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Apo Reef

Ashmi
Giant popcorn. A blue tree. Yellow bath sponges. Brains. There are scientific names for the coral, but I prefer these. We are at Apo Reef, and snorkeling here is fantastic. We catch a boat from Sablayan town to get to the reef. About 30 minutes later we bump into Apo Reef Island, and witness the water changing colors dramatically because of the sudden change in depth. There is hardly anyone around; the island and the reef are protected by the military and only a few people are given permits daily to regulate the traffic. Apo Reef is the largest atoll-like reef in Asia. It encloses a lagoon, but unlike most other atolls, the series of reefs forms only half a circle. It's the second largest contiguous coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Along with the surrounding Sulu Sea, Apo Reef, in the province of Occidental (west) Mindoro, is a national park. The word 'Apo' means elder or grandfather, so I'm guessing the reef's ancient. Before we get into the water, there's exploring to do. We trek up the lighthouse to get a lay of the land. The island is a weird one : on one side you have the prettiest beach with the bluest water, but turn and you'll be met with views of a mangrove. The lagoon has given rise to a thick mangrove forest, which we are told, is home to some crocs. How the heck did they get there? As we cross the water in a makeshift bamboo raft to go snorkeling, I'm thinking of Life of Pi and half expecting meerkats to jump on-board. It's eerie, but very cool. Apo is one of the best spots in the Philippines for snorkelling. A must visit for all snorkelling enthusiasts.