Along the west coast of Tablas
To give you an idea of the shape of things underwater let’s start on land; you will see as you are travelling through the island that it is very mountainous and for the most part the only flat land is found around the bays of the island. The coast line consists of either bays or cliff faces, there is not much in between.
This trend continues under the water where you will find shallow water in the bays and cliff faces that continue under water making for great wall dives. The walls are for the most part made of fairly soft rock which in many places has been eroded to form some nice caverns along these walls.
Typical Tablas coastline
The walls around Tablas tend to drop almost vertically to anywhere between 30 and 50 m. At the bottom of the wall the ocean floor continues to drop away at a very steep angle so that you can be a mere 50 m off the coast and be sitting in +100 m of water. With the clarity of the water here on Tablas you get the sense of flying over the side of a mountain when you go beyond the bottom of the walls.
The real beauty of these walls is that they are suitable sites for all levels of divers; a recreational diver and advanced trimix diver can enter the water at the same point and both find what they are looking for. I love it when the logistics are that simple.
While the shallow, recreational depths have been dived by some of the locals on the island for a number of years anything below 40 m is, for the most part, unexplored. This gets the tech diver in me very excited as we just do not know what could be waiting to be found down there. Rumours abound of ship wrecks in the 60 – 100 m depth range and given the history of the Philippines it is a distinct possibility. No-one has ever looked for them, but I am looking for them now and welcome anyone who would like to join the search.
I am in the process of trying to attract some professional help to come to Tablas to assist in finding these wrecks, and if anyone knows someone who has experience and equipment to deal with this sort of thing please do me (and the world of tech diving) a favour and point me in their direction.
Probably the most well-known dive spot on Tablas Island, thanks to advertising from Philippines Airlines, is the Blue Hole. Before you get all excited, this is not your traditional blue hole, such as the Great Blue Hole in Belize, but a small and shallow-ish chimney.
Having said that it is still a very nice dive. Located mere meters from the cliff face of the coast on the northern end of Tablas, from the surface you can clearly see the top of the blue hole at around 5 m. The hole itself is less than 10 m wide and the bottom of the chimney is at about 30m. At the bottom of the hole there is a cavern that extends into the rock for about 15 m. In the other direction, out to sea, there is an arch like hole that opens into the open water. Once through the arch you can enjoy the wall that extends to about 40 m.
Diving the blue hole can be a little tricky and you have to dive it on the slack tide. Due to the topography of the blue hole there can be immensely strong up- and down-currents during tidal movement, making a slack tide dive the only safe option.
There are also many other dive sites around this area and a lovely, secluded resort called Paksi Cove. We plan to run 1 and 2 night diving trips up here, staying at Paksi Cove, for anyone who is interested in checking out the blue hole.
Some of the wall dives around Tablas
Just to the south of Tablas Island is a smaller island call Carabao. This island also offers some very nice wall dives and there is an actual cave located on the eastern side. The cave is only a couple of hundred meters of penetration but is, to date, the most extensive cave known around here. I am yet to dive here, so I’ll let you know more specifics about it when I get the chance to visit.
Between Carabao Island and Tablas Island there is a very deep channel; somewhere in the 5-600 m range. Adjacent to this channel and just off the southern tip of Tablas Island is a reef at about 6 -10 m deep. This is another area that I have not dived but is high on my to-do list. Looking at the marine charts of the area the depth drops from 10 m to 200 m in a horizontal distance of a couple hundred meters… Should make for a nice dive.
On dry land
Yes, diving on dry land; or at least the search on dry land for dive-able caves. To date there are no known caves on the island to dive. However, to the best of my knowledge, I am the only person to ever look for caves to dive here on Tablas Island; and thus far I have only been able to check out a couple of the many, many possibilities.
Tablas Island has many dozens of caves, rivers and springs and the fact that a lot of the island consists of soft rock means that there just has to be caves to dive somewhere… I just need to find them.
I’ve called in the cavalry and I am hoping that the boys from the Asian Karst Exploration Project (AKEP, check out their Facebook page) will be able to make it to Tablas in the first few months of next year to help find some dive-able caves here. This project is very close to my heart as I'm somewhat of a cave addict and I will keep you updated on my efforts in this direction.
Cave hunting expedition
So now, perhaps, you may have some idea as to why I find it so hard to answer the question ‘what is the diving like on Tablas?’ It is just epic, in every sense of the word; epic vis, epic coral, epic walls, epic exploration, epic possibilities… Who wouldn’t want to go diving here?