Destinations: Tubbataha Reef
The Lighthouse at Tubbataha – Copyright © Yvette Lee
Lying between the South East Philippines, Malaysian Borneo and Indonesia is one of the world’s largest marine ecosystems the Sulu Sea. Approximately 180km from Puerto Princessa, Palawan, in the middle of the Sulu Sea lie two coral atolls known as the Tubbataha Reefs. Comprising over 95,000 hectares of water, Tubbataha, meaning ‘a long exposed reef’ is recognised as being probably the best diving in the Philippines and amongst the best in South East Asia.
Tubbataha is a hugely important stretch of water where tropical marine life proliferates and as such it is both a National Marine Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are no permanent residents here and the reefs are only accessible by liveaboard dive boats. The season for diving is limited to just three months, trips only run from March to June, as the rest of the year brings unpredictable weather conditions.
Divers come here for the incredible corals, huge schools of fish and the chance to see the big stuff like sharks and manta rays. The diving really is fantastic and Tubbataha is top of many peoples wish list of diving destinations. Boat licenses for the reefs are very limited and consequently there are very few operators on the reefs. Liveaboard trips generally run for 5 days and 4 nights and accommodation is always on the boat.
All the liveaboard boats depart from and return to Puerto Princessa, our packages include air fare from either Cebu or Manila and optional one night hotel accommodation in Puerto Princessa. If you cannot make it here in 2007 then watch these pages for details on the 2008 programme.
The Boats / Accommodation
We work with the Expedition fleet and during the course of the season they have five liveaboard boats in the Tubbataha area. All accommodation offered is in twin-sharing air conditioned cabins with private en-suite shower and toilet. Hot and cold water is available. Boat capacities range from 20 guests to 38 and all packages include full meal plan.
The boats include the MV Oceanic Explorer, MY Stella Maris Explorer, MV Eco Explorer, MV Apo Explorer and the MY Borneo Explorer. Typically boats leave Puerto Princessa the provincial capital of Palawan at 6.00 – 7.00pm and arrive back on the return day at 7.00am. Packages include 6 days and 5 nights accommodation with 4 full diving days.
Of the two atolls the north one is the largest, also known as Bird Island it is approximately 16km long and 4.5km wide. The south atoll, known as Lighthouse is 5km long and 3km wide. The Jessie Beazley reefs are a short distance (26km) from Tubbataha and are accessible in good weather, here too you will find incredible diving. Divers from all around the world are attracted here by the steep walls and drop-offs and the huge range of marine life in the waters.
The absence of people and fishing means that the reef is in good very good condition and there are schools of jacks, surgeons, sweetlips and snappers everywhere. The hard and soft corals mean great photo opportunities (especially on the shallow slopes at the top of the reefs) and night diving – when the currents have slowed – is very popular. Lovers of macro life are always impressed by the number of nudibranch, shrimps and pipe fish in the waters.
It is however, the big life that is the main draw for so many divers and turtles, tuna, nurse, white tip and black tip sharks are very common. Eagle rays and manta rays are regular visitors and the sightings of leopard sharks, shovel nose sharks and hammerheads continues to increase.
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