When we were looking for a location for our family trip, Coron in Palawan stood out from the other beach locations in the Philippines because of the opportunity to snorkel with the endangered dugong (often mistaken for a mermaid), and commonly known as a Sea Cow. Dugongs are gentle and shy creatures who feed on seagrass in shallow, protected areas. Dugongs are extremely rare to spot, and the probability of sighting one in Coron is 80 percent. We decided to make it the first tour of our trip so if we do not see one, we would have made our way back the following day.
We left the resort at 7:30AM, and took a trimaran to Aban-Aban island where two dugongs graze. The boat trip took around 2hrs, and when we got to the island, the boat operators were able to spot a dugong right away. Since dugong-watching is a professionally curated ecotourism activity, we had to abide by the rules set out by the Dugong Dive Center:
Maintain a 2-3 meter distance from the dugong so you won’t disturb them.
Don’t approach the dugong from the front as you might frighten them.
No splashing while swimming as the sound will scare the dugong.
I tried to get a closer encounter with the dugong, so I would skin-dive beside the dugong while he grazed in the sea-grass. The dugong found in Aban-Aban is not as shy as the other dugongs, and actually would look at you and also wiggle around before he moves locations. It was a charming experience watching such a peaceful creature eat his breakfast. Apparently, his female partner could be spotted in the other side of the island. His female counterpart was quite shy so it would be harder to snorkel around her.
After swimming with the dugong, the tour takes you to Dimipa Island, another island with crystal clear waters. If you snorkel long enough, you are most likely going to encounter a turtle as there are many turtles in the island. We spotted several turtles and even saw an eagle ray.
The Dugong Dive Center is the only accredited tour that allows you to encounter these gentle and shy creatures. For more information, visit their website here.
How can you help Dugongs?
Any small donation can help protect the dugongs in the Philippines. One method is to give donations to the Community Centered Conservation (C3). Donations will go to habitat surveys and community conservation efforts in Busuanga Island.
Do not hurt or kill dugongs.
Do not buy or sell any products that come from dugongs.
Notify local authorities if you spot any incidences of catching, killing, or selling of dugongs.
Release stranded or caught dugongs.
Take care of the ocean.
Support programs that help save dugongs.
See below for contact details of Community Centered Conservation (C3):
How to get to Dugong Dive Center:
From Manila Catch a flight from Manila to Busuanga (USU). There are flights via Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. You can also take the 2GO Ferry. From Coron Pier When you reach Coron Pier, take a 1-hour jeepney ride from Coron Pier to USU Airport (Busuanga).
From Busuanga Airport It takes around 20-30-minutes from the airport to the jetty.
Jetty Take a bangka to El Rio Y Mar Resort.
Prices (As of February 2017): Dugong Tour: Php3,000 per pax (for snorkeling) Packed Lunch: Php750 per pax (option to make your own)