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Expedition to Anilao, Philippines 

June 1, 2010

Day Seven

This Sunday represents our last day of diving. After a stormy afternoon yesterday, the water this morning was flat calm, even better the water was crystal clear! Our first dive location was along a pebble beach about a 30 minute boat ride from the resort. Known as Mainit/Secret Bay, it consists of a gently sloping sand and rubble area. Swimming down to 90 feet we encountered several coral out-croppings decorated with black coral trees. With their snowy white polyps fully extended they resembled Xmas trees with snow covered branches. Darting in amongst these were longnose hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus, which are commonly found in black coral trees. As we ascending up the slope towards shallower water we found the typical sand dwelling inhabitants such as octopus, partner shrimp and gobies, and curious mantis shrimp, not to mention the obligatory nudibranch!

The following dive was across the channel at a location known as Aga Hota. This site features a gentle coral slope down to 100 feet where it then gradually goes down to much deeper water. There were a number of small ledges under which various fish sought shelter during the day. At 110 feet we saw several larger black velvet angelfish, Chaetodontoplus melanosoma , which represented the first sighting of this species for us on this trip. As we ascended up the slope we encountered large schools of red-toothed triggerfish, Odonus niger, swimming high above the reef and darting into crevices as we approached, sweetlips, Plectorhinchus sp., damsels, large sponges, and commensal coral shrimp were also in abundance. The dive concluded in shallow water where we observed large schools of juvenile fish taking shelter in branching coral heads. I also found a large anemone that housed three different species of juvenile clownfish and one species of damselfish!

Tomorrow is our last day in Anilao, as we get up early, pack up the corals we have collected and head off on the 3.5 hour drive to Manila. Once there, we will transfer our corals to our exporter, AquaScapes Inc., then head for the hotel, before getting up at 04:30 Tuesday morning for the 16 hour trip back to San Francisco.

Commensal shrimp, Tozeuma sp. on gorgonian


Blue-tipped staghorn coral, Acropora sp.


Juvenile boxfish, Ostracion cubicus


An inquisitive mantis shrimp peering out from its burrow. This individual was quite bold coming out to inspect the camera and flash.


Partner shrimp, Alpheus sp. and partner goby, Cryptocentrus sp.


An unidentified Octopus sp has found a new home.


Nudibranch, Mexichromis multituberculata.


How many species of clownfish can you find in this anemone?


Filed under: Uncategorized — anilao @ 3:40 pm

May 22, 2010

Day Six

The weather this day started off very nice with glass flat water, but eventually the winds picked up and the seas became very choppy. The first two dives of the day were at Ligpo Island about a 30 minute boat trip north. The first dive was down to 110 feet and featured large seafans, fields of soft corals, lots of anemones with clownfish, squid and even jellyfish!

The second dive was on the opposite of the rock outcrop that we had just been at. Here was a wall and slope filled with all kinds soft and stony corals, primarily more robust corals such as Echinopora, Favia, Montastrea, Plerogyra and Pectinia to name just a few, as well as entire fields of soft corals such as Cespitularia, Xenia, Lemnalia, Sinularia, Anthelia, Clavularia and Tubipora. Here we collected a few stony and soft corals for the Academy and photo documented the area. Other exciting finds were giant clams, Tridacna maxima and a flashback cuttlefish, Sepia latimanus!

The final dive of the day was at a location known as Cathedral, which is one of the most dived reefs in the Philippines. Here we observed extensive thickets of Acropora in the shallows and a lot of fish such a fusilers, damsels, surgeonfish, rabbitfish, tangs, sweepers, cardinalfish, shrimpfish and angelfish. Since the dive took place between 4:30 PM and 6:00 PM we also observed spawning behavior in several groups of fishes as well as the “changing of the guard” as the day active fish began to seek shelter for the night and the night active fish such as lionfish, squirrelfish and cardinalfish began to appear from their daytime hiding places. The water temperature on this reef was 87 degrees, and extensive areas of the Acropora thickets we showing the first sign of coral bleaching, where the corals become extremely pale in color as they begin to loose their golden brown symbiotic algal partners, zooxanthellae. It has become very obvious on this trip that when human impacts are decreased on a reef system, it can and does begin to recover; coral reefs are very resilient provided they are given the opportunity to recover from human impacts.

Soft coral field at Ligpo Island


Rhizostome jellyfish, Crambione mastigiophora


Cuttle, Sepia latimanus


A pair of cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus)give a good look over of a small parrotfish. The same behavior can be seen every day in the Philippine coral reef exhibit at the Academy.


A pair of shrimpfish, Aeoliscus strigatus


Filed under: Collection,Uncategorized — anilao @ 4:52 am

May 21, 2010

Day Five

Today we headed off to one of our favorite dive sites, Devil’s Point. This site is known for the profusion of soft corals, and being close to a deepwater passage, you have the chance to see some larger fishes. The site is a pinnacle of rock jutting straight out of the ocean and is covered with a profusion of soft corals. While diving here several years ago, Academy researcher and soft coral taxonomist Dr. Gary Williams commented that in 10 minutes he saw more species of soft coral than in 10 years of diving elsewhere! Sarcophyton, Lobophytum, Sinularia, Xenia, Cespitularia, Clavularia, Dendronephthya, Lemnalia, Paralemnalia, Tubipora, Briareum etc cover every square inch, not to mention gorgonians, sponges, tunicates, fanworms, nudibranchs, hydroids … list is almost endless. In fact, this is such an outstanding site that we decided to spend the day there since it is the further dive spot from the resort and it doesn’t get much better than Devil’s Point! This is also an area with a profusion of fish as well, we saw our own Mr. B’s cousin, an adult emperor angelfish, Pomacanthus emperator, as well as several large schools of fusilers and a large school of big eye jack, Caranx sexfasciatus. The most exciting encounter was a small hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, that we saw all to briefly.

Leather Coral, Sarcophyton sp.


Cespitularia sp.


Clavularia sp.


Dendronephthya sp.


Common clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris


Emperor angelfish, Pomacanthus imperator.


Filed under: Research — anilao @ 7:51 am

May 20, 2010

Day Four

Today two of us (Seth Wolters and Charles Delbeek) headed to Manila to ship out the corals we had been keeping in our coral corral. We up early in the morning and retrieved the corals and placed them in a cooler with seawater and made the 4 hour trip to Manila. There we worked with our local exporter AquaScapes to pack not only our corals but also to ship a number of fish we had previously ordered for our Philippine coral reef exhibit. With all the necessary paperwork completed the boxes of fish and corals were taken to the airport at 5 PM for their non-stop flight to San Francisco. At 11 PM Thursday night, Steinhert biologists Matt Wandell and Richard Ross retrieved the animals and took them back the Aquarium. So not much diving for Charles and Seth today, but a good day nonetheless!

Corals are attached to pieces of styrofoam to keep them afloat and upside down in the water and away from the sides of the bag.


Placed inside of styrofoam boxes, they are then sealed and placed in cardboard boxes with cooling packs.


Photos Courtesy: Dennis Ty

Filed under: Collection,Shipping,Uncategorized — anilao @ 7:12 am

May 18, 2010

Day Three

Our third day of diving began at a location known as Sea Pens, due to the large field of sea pens located in deep water at the base of the reef. Once in the water we headed down the reef to a depth of 90 feet when we saw a spotted eagle ray, Ateobatus sp., cruising along the reef base. This sighting is indicative of the gradual recovery of this area due to the creation of marine protected areas in the Verde Passage area as well as a dramatic decrease in dynamite fishing and other forms of illegal fishing. Combined with the presence of enforcement officers, these efforts have resulted in marked increases in the population of fishes as well as a gradual increase in larger species. Also observed on this dive were mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus sp.), fields of garden eels (Heteroconger hassi), commensal pipefish living in plate coral, Heliofungia.

The second dive that day was at Layh Layh, just across the channel from Sea Pens. Here we observed large groups of red-toothed triggerfish (Odonus niger) at a depth of 80 feet, as well as an abundance of stony corals in the shallows. This area was previously the site of extensive dynamite fishing less than 10 years ago and it was gratifying to see the extent by which rapidly growing branching stony corals were recolonizing the area.

Later in the day we dove the reef in front of the resort to check on the coral corral and to see how the reef looked on our doorstep. Diving down to 60 feet we found an extensive bed of garden eels of an unknown species; easily over 100 individuals. They were extremely skittish and we could not approach close enough to get a clear view of them. There were also tube anemones, Cerianthus, as well as lots of soft and stony corals. To cap of the dive we encountered a small octopus who was observing us from a coral pinnacle a few feet away, such a cool critter!

The day ended with a night dive at Basura, the site of small local artificial coral reef. Using rebar and coral fragments collected from other nearby reefs, a small reef is being created next to shore and a small village. Night dives are always interesting as you never know what you will find, this time was no different as we encountered pipefish, crabs, shrimp and a large school of shrimpfish (Aeoliscus strigatus).

Commensal Shrimp, Periclemenes sp.

Commensal shrimp, Periclemenes sp.

Black-spot damsel, Pomacentrus stigma


Purple Sea Anemone, Heteractis sp.


Tomato Clownfish, Amphiprion frenatus


Tube anemone, Cerianthus sp.


Diadema urchin, electric blue lines along the top of the test


Our coral “nursery” in 3 meters of water just offshore of the dive resort.

Close-up of corals in the “nursery”.

Filed under: Uncategorized — anilao @ 3:59 am

May 17, 2010

Collecting Begins

Today marked the first day of collecting for the aquarists as we began looking for colorful, unique specimens of coral. When we collect we look for small pieces that may have broken off of a nearby larger colony or for small pieces attached to loose rubble. This allows use to collect specimens without damaging entire colonies. In the case of branching corals such as Acropora, Porites, Seriatopora etc. we may also use small pliers to gently break off small side branches. These cut areas quickly heal and begin to grow again, sometimes spouting two or more new branches where there was once one. Reproduction by fragmentation is a natural occurrence in these species and they have evolved to quickly regrow damaged areas. The fragments thus generated also quickly grow once they attach to a suitable substrate. Using this natural ability to quickly heal and grow allows aquarists to easily propagate corals in this manner.

The first site we visited was Aphol’s Rock, where there is a wide array of corals and fishes. The current was strong that day, which made collecting difficult but we still managed to collect over 40 small pieces of coral. The second dive was at a location known as Bethlehem, with a reef slope that extends down to about 70 feet. Here we observed, photographed and made videos of the fish population and reef structure for future exhibit ideas. We also found our very first Weedy Scorpionfish, Rhinopias frondosa!

Cardinalfish, Apogon sp.

Black Cap Jawfish,Opistognathus sp.

Dragonet, Synchiropus sp.

Weedy Scorpionfish, Rhinopias frondosa

Once we collect our corals its back to home base where we then begin the process of attaching the coral fragments to small plastic plugs using a fast drying non-toxic glue. These plugs are then placed into a plastic grid material, which is turn placed inside a small holding cage which we then sink off the resort in about 10 feet of water until we are ready to ship them back to San Francisco.

One dive worth of specimens

First the glue is added to the plug …

… then the coral fragment is inserted and the glue is allowed to dry.

Happy fragments waiting to be placed in the ocean!

Next up are a few more dives including a night dive and an update on our coral “nursery”. Stay tuned!

Filed under: Collection,Research — anilao @ 8:48 pm

May 16, 2010

First Dives

On any dive expedition, the first few dives are spent checking gear and getting comfortable in the water again. Our first dive on Sunday afternoon was a short boat trip from the dive resort, Club Ocellaris. Known as Koala, this site features a mix of hard and stony corals, with Echinopora and Acropora tables filling the shallows, while a mix of soft corals, stony corals, corallimorphs and anemones extend down the slope to about 90 feet.

Chrysiptera sp.


Black damselfish, Neoglyphidodon melas


The second dive was a night dive to the local pier in Anilao. Often called “muck” diving, these sandy featureless areas often harbor an astounding diversity of bizarre creatures. None more so than the “bobbit” worm, Eunice aphroditois, a predatory worm that sits in ambush, its chitinous jaws agape waiting for passing prey such as small fish and shrimp. We found several octopus, squid, bobtail squid, nudibranchs such as Kalinga ornata, flatfish and a plethora of scorpionfish.

The predatory bobbit worm, Eunice aphroditois


A new record from the Philippines, the nudibranch Kalinga ornata


An Amphioctopus marginatus, Coconut Octopus, descending into his burrow.


Black spotted sole, Pardachirus melanospilos.



Filed under: Uncategorized — anilao @ 4:06 pm


After a 16 hour flight to Manila via Tokyo, we arrived at 11 PM Thursday at the hotel in Makati, Manila. The last two days have been spent in meetings with officials at the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), and the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (NFRDI). The purpose of these meetings were to further discussions on Academy and Philippine cooperation in the area of marine conservation and education efforts, and to obtain the necessary permits to allow us to collect the animals on our collection list.

Saturday was spent shopping for supplies to aid us in our collection efforts. Mundane items such as cable ties, plastic containers, PVC pipe, tape and other sundry items were purchased. This morning we are off to Anilao to begin the real meat of the expedition!

Filed under: Uncategorized — anilao @ 3:06 am

May 14, 2010

We’ve arrived

Dr. Terry Gosliner, Bart Shepherd, Seth Wolters and J. Charles Delbeek  have arrived in the Philippines.

We will be posting updates shortly!

Filed under: Uncategorized — anilao @ 4:50 pm

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