Most definitely the jewel in the crown of diving in the Philippines, this is where it is at if you want deep walls, beautiful reefs, fish life, including big stuff and all in an environment where Nature still rules.
Right bang smack in the middle of the Sulu Sea are two rather special atolls, collectively known at Tubbataha. With Palawan to the west and Negros to the east, either way it is 98 nautical miles or, about 8 hours to the nearest land, which is Puerto Princesa.
Your trip will start by flying into Puerto Princesa to join your ship, in the late afternoon you will leave port and set sail for Tubbataha. Come the morning, you’ll be there to start your diving.
A typical day will be something like this: get up, go for a dive, breakfast, tiny chill, go for a dive, snack, slightly longer chill, go for a dive, lunch, tiny chill, go for a dive, snack, little bit of chill, night dive if you’re hard core, beers or cocktails watching sunset, dinner, bed. Repeat between 4 and 6 times before heading back to Puerto Princesa, normally shattered and with a big smile on your face from having a great time in one of the best places to dive in the Philippines.
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In 1988 Tubbataha was declared a National Marine Park and in 1993 it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, from Puerto Princesa the Tubbataha Management Office oversees the administration of the marine park. This includes ensuring there are sufficient Rangers to man the Ranger Station on the south side of the South Atoll.
Angelique Songco and her team do an incredible job, with miniscule resources to keep the ever-increasing pressures of the outside world away from Tubbataha.
Normally your itinerary will include a visit to the Ranger Station. Please go. Meet the Rangers, buy the T-shirt and the souvenirs, it all helps, but most of all, try and have a chat with the guys, they stay in out there for 2 months at a time. They miss their families, obviously, but they know the importance of the job they are doing.
Tubbataha is the jewel in the crown of diving in the Philippines. Steep deep walls covered in life with anything possible to come and take a look at you. It is the last place in the Philippines where nature rules and allows you for a short while to take a peek at her underwater beauty.
Tubbataha is all about wall diving. Both the north and south atolls have near vertical walls descending to 40 to 60 meters where a sandy slope disappears in the abyss of the Sulu sea. Better water clarity is generally experienced in the morning where viz is normally 30 meters plus. In the late afternoon it can get a little milky as the sun dips down, but this is compensated by the late afternoon last minute cleaning and feeding frenzy before darkness arrives.
On a typical trip to Tubbataha you will see school of big eye trevally, chevron barracuda, green and hawksbill turtles, white tips all over, gray reef sharks hanging in the current and large groups of black and midnight snappers gently moving out of your way and harlequin sweet lips pouting by their coral bommie. It is hard to take it all in.
However, you will need to have lady luck on your side to see something in the ‘extra special’ category i.e. hammer heads, manta, guitar shark, tiger shark and silver tip shark. They are there but you just have to be in the right place at the right time.
There are plenty of great dive sites, each with their own story to tell; Sea Fan Alley with hundreds of beautiful huge fans clining to the wall, Staghorn Point with tits massive fields of staghorn corals covering an undulating landscape and Malayan Wreck with the wreck in the very shallows completely broken up but home to loads of oriental and harlequin sweet lips. But in our books there are three dives sites that stand out form the others:
Delsan Wreck is the place to be first thing in the morning and last thing before twilight. There is plenty to fish life around there including a large school of big eye trevally and an even bigger school of chevron barracuda. Find the ‘elbow ‘ or the ‘crack’ in the wall and this is where the heart in the mouth action goes on – huge tuna lurk waiting to pounce on the jacks, fully adult gray reefs cruise up and down in the current and if your lucky, really lucky, you might get to see something more special like a hammer head or tiger.
Black Rock. It may not necessarily have the pelagiac sharks passing but there are very few dives sites in the Philippines that can match the abundance of fish coupled with topography, coral coverage and condition. A truly magnificent place. Every year we make sure we get to do a couple of dives here, just drifting along the crest of the wall, theres only one place in Tubbataha that offers more which is…
Shark airport. So called because of the amount of the sharks sleeping on the sandy slope at 50 meters plus. Throw in everything you have seen at Black Rock and Delsan wreck and throw in a manta cleaning station and it becomes almost the perfect dive. It’s a challenge to surface with air still left in your tank.