Tubbataha Reefs is a UNESCO World Heritage Site off the shore of Palawan in the Sulu Sea. Because of its distant location and difficult access, the region is one of the world’s healthiest and least exploited reef systems. Divers who are lucky enough to visit the stunning reef system of 100,000 hectares will find a wide variety of beautiful coral gardens interspersed with high walls dropping down into the deep blue.
It is the Philippines’ most biodiverse scuba diving location. Tubbataha Reef is well-known for its breeding site and outstanding fish spawning, dynamic underwater landscape, marine biodiversity, and a diverse array of huge marine species, including manta rays, sea turtles, and various shark species. So, let’s find out more about diving in Tubbataha reef in the Philippines.
TUBBATAHA REEF’S PRIMARY AREAS
The Tubbataha Reefs is also divided into three primary areas: the South Atoll, North Atoll, and the Jessy Beazley Reef. Each atoll has a variety of scuba diving locations, therefore the best and only way to see them all is on a Tubbataha liveaboard.
Divers on a Tubbataha liveaboard will be astonished by the never-ending show of multicolored stingrays, reef fish, lobsters, and turtles on every reef. Black tips, white tips, and grey reef sharks, as well as guitar and silky sharks, and even the occasional whale shark, can all be found in deeper locations on the northern side of North Atoll.
Large pelagics such as giant tuna, trevally, and barracuda, alongside turtles and manta rays assemble on the southern edge of North Atoll. The wrecks on both atolls are ideal for macro species such as tiny lobsters, pygmy seahorses, and nudibranchs, whereas the South Atoll is a great hammerhead site. Another good spot for hammerhead sharks, as well as other shark species, is the northwestern Jessie Beazley Reef. The strong currents here sustain massive branching hard corals and all the linked marine life that goes with them.
The Delsan Wreck is one of the top dive sites in the South Atoll. The shipwreck is still intact, with a large chunk of it protruding above water. The shipwreck, however, is too shallow for scuba divers to explore. Birds will rest on it if you have a pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens.
Its anchor is located far away from the shipwreck and is the typical starting point for the dive. The Delsan Wreck dive is described by most divers as their happiest location on earth, or their Disneyland. The majority of your dives will be along its massive wall, where you will have the opportunity to see 23 different ray and shark species, including silvertip, blacktip, whale sharks, tiger sharks, white tip, hammerhead, devil rays, nurse sharks, manta rays, and eagle rays.
Most of the action takes place along the wall, which some refer to as the crack or corner. The bottom of the corner is around 60 meters deep. There was a time, around 45 meters deep in that corner, where you will observe a bunch of sharks going for the lead’s pectoral fins, which you may assume as the female shark. It could have been started with a courting stage and then progressed to mating.
Scuba diving in Tubbataha is a true delight for the eyes. Tubbataha Reefs National Park has a diverse variety of species to find at each diving site. One of these is Southwest Rock, a renowned diving location on Tubbataha’s North Atoll that is home to a variety of huge gorgonian fans, spectacular corals, and large fish, such as groupers, snappers, mackerels and the fascinating Napoleon wrasses. Diverse reef sharks can also be found here. Also, night diving at this site provides outstanding macro-opportunities.
NORTH ATOLL WASHING MACHINE
Tubbataha Reefs’ North Atoll Washing Machine is another amazing location. The reef’s north end features a sandy slope with coral heads down to 50 feet, then declines as a wall with crevices and caves to depths beyond the reach of sports divers. The coral cover on the reef-top is good with plenty of leathery, stony and whip corals, among which you find large Leopard Sharks, Guitar Sharks, Blue spotted Lagoon Rays, Eagle Rays, immature Manta Rays, turtles and flounders.
Tubbataha’s Malayan Wreck is a popular dive spot for adventurous divers searching for a glimpse of schooling hammerhead sharks in the deep blue. Divers swim out into the open Sulu Sea as far as they can without becoming confused, searching the deep blue water for huge sharks and other pelagic species. It is named after the wreck of the Malayan which is a small shipwreck near the start of the dive. Big barracuda, red snapper, moray eels, angel fish, sea fans, and numerous kinds of grouper live on the coral reef wall where the dive ends.
The Shark Airport is a large plateau at 15 metres that drops off to a shelf at 25 metres, making it one among Tubbataha’s most productive dive sites. While whitetip sharks cruise the slope dropoff, endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles can often be observed scouring the sunlit shallows for corals to eat. Because it is rather shallow and offers the potential to view fimbriated blackspotted puffer fish, moray eels, and huge star pufferfish, the Shark Airport is also a favorite place for night dives.
THE SEAFAN ALLEY
The famous Tubbataha reef, just a few miles from Palawan, is home to the seafan alley. Known for the beauty of its sea fans, corals, and colorful gorgonia. This reef is home to thousands of species, including a school of barracudas, tuna, and numerous reef sharks. If you prefer underwater photography, you will love photographing the well-known pygmy seahorse. This diving site is ideal for all divers; the clear water and lack of current will make it easier for beginners to enjoy their dive, while experts will dive deeper to see hammerhead sharks.
WHEN TO VISIT
If you wish to visit this location, plan your trip after February because the best diving season for Tubbataha liveaboards is from March to June, when the waters are calm. Boats are only allowed inside the marine park during these months.