Diving Deep Into the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a paradise for every underwater lover.

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This image shows the Tubbataha reef, a multicolor underwater beauty in the Philippines. A diver can be seen in the background.
Tubbataha reef is a multicolor underwater beauty in the Philippines.

With more than 7,000 beautiful islands, the Philippines is one of the best snorkeling and scuba-diving destinations in the world. If you’re curious about sealife, it’s time to go in an underwater quest into the depths of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. More than just another nice landscape, it’s a nesting location for hawksbills and green sea turtles. These reefs shelter more than 100 bird species, 300 coral species, 600 fish species and even sharks, dolphins and whales. This and so much more made it a Unesco World Heritage site in 1993.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a world-class marine park

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park features a two atoll coral reef system, which means two ring-shaped reefs with an open lagoon in the center. But the park also includes the tiny Jessie Beazley Reef, with drop-offs, slopes and iffy currents. The North and South coral atolls encompass a pre-eminent density of marine biodiversity, from fish to coral species.

Not only that, this Philippine sanctuary serves as a paradise for marine turtles and birds. The islets comprising Tubbataha Reef are not sheltered, so currents could be a bit too much for humans but beneficial to the vibrant marine life. Now, since the area is well-protected by the government, there’s no commercial access to the reef. So only a small handful of licensed boats are allowed to enter the territory.

Location

In this image you can see several reefs and rocky formations that conform the Tubbataha Reefs system.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park has different reefs that house several species of fish and turtles. You’ll see underwater life in all its splendor!

Stretching over 97,000 hectares midway the Sulu Sea, between the Palawan and Visayan Islands, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is accessible through Puerto Princesa, Palawan. There are plenty of airlines that offer direct flight to Puerto Princesa, like Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia. Ferry trips are also available, but could take longer, depending on the starting point. From Puerto Princesa, you need to ride a boat going to the area, which would normally take around 9-12 hours. Considering that all islets are uninhabited, there are no overnight land accommodations, so you’d need to stay aboard.

The best time to visit the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is during Summer (March-June), when the sea is calmer and clearer. If you go during mid-March, the best activity is diving because there’s better underwater visibility, even with stronger currents. From April to June, usually the waves are tame, so it’s an ideal time for snorkeling.

Diving sites

There’s nothing more magical than to try scuba diving or even snorkeling at the breathtaking waters of Tubbataha Reefs. These are the main attractions that continuously lure sea lovers all around the world. The fact that the currents are mostly normal facilitates drift diving, the standard method for the majority of divers. So enjoy the water movement, because it’ll make the diving easier even for unexperienced divers.

It’s also a very safe experience because, after you finish your diving, there’ll always be a chase boat waiting to pick you up. It’s important to have in mind that visitors often have a maximum of 3 dives per day and 1 night dive (this one only for advanced divers). Now, some of the best dive sites to look forward to in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park are Amos Rock, Black Rock, Bird Island, Shark Airport and Malayan Wreck. Each one of these diving sites takes pride in having stunning underwater sceneries that feature a huge variety of multicolored flora and fauna like nowhere else.

Diving operators

This image shows a Hawksbills turtle in Tubbataha Reefs National Park. @willianism09 via Twenty20.
Hawksbills turtle in Tubbataha reefs. @willianism09 via Twenty20.

Make sure to book your Tubbataha Reef tours from legit providers certified by the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO). Since entrance to the area is restricted, the TMO only allow a limited number of dive operators such as M/V Stella Maris Explorer, M/Y Sakura, S/Y Philippine Siren 2, M/V Discovery Palawan and MV Solitude One. These boats come with the Tubbataha Reefs diving package as well as en-suite cabins, first-class cuisine and other rental equipment. You should also take into account that there’s no mobile service in the area, but there might be satellite phones aboard.

Finally, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a solemn sanctuary for breathtaking marine species and birds. You should respect the place and the life in it, because it’s there for appreciation, not modification. Always listen to your instructors and pay attention to their instructions, they could be life-saving. We hope that your experience opens your senses to the wonders of underwater life.

So, are you ready to witness the vibrant colors of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park? If you’ve already visited, leave a comment below with your most unforgettable experience there.

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