Dugongs have always existed just on the edge of myth. They're elusive, skittish and endangered. They're probably the mermaids that sailors spoke of (imagined, no doubt, as the result of too much time in the sun on a women-starved ship of men, combined with a tankard or two of rum). A mere glimpse of this fleet-finned cousin of the manatee is generally a cause for celebration back at the dive bar. But hidden away in the similarly mythical and bio-diverse Basuanga region of the Philippines is the tiny, palm-crowded, white-sand-beach island of Dimakya, where encounters with these legendary mermaids are "almost" guaranteed. In the shallows near the house reef, dugongs come in to graze almost every morning. Usually accompanied by green sea turtles, these sea cows seem content to tolerate divers and snorkelers while they're plowing through a buffet of sea grass. The interaction is carefully monitored as part of an eco-tourism program, but the extremely rare opportunity to observe these animals in their natural environment is worth the time and effort it takes to get to Dimakya. And besides dugong-watching, you're footsteps from world-class diving, such as Apo Reef and a long list of great World War II Japanese shipwrecks.
Photo **Courtesy Dugong Dive Center ** www.dugongdivecenter.com