Tubbataha is a beautiful coral reef located in Sulu Sea; 98 nautical miles (181 km) southeast of Puerto Princesa City in the Palawan Province. It is a National Marine Park and is nominated to be one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
This Sanctuary is considered one of the most famous diving destinations in this area. Not only because of its beautiful coral reefs but also because it has a variety of sea lives like giant jacks, hammerhead sharks, barracudas, manta rays, palm-sized Moorish idols, parrot fishes and moray eels. It is home to the endangered species like hawksbill sea turtles.
Tubbataha Reef is only accessible by live-aboard. Departures are usually from Puerto Princesa and the navigation time is approximately 10 hours. Be advised that it's better to book your trip well in advance as they are in very high demand and the places are limited. These trips usually last about 5 nights and 6 days but of course this may vary . it's advisable to get a booking on the bigger steadier vessels as the seas can get pretty rough here and a small vessel will then be uncomfortable.
Access to Tubbataha Reef is limited to only three months a year that is from about mid-March to June. For the rest of the year the sea conditions are too rough. If you want to have the calmest conditions then it's best to aim at being there in April or May.
The strong currents here makes it possible to do a lot of drift diving and night dives are possible when there's no current. Although Tubbataha Reef can be reached only by live-aboard vessels it offers excellent wall dives, sharks, mantas as well as many other underwater species, its really worth the trip out there.
The reef is divided into two coral atolls, separated by a deep channel 8 km (5 miles) wide. Most divers visit the reef for there is a great chance of viewing large pelagics such as sharks, mantas, rays, turtles, mackerels, tunas and barracudas but it is also home to smaller creatures like nudibranchs, special crabs and shrimps and corals.
The North atoll is the large one and it has some beautiful dive sites with wide a variety of underwater species. Bird Island used to be only sand but now it is covered with trees and has become a nesting place for marine turtles. Average depth in this area is 65 feet (20 meters) and can reach to 200 feet (61 meters) deep. It has steep wall with overhangs, swim throughs and crevices. The reef top is covered with some beautiful hard corals and you can find sharks laying on the sandy area also you can see giant reef ray there. Another spot is the Southwest Rock; it is a beautiful dive site covered with huge gorgonian fans and whip corals. Also it is home to many large fish like white tip reef sharks and gray reef sharks. You will also see plenty of mackerels, snappers, some large groupers and lots of napoleons. Around this area you can have nice night dives and watch lots of nudibranchs; some rare like atagema and others huge like pleurobranchus and you also can see small pink crab.
The Malayan Wreck is the remain of a Malaysian ship. It is home to dogtooth tuna, moray eels, angelfishes, butterfly fishes and eagle ray. Its entry point is a breathe-taking slope filled with sea fans and outcrops of soft corals.
The Southern atoll is a rich reef sloping to a depth of 33 feet (10 meters) to 65 feet (20 meters). There are many caves and crevices that are home to spiny lobsters, squirrelfish, soldier fish as well as mackerel, barracuda and rainbow runners and whitetip sharks resting on its bottom.
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. They are recognised as being probably the best diving in the Philippines and amongst the best in South East Asia.
Tubbataha Reef lies on the Cagayan Ridge in the Philippines. The reef is a line of extinct underwater volcanoes. The Sultana Shoal is where the reef starts in the north and ends at the San Miguel Islands in the south. It is 92 nautical miles in the southeast side of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippines and 80 nautical miles in the southwest side of Cagayancillo, Philippines. Cagayancillo has political jurisdiction over Tubbataha. Tubbataha was proclaimed a National Marine Park last August 11, 1988. In 1993, the reef was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tubbataha has a universal value regarding the richness of the reef's marine life species and diversity. A dynamic nature scene surrounds Tubbataha as evidenced by one of the north islets called Bird Island. Bird Island is a nesting ground for thousands of sea birds and is a low, flat, and sandy island. In 1911, according to naturalist Dean Worcester, Bird Island is 75 meters wide and 400 meters long. But now, Bird Island is only 23% of the recorded land area in 1911.
It is a great site for diving. The reef you'll come across offers the awesome beauty of the sea. Be amazed at the richness of Tubbataha. Many of the diving operators in Tubbataha offer the live-aboard trips to the reef. You can stay for a few days aboard the vessels and dive into the reef for a wonderful adventure.
The word Tubbataha is from the local word of the Samal people that means "long reef exposed at low tide". Tubbataha is estimated to be 10,000 hectares of coral and other marine life. The reef has two atolls, and very little land. Each reef's atoll is an islet that is two meters above sea level. Shallow lagoons are present in the atolls. 200 to 500 meters of flat reef surround the atolls and it drops steeply into the deep water. At low tide, reef crests are exposed.
The remoteness of Tubbataha has been its greatest advantage, protecting it from exploitation. Tubbataha is open to the shifting winds of the Philippines. The summer months are the safest time to dive into the reef in Tubbataha. Feel the life of the creatures under the sea while diving in Tubbataha. The richness of marine life that the reef offers will keep you in touch with nature.