The Dugong Dive Center is located at the El Rio y Mar Resort, in the north of Busuanga, and offers diving to guests of El Rio y Mar, The River House, Cashew Grove and Sandcastles resorts.
Established in 1997, the dive center has three vessels and its own training centre.
The signature trip of the Dugong Dive Center is a day trip, north, up the coast of Busuanga to Calauit and Dimipac Islands to view Dugongs in their natural habitat. However, there is much more to see in this part of Palawan.
The Dugong Dive Center also offer trips to dive the Japanese WWII wrecks, for which the Coron region is famous. One such wreck, the Kyokuzan Maru lies just 30 minutes from the dive centre.
Another local speciality, is the Marine Sanctuary of Dimakya Island – again just 30 minutes away. Dimakya is a turtle nesting area, and having afforded this area some protection for about 18 years, divers will be delighted to encounter the resident turtles, and other marine life that benefits from being in a sanctuary.
With lots of islands scattered about, there are a large number of dive sites all around; right out to Tara Island and local knowledge goes a long in delivering a variety of interesting dives both as day and overnight trips.
The Apo Reef Natural Park, which sits in the Mindoro Strait with more than 20 dive sites is only about 4 hours away. A world renowned dive destination, it offers magnificent walls plunging 100’s of metres, and large fish species, including hammerhead sharks.
Dugong Dive three boats are all interesting variations on the local bangka style of boat, which is essentially a monohull with outriggers on both sides for stability. Though each has cabins, on an overnight trip guests often prefer to sleep on the netting above the outriggers. For day trips there are plenty of different spaces around the boats from the roof, to the foredeck, and tables and chairs and benches in the shade.
Dugong Dive offers training programs from PADI, SDI and TDI, has all the gear you could possibly need to hire, and offers Nitrox – particularly for the wreck dives.
Occasionally hosting international film crews and photographers, the dive center also boasts a fully air conditioned camera room complete with PC and charging stations.
Whether you are staying at El Rio y Mar, The River House, Cashew Grove or Sandcastles, the Dugong Dive can arrange to pick you up on the way for a day’s diving.
Depending on your dive locations each day’s diving with Dugong Dive will run to a different schedule. However, if you’re going to search for Dugongs, the day runs a little like this.
We assemble at the dive shop at 7:30am and catch the tender out to today’s boat which is the strangely named Black Pearl. All our gear for two dives and lunch is already on board, so we swiftly depart heading around the point and due north. We stop at Cashew Grove to collect another couple of Dugong watchers before continuing our journey north towards Calauit Island.
When we arrive it’s all eyes on deck, as the staff take their various positions on the bow and stern, and the guests line the railings on the roof and we all peer into the ocean.
The search starts in the southern-most bay, and as it appears the dugongs aren’t here right now we slowly motor north into the next bay. The Black Pearl cuts her engines and again we peer into the blue. The sea is amazingly calm, it’s almost like being on a lake, so should anything pop above the surface we would surely see it.
After half an hour of searching we motor around to the next bay and again squint into the aquamarine waters. Half an hour later it’s decided that we should go for a dive to while away an hour and see whether that brings the dugongs out. So we motor over to Dimipac Island, and after a quick recce we decide to dive towards the west of the island.
There’s always the possibility of seeing a Dugong on the dive, as the terrain starts with a shallow 5m reef and drops slowly but surely into sandy seagrass meadows. Everyone peers off to the west throughout the dive, but it’s not to be and we don’t see the dugongs under the sea.
We console ourselves with lunch, before deciding that whilst at Dimipac another dive is in order. We go for another hour’s dive on the eastern end of the island.
At about 2:30pm we motor back to the area that I have already named “Dugong Bay” to continue the search for dugongs.
After a short while a Dugong is sighted breaking the water and disappearing again. There’s great excitement on the boat but we’re not quite close enough, so the engine is quickly started and we motor briefly in the general direction of the sighting. Once again the engine is cut and all eyes scan the ocean surface. This time much closer, we see the distinct grey streamlined body of a dugong breaking the surface. Everyone slips into the water with snorkelling gear (some unfortunately slightly less quietly than they should), and we fin after the guide who we hope is finning in the general direction of the Dugong.
And though there are a dozen eyes scanning the water from the boat still, the dugong does not make a reappearance and so we return to the boat. This same scene repeats itself twice more, each time the dugong breaking the surface closer and closer to the boat. However by the time we slip into the water and fin in hot pursuit the dugong is probably just beyond the extent of the visibility.
Finally, as the shadows lengthen and the sun begins to cast a golden glow across the water it’s time to give up the chase and head for home. Still, it was a great day out and we have two great dives under our belt, as well as that fleeting glimpse of a real live dugong in the wild. This is the shot we might have got, had the dugongs been more sociable that day.