. There are boats there who will take you over – the boat journey is about 30 minutes.
May I know who we should contact in the island if we go there? My friends and I plan to go there from Dumaguete City. Do we need to pay for certain fees and get a permit?
Hi Abbey! If you are not booking through Atmosphere or through any other booking agent in Dumaguete, you can contact the Bais City Tourism Office, (035)541-5161 / 402-8174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
You will have to hire a boat which costs between 2500 and 3000 and that’s for the day and probably includes everything.
check out the harolds dive center in Dumaguete. they provide snorkling tours for PHP 1,200
Hi! I’m wondering if the turtles are visible in the island all day long? ‘Cause we might arrive in Apo island a little around noon, will we still be able to swim with them?
The turtles are always around, there is no particular time of the day that you may see them. For guests at Atmosphere, we normally conduct our trips to Apo Island in the morning and then head back to the resort at lunch time – but if you are going to Apo island with another operator or on your own, there is no reason why you wouldn’t see turtles any time of the day and swim with them.
Is there a particular month that you will not see sea turtles in apo island? Or that Apo Island is close? I wouldn’t want to go all the way there & not see one. Planning on going around July of 2017.
Hi Evelyn! The turtles in Apo Island are there all year round. The only thing preventing you from seeing them would be if it is too windy to go there by boat or too windy to be in the water. But that is very rare!
Apo is a wonderful dive spot. You can see so many different corals. We were lucky to see a lot of sea snakes , turtles and even giant frog fish.
It is amazing. Last week our dive group saw a Mola Mola (Sunfish!)
The diving at Apo Island was incredible and the abundant green sea turtles were definitely a highlight! Thank you to all the wonderful staff at the Atmosphere Dive Centre for making it such a memorable trip for our family. We hope to be back soon!
Thank you Alexandra! We hope so too!