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Malapascua Island/Philippines

Introducing Malapascua Island

This little island off Cebu's northern tip has been growing steadily more famous over the years for its long, white beaches, great food and low-key approach to tourism. There are, or were at the time of writing, no cars or paved roads on the island, only a network of walking tracks. These tracks wind past such humble attractions as the waterside town cemetery, with its sun-bleached graves, the lighthouse on the island's northwest, and the 12m-high lookout up near Los Bamboos, which some brave/foolhardy souls treat as a cliff jump.

Divers are spoilt with three wreck dives, the marine sanctuary of Gato Island - a famous sea-snake breeding ground - and almost daily appearances of the otherwise rarely sighted thresher shark off Monad Shoal.

The simple villages of Malapascua blend seamlessly with the resorts and are a big factor in the island's charm. The people of the towns are almost invariably friendly and welcoming. A popular pastime among visitors is to head down to the basketball court in the main town of Logon, to take part in one of the frequent, informal tournaments that blend local and foreign talent.

It would seem that Malapascua offers everything that the discerning beach bum could wish for. But of course nothing is ever that simple.

The marine environment, including Gato Island, faces the usual challenges of this region - first and foremost, dynamite fishing. Despite protestations from local government that they are on top of the problem, divers report that on many dives they can still hear the sound of blasting. To combat the problem at Gato Island, local dive centres successfully lobbied the government to implement full-time patrols of the marine sanctuary. These patrols are paid for by a fee levied on divers of P100 per dive.

The preservation of the island environment is another matter. Ironically, where the dive centres have continually accused local government of not doing enough to halt destruction of the corals, when it comes to preserving the beaches, it's the government's turn to put the heat on local business.