APPT Cebu: From card sharks to big, scary, real sharks

Who is Toto, the famed Malapascua dive guide, kidding? "The shark is more scared of you," he laughs as members of the dive party start to slip below the waves. "But Toto, who told the shark?"

That's one of the questions to pops into the minds of divers as they drift below schools of three-metre long thresher sharks swimming slowly through the sun-soaked waters of the Visayan Sea near Malapascua Island.

It was also a question posed by one awestruck APPT blogger who joined an early-morning trip to Malapascua, which lies just off the northernmost tip of Cebu Island, a 30-minute helicopter flight north of Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa, the venue for APPT Cebu.

The tiny island, barely two kilometres long and one kilometre wide, shot to prominence in the early 1990s when its crystal clear waters, coral gardens, myriad shipwrecks and prolific fish populations were "discovered" by divers seeking fresh challenges and sites to visit.


That's about as stereotypical as paradise gets ... Bounty Beach on Malapascua Island

Our destination was the Monad Shoal, an underwater plateau about 25 metres below the surface of the sea where thresher sharks, famed for their ability to leap from the sea and their massive caudal or tail fin (which can be as long as their bodies) and manta rays can be spotted almost on a daily basis.

Departing the glistening white sand Bounty Beach from the Malapascua Exotic Island Beach and Dive Resort, our first stop was the Exotic House Reef, an artificial reef constructed from two Jeepneys, a concrete Thresher shark, concrete giant clam, tyres bound together, and various wooden and metal frameworks. Ranging in depth from six to 12 metres, the attractions included sweetlips, batfish, Dwarf Lionfish, scorpionfish, stonefish, frogfish and vast schools of tiny barracuda.


Sure beats sitting in peak hour traffic: 9am, Thursday, Visayan Sea, Malapascua Island, Philippines

Next was the world renowned Monad Shoal. At 20 metres in depth, there is a drop-off which tumbles a further 300 metres. We barely waited five minutes when the first Thresher Shark cruised above our heads.

It was soon joined by three or four others, along with giant manta rays - so big that they temporarily blocked the sun as they swam gracefully overhead. The trick is to breathe very slowly when the sharks arrive as the bubbles spook them. Easier said than done - hold your breath while a shark sizes you up for brekky!


"And in my last will and testament" ... enter stage right, one Thresher Shark!

A quick thank-you to Toto and the guys from the Malapascua Exotic Island Beach and Dive Resort for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This APPT Cebu event has ticked so many boxes but the chance to combine a trip to the tropics and a luxury resort with an international standard poker tournament and the opportunity to dive with sharks will take some topping.