Archive for the ‘Cebu Explorations’ Category

This identification and documentation work was conceptualized to raise the awareness of the locals and government officials of Barangay Arpili, Balamban  for the preservation of Casili Spring’s aquatic fauna.

This is a joint effort of the Mantaga Adventure Divers (MAD) and the Aquatic Cebu Enthusiasts (ACE). [Photographs, specimen collection, identification work and layout of this post is credited to Mr. Niel Jarina and his mates at Aquatic Cebu Enthusiasts. -Bernil]


One species of mollusk, three species of fresh water fishes and shrimps were collected.


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Scientific name: THIARA SCABRA

Local name: “KINHASON”

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family



image imageMale species

image imageFemale species


Local name: “ BANGAS”

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family



image imageMale species


Local name: “BUROD”

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family



image imageFemale species


Local name: “BANGAS”

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family



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Adult species                                                         Juvenile species

Scientific name: MACROBRACHIUM LAR

Local name: “ UWANG, PANSAT”

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family



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Local name: “UWANG”

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family





Local name: “UWANG”

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family



Emerson Y. Sy of Philippine Center for Terrestrial & Aquatic Research (PCTAR)

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The 6th Casili Spring Exploration was adjourned. We packed-off our stuff  and headed back to Balamban town proper to lunch on some liempo. We ate quickly as we had another hour or so of driving along the coast heading north to Tabuelan. Niel reported that Gumbang spring feeds the water needs of the barrio folks. It flows from a cave with a pool and has an entrance big enough to allow exploration.

Doc was on the wheel to stave off his carsickness brought on by the twisting and turning coastal and mountain hi-way. On the passenger side, I welcomed the scenic route to Tabuelan.

It was on a quiet mountain road overlooking a shallow, spring water pool with folks doing their laundry where Niel said we’ve reached our destination.


We got off the truck and Niel led us to a path above and behind the shallow pool. He said the entrance to the cave is located beneath the concrete well.


Our excitement increased and we scrambled down the well to see what’s in there.



The air was thin inside the area but the cave was a beauty and certainly ripe for exploration.

We went back to the truck to find the closest barangay hall to inform the local officials of our intentions to explore the site. After getting directions from a local, we found ourselves driving on a narrow dirt path towards  a hilly area. Not sure where the path will lead us, and what is at the end of it, we started talking about the t.v show “Twilight Zone” and the strange possibilities that might be waiting for us.

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Fantasies notwithstanding, we found the pretty Barangay Bongon at the end of the path.


GOPR0391 GOPR0393

With century old Molave trees, an elementary school, a neat Barangay Hall and a staffed barangay clinic.

Doc and Eric even found the time to shoot some hoops.


After making the appropriate contacts, we had a little walk around the place. Checking out the community board, we saw a wealth of information that made us grin wide and wider.

bongon caves

bongon caves2

bongon springs

So much areas to explore but they will have to wait as we have a date with Gumbang Spring.

Back to the site, I suited up for an initial underwater look-see. Doc sat this one out, groggy from the anti-motion pill he took during the drive.



Inside the Cave (Alone)

Creeping into the low opening in the rock with a 5.5 liter cylinder, I got into the cold spring water. Right at the moment I dipped my head underwater, the sight that greeted me chilled me to my core! I thought I saw dead people or ghosts hanging from the ceiling!! In my limited view, the long and thick clumps of white roots from plants that snaked into the water for sustenance resembled a form that nightmares are made of. They surrounded the edge of the pool like scary curtains. It was freaky!

The pool inside was around 8 meters in diameter and the water was crystal clear. The bottom which was only 2 meters deep was a mixture of sand, mud and limestone pebbles. I did not see any tunnel or opening to a chamber that we can explore further. The spring water welled up from the bottom of the pool.

Finding no other space that I can enter, I swam back and got out of that freaky place.

During the exploration, my Go Pro camera ran out of battery and I could not take any pictures of the sight that I described above. I suggest you check-out the area yourself for a first-hand look of the creepiest cave I’ve ever been to.

Gumbang Spring

From my experience, I believe that another exploration of Gumbang Spring will not yield any path or underwater  tunnel similar to the Casili or Pawod Spring.

The exploration of Gumbang Spring was conducted on the afternoon of November 28, 2012.

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The fabled beast of Casili Spring emerges!

The fabled beast of Casili Spring emerges!

“Holy Mother!!” — I cringed, turned my head away and shut my eyes as a snake-like form lunged from the dark mouth of the Casili Spring and slithered towards me.

“If this thing decides to bite me, I’m just darn out of luck!”, I thought as the serpentine creature came within kissing distance.

Thankfully, it was not hungry or in a biting mood since Doc and I finned away unscathed from our first encounter of the fabled freshwater eel that the spring is named for. “Casili” after all is the local word for eels that thrive in rivers and springs.

The approximately 1 meter/ 3ft eel of robust girth (size probably gained from feeding on tadpoles and toads) was seen again observing us from the muddy ledge of the Gold Mine Chamber. It must have been attracted to the lights because it approached within touching distance. Its curiosity sated, it left and the only evidence of its presence was the disturbed silt of the path it took and a blurry picture taken by a shaky hand.

We left Cebu at dawn (4AM) for this trip since our objective was to conduct a dive at Casili and then proceed to Tabuelan to check out Gumbang Spring with Niel Jarina of ACE Cebu ( he joined us on the 3rd Casili Spring Exploration) guiding us to its location.


Niel and Doc having a nice breakfast of hot pork soup courtesy of our support member, Eric.

I told Niel later about the eel and offered to catch it for him so he can add it to his pet collection — he declined.

Photo by Niel Jarina

Photo by Niel Jarina

A few good rainy days brought in much needed water for the spring and we were delighted to see the pool turn back to a healthy and clean looking color. The river bed was still dry though.

Photo by Niel Jarina

Photo by Niel Jarina

Doc and I used the same amount of tanks  and gas percentage for this trip and we soon realized that we have finally reached our gas limitation upon reaching the last tie-off at the depth 35 meters inside the Gold Mine Chamber. We only had a few bars of air to spare before turn-around time.

Making most of what can be done in the decreasing window of opportunity to extend the exploration line, I swiftly tied a continuing line and we moved on to get a few more meters of area explored. Barely 10 minutes later, Doc signaled for us to turn back and I looked at the nearest wall for a spot to tie-down. A saw a rock jutting from the wall and it was then I realized that directly beneath it, the bottom has dropped sharply beyond what our lights can illuminate.

While I was busy tying to the rock and cutting the tie-down line from the reel, Doc took a peek into the darkness and later tells me that there is definitely another chamber that lies beyond. Back on the surface, we asked Niel to name this chamber — he christened it “The Black Hole”.

Well then “Black Hole”, we look forward to exploring you on our next trip.

Casili Diagram-6th trip

The 6th Casii Spring Exploration Diagram

From the look of things, the next explorations will involve multi-tank staging an additional 2 or more tanks of air to extend gas turn-around time. The procedure will also include staging the 50% O2 at 21 meters to allow earlier gas switch for the expected longer decompression requirements and O2 staged at 6 meters. 6 or more tanks per diver will be required.

The 6th Casili Spring Exploration was conducted on the morning of November 28, 2012.

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Kermit the Frog- Its Not That Easy Being Green

The image of Kermit the Frog singing the song “Its not that easy being green” hopped to my mind as soon as we saw the water of Casili Spring. It was colored algae-green and was over-run by a healthy population of freshly hatched tadpoles.

Western Cebu was experiencing a drought and the water that seemed to flow endlessly from the spring has stopped.

Does the water look a little green to you?

Does the water look a little green to you?

The river bed that gave us a challenge in our previous trip was bone dry.

Where's the water?

We were scheduled today to get stuck right here–now, where’s all the water?

Yep, you'll be itchy after your dive..

Yep, you’ll be itchy after your dive..

The phenomenon had us scratching our heads and our bodies (in anticipation of being itchy after a dive in the less than clean, standing water).

When did this happen? Spotting the elderly caretaker of the site, we eagerly interviewed her. She told us that the water stopped flowing almost a month ago and the last time she saw this happen was  back in ’85 (1985). At that time she said, they had 5 months without rain and the result was similar to what we were seeing now.

It took another 5 months of rain before the continuous and heavy flow returned, she added.

Undeterred by the current situation, Doc and I got ready to follow the trip’s objective– locate the deepest point of the cave and lay some more line!

I would've smiled if it was bit more clean..

I would’ve smiled if the water was bit more clean..

Armed with the knowledge and experience we built up from our previous trips, managing 3 tanks into the MAD Gate and down the Snake Crawl was not so hard anymore. Staging our 50% gas at the bottom of Snake Crawl, we donned our 2 side mounted cylinders and followed the line we laid from the 3rd expedition (conducted on Sept. 2011) which was tied down at 30m.

In the Snake Crawl..

In the Snake Crawl..

Surprisingly, the visibility was good as we went further and deeper in to the cave. We had none of the white-out that plagued us throughout the 4th expedition. Reaching the end of the tie-down, I knotted a continuing line and we proceeded down the Mantaga Sanctum Canyon.

Our descent was quick as we followed the limestone wall down to the cave’s muddy bottom. Maintaining neutral buoyancy to avoid a silt-out,  we  hovered a few inches from the muddy floor and checked our computers’ displayed depth– 40 meters. We have definitely found the deepest freshwater cave in Cebu!

I laid the line a bit further and followed the bottom to where it gradually inclined upwards. Adding an additional 30 meters to the line and at a depth of 35 meters depth, we arrived at another expansive chamber! ( We named it “The Gold Mine Chamber). A jutting rock on the bottom provided me a fine tie-down spot and that was where the line was wrapped and the dive was turned.

Before heading back, I paused to look at the walls of the new chamber we discovered and the cave’s tunnel heading off further, its end way beyond the reach of my lights and I thought happily, “We’re not going to finish mapping this one anytime soon”.

5th Casili Spring Exploration Diagram

5th Casili Spring Exploration Diagram

“The Gold Mine Chamber”.  And why do we call it as such? It’s a play on words—“My Gold or The Gold is Mine” because in all our explorations, the locals always think we are in the area to scour for hidden treasures or for the fabled Japanese gold bars.

The 5th Casili  Spring Exploration was conducted on October 10, 2012.

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The 4th Casili Spring Exploration was conducted last March 28, 2012.

Using better equipment this time, Doc and Bernil navigated through the 48cm/1.57ft opening of the MAD Gate and down to the Snake Crawl with relative ease in comparison to the previous dives. The Hollis SMS 100 system and the helmet mounted lights worked very well as expected.


The objective of the 1st dive on this trip was to reach a maximum depth of 50 meters. 50% and 100% oxygen bottles were brought specifically for the purpose of the expected decompression requirement that obligates one to complete when diving to such depth.

Due to the  previous rains that have swept Cebu over a span of days, the water was heavily silted and our lights resulted in heavy back scatter giving the dive an impression of driving through a very foggy road on a very dark night (pretty much like a night time drive through Cebu’s foggy Transcentral Highway).

Taking additional precautions due to the limited visibility in a confined space of the Mantaga Sanctum resulted in a loss of time and the dive was turned after 25 minutes, max. depth was only 20.3 meters. The total dive time was 44 minutes with a depth average of 12.3 meters.

Through the Gate

Through the Gate

The emerging routine of entering the Casili underwater cave:  On sidemounts, swim down to Mad Gate with both bottom clips off, go through Mad Gate  in 2 units – the pair of 11-tanks in front, totally unclipped, followed by the diver. Continue on the same configuration through Jean Marc’s Trap, a 19-inch squarish restriction past Mad Gate, down Snake’s Crawl then re-don the gear and establish proper streamlined hoses-and-everything routing.

What about staged and deco tanks? Probably the best way to do is set them in place before the dive. The fastest time that we, a 2-man team, has established down to the bottom of Snake’s Crawl is about 20 minutes, an average of 10 minutes per diver (Bern, I stand corrected on this). No doubt, the time will improve as we do this routine over and over again.” – Doc Amores ]

While feasting on the famous Liempo for lunch, the 2nd dive’s objective was agreed upon. The left side wall of the cave was to be explored, and the chamber to be lined.

After a 2 hour surface interval, the 2nd dive proceeded. Reaching the end of Snake Crawl, a jump line for the chamber exploration was tied off from the main line (the one that leads to 30 meters). Neutrally buoyant, staying close to the ceiling and maintaining the wall on our left side, the expansive chamber was carefully explored with a guide reel. Average depth was 12.2 meters.

The chamber walls brought us back to our starting point at a depth of 16.5 meters. The line was then tied off at the side of the wall. The added line will guide us on succeeding trips for the continuing exploration of the magnificent Casili Spring.

4th Casili Exploration Diagram

4th Casili Spring Exploration Diagram

Additional Notes:

The recent rainy days created a stronger than usual water flow on the river bed. The turbulent current resulted in the “softening” of the river’s gravel bottom giving us a challenging situation when the truck’s rear wheels got stuck 500 meters from the site. Yes, we know– a 4WD system would be better.

Luckily, a 10-wheeler dump truck came by; with a borrowed rope that was used as a water buffalo’s leash plus a handful of men and kids, we managed to extricate the Strada from its predicament and onto a safe spot on the riverside.

The “portering” of 9 units of 80cu/11 liter tanks (weighing 16 kilos each), 3 units of 5.5 liters tanks, a case of regulators and a host of other equipment from and back to the truck was not a joyful affair. Nevertheless, that is all a part of an explorer’s life.

The 3rd Casili Spring Exploration was conducted on September 21, 2011.

Doc and Bernil

On this trip, we managed to get more information on the topography of the area and the depth of the MAD Sanctum Canyon.

We were also joined by 2 representatives from the Aquatic Cebu Enthusiasts (ACE), Niel Jarina and Lerch Ylaya, who were there to document, identify and take sample specimens endemic in the spring. They were endorsed to us by Joey Gatus of the University of San Carlos- Marine Biology Dept. [photo credits for the surface and fauna images go to Niel Jarina, using a Canon EOS 60D]

Niel checking his shots…

Lerch transporting specimens…

A fine specimen of a fresh water shrimp locally called “Uwang”.


Their documentation work will be of great value towards future conservation efforts for Casili’s underwater species.

No-mounting towards Uwang Drop and into the MAD Gate.

It is no easy task to don and doff your twin tanks in a dark, confined and silty area but we had to try.

We swam to the Uwang Drop holding our harness and pushing our twin tanks ahead of us.  Dropping into the MAD Gate, we moved through the old tire (its a Goodyear, if you must know) . Getting our units through was fine but then the big rock very close to the entrance of Snake Crawl required us to make a 45degree turn to the right as soon as we had our body half-way in the steel-belted rubber obstacle framing the entrance.

Since we cannot afford positive buoyancy due to the constricted head room,  it was a heavy job negotiating the tunnel down to the start of the muddy bottom.

Looking for an "uwang" specimen.

Looking for an “uwang” specimen.

Doc was leading this dive so I focused my lights on him as he donned his twins. It was a silty affair but he was successful, after which I followed suit.

With our units on, we established neutral buoyancy and floated off the bottom where the visibility then became clear and we could see the blackness of the canyon that lay before us. We shined our lights on and followed the line we laid on our last visit. At 22 meters depth, it was tied off to the side of the wall and Doc took out another reel to extend the line.

The MAD Sanctum Canyon brought us down to 30.5 meters. The bottom is muddy and is on a very slight slope. There is still more distance to be covered but we reached our turn-around pressure and we headed back after laying down a line 15meters long extending our previous line up to 40 meters.

Heading back up, minding our ascent rate and deep stops,  I was astounded by the realization that  the Casili Spring is currently the deepest freshwater cave system discovered and dived in Cebu. And there is still more depth and length to explore…WOW!

We got back to 14 meters and Doc gestured me to go ahead, I slipped off my harness and tanks and moved back up through the Snake Crawl constriction. Pausing to wait for Doc outside the MAD Gate, I felt eyes watching me. I turned to my left and saw the black beady eyes of a fine-looking, good sized freshwater shrimp specimen. Perched on a log, the shrimp flicked its antenna at me as if to say, ” Howdy dude –welcome to my world”. Cool!

Back at the shallows of the Casili Spring pool, we spent the rest of the afternoon assisting the ACE guys with their specimen collection and photo documentation.

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We will go back soon to extend the line and to explore the unknown ceiling height and the distance of the canyon walls. We will also be presenting our report to the site owner and to the Local Government officials so that they will be informed and then they can start to appreciate how special Casili Spring is.

Revised Casili Spring Profile View

Revised Casili Spring Profile View

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The 2nd Casili Spring Exploration was conducted on August 30, 2011.

Bernil and Doc

This is presently the most challenging cave system the MAD cavers have discovered!

No mount is required on entry and exit– you push down your tanks to get in, you push them up to get out.

Casili Spring Profile View

The MAD Gate is an old tire “cemented” between the ceiling and the bottom creating a frame where we had to remove our tanks to get through, depth is 12 meters.

The MAD Gate-- filtering the unworthy.

We crawled our way through “Snake Crawl”, a loose gravel tunnel that went down to 22 meters.The ceiling-bottom clearance has a head room of about 1.5 feet. In this claustrophobic space, the challenge was made even better by sharp rocks sticking out from the ceiling, occasionally snagging our wetsuits as we crawled deeper into the spring.

The end of the the “Snake Crawl” is a silty area where visibility will turn to zero in seconds as soon as you get there! We reattached our 2 tanks in silty zero visibility, then we moved into the huge” Mantaga Sanctum Canyon” where the bottom is pitch black and the depth still yet unknown…

Our non-diving companions on this trip are siblings Joseil and Giovanni Enecio, both mountain-hiking enthusiasts who were very appreciative of the natural camping ground the area offered.

Giovanni, Joseil and Doc

Perfect site for a relaxing surface interval.

Click here for the 3rd Casili Spring Exploration report.

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The MAD Cavers undertook the first ever Casili Spring Exploration on August 23, 2011 and discovered a new cave system!

Bernil, Doc and Alec

The exploration was very promising and we will definitely visit the area again very soon to extend our line. The mouth of the cave starts at 10.5 meters and water temperature is a cool 28 deg Celsius. A good amount of large freshwater shrimps live near the cave’s entrance.

Casili Spring- Underground River Outlet

Joining us as support diver on this epic first trip to Casili Spring is Advanced Diver, Alec Toting.

More details will follow and we will publish a full report of the dives right after the planned second visit.

For the meantime, here’s a video made by Doc of our 1st trip to Casili.

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Bernil, Natsumi & Doc

It was a great drive from Mactan to Cebu then across the trans-central highway to get to the lovely Municipality of Balamban on that fine mid-morning on Dec. 15, 2010. The town is on the western coast of Cebu and faces the Tañon Strait.

Balamban’s Cambuhawi Spring  intrigued me when I visited it many summers ago– way back when I was not a diver yet. Cold, fresh water steadily spilled-out into the man-made pool where families and children kept themselves cool from the summer heat. I wondered then, where is the main source of all this strong water flow? It seemed that the water came from under the roots of a big tree that was growing on the side of the hill.

The Cambuhawi Spring of Balamban

Fast forward to the present– I am off to know what secrets lie at the bottom of the Cambuhawi Spring!

Doc, breaking-in his new Strada, gamely loaded the truck’s bed with our twin tanks and our entire inventory of cave diving accessories. I brought along my wife and our baby daughter for the scenic road trip from Cebu’s east to west coast.

The Cambuhawi Spring looked strangely quiet on that afternoon. The main pool was also drained, the water flow unblocked.

Opening the gate, we let ourselves in. I prepared a single tank with a regulator for an initial look-see. Doc suited up for this one. He first looked into a well, hoping there might be a deep tunnel there– nothing.

He then swam around the shallow area from where the water that feeds the main pool flows from– no holes, no restrictions, no tunnel– nothing.

The water flows up through the ground, through the stones and gravel covering the bottom of the shallow pool.

After a couple of minutes swimming around, Doc came up and declared that there is no tunnel or well for us to dive into. Our cave lights, reels, and twin tanks had no purpose in that site.

too many gears…

Oh well, it was still a fine trip with Doc and the family anyways– baby and wife enjoyed it! On the way back across the transcentral highway, we bought some fresh corn from a road side stand… it was a nice day.

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