Gato Island is one of Malapascua’s most famous dive sites. It is a small uninhabited island north west of Malapascua.
Gato is a marine reserve and sea snake sanctuary. It has abundant marine life and considered an underwater paradise for the tons of exotic aqua marine life species it plays home to. Gato Island is also a popular breeding ground for sea snakes. It is one of the only remaining three sea snake breeding spots in the Philippines. Breeding season is from March to September and during these months, species of snakes like the black and white banded sea snake, gigantic moray eel, silver eel and other poisonous snakes abound. Other marine life species you can see are frogfish, scorpionfish, shrimps, shells, cuttlefish (often while mating), pufferfish, tuna, mackerel, squids, stingrays, snappers, nudibranchs and pygmy sea horses. The site is also known for sightings of sharks such as the white tip reef sharks, cat sharks, and bamboo sharks that are usually seen sleeping in the cave and sometimes lurking around the exit.
It has at least five dive sites with a huge diversity of marine life.
Gato Island (24m / 80ft)
The coral is in good condition and the rocky island has many interesting underwater rock formations, overhangs, and swim-through’s. The south wall is a beautiful wall covered with corals of all sort, hosting frogfish and nudibranchs. Large fields of purple soft coral are just one highlight of this dive.
Gato: The Cathedral (5m-9m)
A huge overhang where you will spend most of the dive in shallow depth and is a spot for macro lovers as you can find nudibranchs and sea horses.
Other highlights in Gato are the pygmy sea horses and spider crabs.
Gato: Whitetip Alley (20m / 70ft)
You are 95% guaranteed to find whitetip sharks sleeping under rocks, and if you are lucky you will see them circling. They grow to huge sizes – sometimes over 2 meters. Other life here includes banded boxer shrimp, nudis, seahorses and scorpion fish, spider crabs, frogfish, lionfish and whip coral shrimp, perfectly colour matched to the huge whip corals found inside the ‘Seahorse Cave’.
Gato: The Guardhouse (24m / 80ft)
Drop down to 24m to find the extremely rare pygmy seahorse, both pink and yellow as well as spider crabs and cowries. Then work your way back along a wall where you can find lionfish and many nudibranchs, including the beautiful spanish dancers, up to 30cm long. Painted frogfish are often in residence.
Gato: Nudibranch City (22m / 75ft)
As the name implies, we find nudibranchs galore at this site. Also around are lots of hermit crabs and scorpion fish.
Gato: The Cave (10m / 35ft)
Or more accurately, “The Tunnel”, is close to the guard house, and is the main attraction in Gato Island. Around 30 meters long, it traverses the island in a depth of 6 to 10 meters and houses all the usual cave dwellers: many types of crab big and small, lobsters and cardinal fish. You journey underneath Gato Island and come out the other side! You will need a torch to do this dive. Sea snakes and crabs are the usual inhabitants of this cave and at the exit you can see white tip sharks swimming around or sleeping in the holes and crevices. You should also encounter some large puffer fish and perhaps bamboo and cat sharks.
At the exit of the cave are some overhangs and swim through’s were even inexperienced divers who cannot swim through the cave can get up close to the baby whitetips sleeping under the rocks. Not for the faint of heart and for experienced divers only.
*Credits to the unnamed diver who took these photos.
Depth: 5 – 25 meters
Current: variable, can be strong but there will always be one protected side of the island
Visibility: 10 – 25 meters
Recommended level of training: Advanced open water or Open water diver with deep dive experience
Distance: 45 minutes from Malapascua
As usual, I was the only Filipino on this dive boat. And I was resident documentator and coffee-and-music bum.