THE NEXT DAY WE SET OFF in the local bangka-style dive-boat, a kind of rustic trimaran, to explore some of the sites on the Dauin shoreline.
Prior to the trip, I’d invested in a garishly colourful and sparkly iPhone case, and the idea is to experiment with it as a backdrop in photos.
It’s a brilliantly sunny day, and we soak up the rays on the half-hour boat-trip to the site. Operation Sunbathe is so successful that by the time we’ve donned our gear and strode in, even the warm 28° water seems momentarily chilly.
The dive-site, named Cars for the artificial reef sunk there, shares the same topography as we had found in Zamboanguita. It’s an expanse of dark sand, gently sloping into the deep with only the occasional seapen or anemone to break it up.
The first time I saw a muck landscape it came as a bit of a shock, but I’m now fully converted to this type of diving and am filled with excitement at underwater treasures to be discovered.
We slowly frog-kick our way over the sand, scouring both directly beneath us and into the distance.
A black featherstar looms on the horizon and, as we approach, it appears that one of its arms has detached and is bobbing about independently.
Closer inspection shows this to be an ornate ghost pipefish, expertly camouflaged and swimming vertically to fool any would-be predators. I pass Nadi the iPhone case and line up a few shots, the inky profile of the pipefish now framed by a shimmering backdrop.
Once the pipefish grows tired of our sparkly shenanigans, we move on in search of a new subject.
Nadi starts to point excitedly at a small leaf growing from the sand, and I smile knowing that it can only be that most fashionable of underwater macro finds, the “Shaun the Sheep” nudibranch!
You’ll probably have seen these fellows posted on Facebook, intricately designed with one of the best underwater haircuts of all time, but nothing quite prepares you for how small they are in person. About the size of a grain of rice, it’s only through the viewfinder that it’s beauty becomes apparent.
Shaun seems quite happy to model, and we test out the iPhone backdrop once again, ending up with a shot of the nudibranch against a disco-style background. A fun exercise to mix things up, but far less satisfying than finding a beautiful, natural background for a charismatic subject!