More than being a top diving spot in the Philippines, Tubbataha Reef offers a grandeur like no other. This spectacular underwater world is considered as one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.
Surrounding you are fresh air and turquoise water that’s so clear and pristine you can see corals and fish 30 feet below.
Tubbataha Reef is known for its extraordinary biodiversity, abundant marine life and breathtaking drop-offs into the open ocean. The area covers 130,028 hectares of high quality marine habitats containing three atolls and a large area of deep sea. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is home to a great diversity of marine life—whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse are among the key species found here.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park lies in a unique position in the middle of the Sulu Sea, and is one of the Philippines’ oldest ecosystems. Aside from being a famous diving spot, it also plays a key role in the process of reproduction, dispersal and colonization by marine organisms in the whole Sulu Sea system, and helps support fisheries outside its boundaries.
It is legally protected through national protected areas legislation and a range of other environmental legislation which enable action to be taken against a wide range of threats including illegally fishing.
Tubbataha Reef Facts
– Tubbataha Reef was discovered by divers in the late 1970s.
– Tubbataha is home to 374 species of coral and almost 500 species of fish.
– Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park also protects one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region.
– The reefs of the property support almost 90% of all coral species in the Philippines.
– The Tubbataha Reef location is within the Coral Triangle, a global focus for coral biological diversity.
– In 1988, President Corazon Aquino designated Tubbataha a national marine park—the first in the Philippines’ history.
– UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site in 1993.
– Fishing in Tubbataha Reef is prohibited.
Unlike other diving spots, Tubbataha’s dive season is just three months long. The best time to dive there is from mid-March until mid-June. At this time of year, diving conditions are usually ideal–clear skies, calm seas, and visibility between 98 and 148 feet.
What to do before Tubbataha Reef Diving
Before planning a dive to Tubbataha, you must first secure a Permit to Operate from the Tubbataha Management Office at least two months before first entry to the Park.
Private boats and other non-commercial trips must have Entry Permits before their scheduled trips.
Individuals or organizations wanting to conduct research in the Park must secure a Research/Monitoring Permit. Similarly, any person or company wanting to photograph and/or film in Tubbataha for commercial purposes must secure a special permit from the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB).
The complete guide on the online permit application can be seen here.
Tubbataha Reef Diving Cost
Most people visit Tubbataha by booking on liveaboard dive boats as early as a year in advance. Costs vary by dive boat and number of diving days but range from $1,000 to over $4,000.
Getting to Tubbataha Reef Location
From Manila, you can take a flight to Puerto Princesa. Dive operators usually transport their guests from the airport to the pier, just minutes away, where their boat awaits.
From Puerto Princesa, it takes around 10 hours to get to Tubbataha.
Tubbataha Reef Threats
While the Philippines is considered a Biodiversity Hotspot, one of the world’s most biologically rich countries, it is also among the most threatened—one of the Tubbataha Reef facts we must face.
One current problem in Tubbataha is that Topshells, the protected shell species Trochus niloticus, are being stolen at night by people entering the park by boat from mainland Palawan. The Topshells are sold and made into shirt buttons, jewellery and ornaments. Topshells are important to marine ecosystems because they act as natural ‘cleaners’ of corals and serve as food for other marine life. From 2006 to 2008, the population of Topshells in Tubbataha declined 80%.
Plastic waste is one of the biggest Tubbataha Reef threats. Plastic is a threat to marine animals as it is often mistaken for food, which can cause injury or death. Birds’ nests in Tubbataha are frequently built from plastic food wraps, while abandoned fishing lines made from nylon have caused the death of numerous seabirds. The Marine Park Rangers conduct regular surface water and coastal cleanups and non-biodegradable garbage is transported to the landfill site in Puerto Princesa City.
This is perhaps the biggest threat to the future of Tubbataha. Climate change can result in ocean acidification and increased water temperatures. When this happens, corals may expel their zooxanthellae, which leads to a white appearance (bleached). Although just because a coral bleaches, it doesn’t mean it’s dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are at risk of dying.
In 1998 and 2010, the Philippines experienced major bleaching events, the latter affecting 95% of corals. Both were caused by an El Niño weather phenomenon that increased the temperatures in the Indian Ocean and waters off Southeast Asia.
Compared to other Philippine reefs, the corals of Tubbataha have recovered well from the bleaching events. Scientists think that this is due to the reef’s protected status, they can recover from one stress because they do not have to deal with others, such as pollution and fishing.
If we don’t slow global carbon emissions, the reef will face severe heat stress annually by 2040, according to a UNESCO report.
For now, though, Tubbataha stands tall and its protectors will defend it until the end. Let’s do our part so we can save Tubbataha Reef—the country’s very own cradle of marine life, the crown jewel of Philippine seas.
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