Scuba Dive in Malapascua Island, Philippines. Spotting Thresher Sharks

Aerial view of Malapascua. The island is known for Thresher Sharks and white sand beaches - Photo by Discover Malapascua

Scuba Dive in Malapascua Island, Philippines. Spotting Thresher Sharks

This small tropical island is one hidden gem in the Philippines that has become increasingly popular among divers in recent years.  Malapascua Island is located off the coast of Cebu Island has gained a reputation as one of the best diving destinations in the world.
The island’s unique underwater topography and abundant marine life, including the famous thresher shark, make it a must-visit destination for scuba diving enthusiasts. In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive guide to diving in Malapascua, including the best dive sites, how to get there, and the best time to visit.

Location and Geography

Known to be one of the best scuba diving destinations in the country, Malapascua attracts divers from all over the world. The island’s location is strategically situated in the Visayan Sea, making it accessible to various dive sites with diverse underwater topography and marine life.

Crystal clear waters of Malapascua Island, Philippines. - Photo by Theo Java at Unsplash
Crystal clear waters of Malapascua Island, Philippines. – Photo by Theo Java at Unsplash

Geographically, it is a small island with an area of approximately 2.5 square kilometers. It is surrounded by coral reefs, white sand beaches, and crystal clear waters. The island’s unique topography includes underwater caves, walls, and slopes that provide habitats for various marine life, making it an ideal location for scuba diving enthusiasts.

Aside from its rich marine life, its location is also significant for divers due to its proximity to other dive sites such as Monad Shoal, Gato Island, and Chocolate Island. Monad Shoal is known for its famous Thresher Shark sightings, while Gato Island offers diverse underwater topography and marine life such as white-tip sharks, seahorses, and nudibranchs. Chocolate Island, on the other hand, is known for its spectacular coral reefs and cleaning stations.

Scuba Diving

The best time to dive in Malapascua Island is between December and May when the water is calm and the visibility is excellent. However, diving is available year round, and many dive sites are still accessible during the rainy season, which runs from June to November. During these months, the underwater currents can be stronger, making some dive sites more challenging but also more exciting.

Monad Shoal

Depth: 30 m/100 ft | Level: Advanced

This dive site is the reason you made a scuba diving trip to Malapascua. Monad Shoal boasts the most reliable thresher shark sightings in the entire world. It is possible to dive this site a few different ways. Some dive operators prefer to have scuba divers kneel near the drop-off, waiting in a stationary position for the sharks to appear. Others will have people diving around the site. Either way, you are almost guaranteed to see a thresher over two or three days of diving. Dives are conducted early in the morning, usually departing around 4 or 5 am. At this time, the threshers rise from the depths to be cleaned at the several cleaning stations around the site.

While this site got its claim to fame thanks to the threshers, it is also a great location for spotting other big marine creatures – particularly manta rays and devil rays. If you are visiting between December and April, you may also see hammerheads here.

If you are not currently advanced certified, you’ll need to complete the Deep Adventure Dive prior to visiting this site. Your dive centre on Malapascua will be able to set this up for you prior to the thresher trip. The Adventure Dive will count as credit toward your Advanced Open Water Diver course.

Gato Island

Depth: 10 – 25 m/33 – 82 ft | Level: all

Located just a short boat ride from Malapascua, Gato Island is a marine reserve that is home to a variety of aquatic creatures, including white-tip reef sharks, cuttlefish, banded sea snakes, and even the occasional manta ray. Divers can also spot a range of colorful reef fish, such as the clownfish, parrotfish, and angelfish, as well as a variety of hard and soft corals.

One of the main attractions of Gato Island is the “The Tunnel” – a narrow passage that cuts through the island and opens up to an underwater cavern. This tunnel is home to a unique feature known as the “Blue Room,” a small cave illuminated by a beam of light that filters through an opening in the roof. The Blue Room is an incredible sight to behold and is a must-visit spot for any diver visiting Gato Island.


Depth: 10 m/33 ft | Level: all

Have you heard of the elusive and stunning Mandarin fish? This dive site is one of the best places to spot these colorful creatures. Here, there is a large colony living in the staghorn corals. Head to this dive site right before sunset to see the mating ritual dance of the Mandarin fish. The Lighthouse is a great choice if you are into macro diving.

Kimud Shoal

Depth: Up to 40 m/133 ft | Level: Advanced

Time to get that adrenaline pumping. The most famous dive sites in Malapascua for hammerhead shark sightings – sometimes hosting schools with up to 200 individuals! A small plateau under the water, this site is dived out in the blue. Divers drop in away from the plateau in hopes that the schooling hammerheads are visiting. Since this dive can get quite deep, it is recommended for advanced divers.

Chocolate Island

Depth: from 5 m to 30 m | Level: all

Located just a short boat ride away from Malapascua Island, Chocolate Island is a small, uninhabited island that offers some great diving in the region. The island is named after its unique chocolate-like color, which is due to the abundance of soft coral and gorgonian sea fans that cover its underwater walls.

The dive site around Chocolate Island is known for its vibrant marine life, including a variety of reef fish, sea snakes, cuttlefish, and nudibranchs. Divers can also spot larger creatures like eagle rays, barracudas, and even thresher sharks that occasionally pass by the area.

Diving at Chocolate Island is suitable for divers of all levels, as the site has varying depths that range from 5 meters to over 30 meters. The water temperature is warm and ranges from 26 to 30 degrees Celsius, making it comfortable to dive in year-round.

Marine Life that can be found in Malapascua Island

Thresher sharks

Thresher shark Cebu, Central Visayas, Philippines - Photo by Rafn Ingi Finnsson at openverse
Thresher shark Cebu, Central Visayas, Philippines – Photo by Rafn Ingi Finnsson at openverse

The island is most famous for Thresher Sharks. Found in the Monad Shoal dive site and are usually spotted during early morning dives. It’s an incredible experience to see these graceful creatures with their long tails, and divers from all around the world come to Malapascua just for this.

Hammerhead sharks

While not as common as thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks can also be spotted here. The best time to see them is during the months of March to May, when they come closer to the island’s shores to mate and give birth. Divers can try their luck at Monad Shoal and Kemod Shoal dive sites.

Manta rays

Another big attraction are manta rays. These gentle giants can be seen at the cleaning stations around Gato Island dive site. Divers can witness the cleaning behavior of smaller fish as they remove parasites from the manta rays’ bodies.

Pygmy seahorses

A Pigmy Seahorse. Can you spot it? - Photo by Elias Levy at Flickr
A Pigmy Seahorse. Can you spot it? – Photo by Elias Levy at Flickr

These tiny creatures are found in the coral reefs around the island. Despite their small size, they are a favorite among macro photographers due to their intricate patterns and vibrant colors. Divers can look for them in dive sites such as Lighthouse and Gato Island.

Mandarin fish

Vibrant Mandarin Fish: A Colorful Delight of Malapascua's Underwater World - Photo by David Clode at Unsplash
Vibrant Mandarin Fish: A Colorful Delight of Malapascua’s Underwater World – Photo by David Clode at Unsplash

These colorful fish are a treat to the eyes, with their bright orange and blue bodies. They can be found at dusk during a night dive. This dive takes place at the Lighthouse dive site and is a must-do for any diver visiting.


Frogfish are another unique marine creature that can be found here. These masters of camouflage blend in perfectly with their surroundings and can be difficult to spot. However, experienced guides can spot them in dive sites such as Kemod Shoal and Monad Shoal.


These colorful and diverse creatures are a favorite among macro photographers. Malapascua Island is home to a wide variety of nudibranchs, and divers can find them in almost all malapascua dives.


Cuttlefish are a fascinating creature to observe underwater. They can change their colors and skin texture to blend in with their surroundings and communicate with each other. Divers can spot them in dive sites such as Lighthouse and Kemod Shoal.

Sea snakes

Sea snakes are a common sight around Malapascua Island. These venomous creatures are not aggressive and are actually quite shy. Divers can safely observe them from a distance and appreciate their beauty and grace.

Mantis shrimp

Behold the Mighty Mantis Shrimp: A Master of Camouflage and Attack - Photo by prilfish at Flickr
Behold the Mighty Mantis Shrimp: A Master of Camouflage and Attack – Photo by prilfish at Flickr

These small but fierce creatures are known for their powerful punch and incredible eyesight. They can be found in the coral reefs around Malapascua Island and are a favorite among macro photographers.

Thresher Shark Diving

Malapascua Island is known worldwide for its thresher shark diving, and Monad Shoal is one of the best places in the world to see these magnificent creatures. Monad Shoal is a sunken island that rises from the depths of the sea and is home to thresher sharks that come to the cleaning stations on the shoal to have parasites removed from their skin.

The best time to see thresher sharks in this tiny island is early in the morning, between 4:30 and 6:30 AM. This is when the thresher sharks come up from the depths to the shallower waters to be cleaned. Thresher sharks are more commonly seen from November to May when the sea is calmer.

There are several dive shops that specialize in thresher shark diving. These dive centers offer dive packages that include early morning dives to Monad Shoal, with experienced dive guides who know where to find the thresher sharks.

How to Get There

Getting there is relatively easy, but requires a bit of planning. The first step is to get to Cebu City in Cebu Island, which has an international airport and is well-connected to other parts of the Philippines. From Cebu City, you will need to make your way to the town of Maya, which is about a 4-hour drive away.

Once you arrive in Maya, you will need to take a boat to Malapascua Island. There are several options for boats, including public ferries and private boats, but the most convenient and comfortable option is to take a private transfer arranged by your resort or dive center.

Speaking of resorts and dive centers, there are plenty of options. Some of the most popular resorts include Tepanee Beach Resort, Ocean Vida Beach and Dive Resort, and Thresher Cove Dive Resort. For dive shops, Thresher Shark Divers and Evolution Diving are two highly recommended options.

Just another day in Malapascua Island. - Photo by Hitoshi Namura at Unsplash
Just another day in Malapascua Island. – Photo by Hitoshi Namura at Unsplash

In conclusion, it is truly a paradise for scuba diving enthusiasts, offering a wide range of dive sites with breathtaking marine life and unique underwater topography. From the iconic thresher sharks to the colorful pygmy seahorses and vibrant coral reefs, there is something for every diver in Malapascua Island. With its convenient location in the Philippines and accessible transportation options, Malapascua Island is a must-visit destination for any diver looking for an unforgettable experience.

To make the most out of your trip to Malapascua Island, it is highly recommended to book a stay at one of the many reputable resorts and dive centers in the area. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, the professional guides and instructors at these dive centers will ensure a safe and enjoyable diving experience. And for those looking to witness the majestic thresher sharks up close, be sure to check out the specialized thresher shark dive centers that Malapascua Island has to offer.

Overall, Malapascua is one of a kind diving destination and should be on every diver’s bucket list. With its stunning underwater landscapes, rich marine life, and welcoming local community, it’s no wonder why so many divers keep coming back to this island paradise. So pack your bags, grab your scuba gear, and go check for yourself the reasons why Malapascua island is famous.

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