1. Solitude. So Isolated, It Can Only Be Dived by Liveaboard

Set sail southeast from Puerto Princesa City in the Philippines’ western province of Palawan for about 10-12 hours and you will find yourself arriving at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Marine Protected Area (MPA).  An oasis in the center of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is comprised of two large coral atolls and the smaller Jessie Beazley Reef.  At the northern apex of the Coral Triangle – the global center of marine biodiversity – this amazing underwater nature preserve is a mecca for scuba divers and a model for coral reef conservation due to its distance from any populated areas that would apply stress to sensitive systems like these reefs.

2. Sharks! 12 Different Species

Tubbataha is for shark lovers:

  • Silvertip Shark
  • Grey Reef Shark
  • Oceanic Whitetip Shark
  • Blacktip Reef Shark
  • Whitetip Reef Shark
  • Tiger Shark
  • Pelagic Thresher Shark
  • Scalloped Hammerhead
  • Great Hammerhead
  • Tawny Nurse Shark
  • Whale Shark
  • Zebra Shark

3. Majestic Mantas and More

Nature thrives in this underwater park, including a wide array of rays:

  • Oceanic Manta ray
  • Reef Manta Ray
  • Spinetail Mobula
  • Bluespotted Stingray
  • Bluespotted Fantail Ray
  • Marble Ray
  • Porcupine Ray
  • Whitespotted Eagle Ray
  • Honeycomb Whipray
  • Leopard Whipray
  • Reticulate Whipray

4. Hawksbill & Green Sea Turtles

When diving the northern tip of the South Atoll, you will lose count of the number of green and hawksbill turtles you see.  The North Islet, a coralline sandy cay of the North Atoll, is an important developmental area and nesting habitat for the green sea turtle. And the Tubbataha preserve, in general, is a favorite foraging area for the hawksbill turtle.

5. Dolphins & Whales

Tubbataha a haven for at least five species of dolphins:

  • Grey’s spinner dolphins
  • Spotted dolphins
  • Common bottlenose dolphins
  • Fraser’s dolphins
  • Risso’s dolphins

And if you’re lucky, you may see a few whales too, such as the Blue whale or Sperm whale.

6. Colorful Corals

An underwater rainbow, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) is home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. You will be amazed by walls and reefs overgrown with forests of multi-hued soft corals.  TRNP boasts 369 species of corals, which is about half of all coral species in the world, and almost 80% of all coral species in the Philippines.

7. Diversity

615 species of fish have been recorded at TRNP. Colorful reef fish crowd corals growing in the shallows, while pelagics, such as tuna, mackerel, jacks and barracudas, circle in schools near the reef crests, and sharks haunt the steep drop offs.

8. Macro Mecca

Most anywhere you dive in the Philippines, you will be astounded by the wide array ofnudibranchs, shrimp, and pipefish.  TRNP is no exception. UW macro photographers, I hope you bring plenty of memory cards and backup batteries.

9. Delightful Dive Sites

(North Atoll)Amos Rock (aka Southwest Rock) A breathtaking wall covered in corals & gorgonian fans. Take your time cruising along, you may spot a pygmy seahorse clinging to one of those fans. And don’t forget to look up or you may miss the variety of large fish that drift by divers, including groupers, snappers, mackerels, and Napoleon wrasses. Grey reef sharks and white-tip reef sharks are often passers-by in this area as well.

(South Atoll)Delsan Wreck & Black Rock (near the lighthouse)  Hammerheads are the most prized sighting here as well as occasional whale sharks passing by. Look out for guitar sharks in the shallows.

(Jessie Beazly Reef)You can see schools of bumphead parrotfish munching on the corals along this reef and watch out for inquisitive napoleon wrasse. Here the shallow reefs are full of colorful tropical fish like the regal angelfish and titan triggerfish.

10. Liveaboard Life

Sleep, eat & dive all day long. And nighttime too! Spacious dive decks to set up and store your gear. Room for cameras too. Delicious food. And the best thing is the dive sites are brought to you. You can get quite spoiled.

Open to diving only 3 months out of the year, the Tubbataha seasons runs from mid-March through early June to avoid the monsoonal season in the Sulu Sea.  If Tubbataha is on your bucket list, make sure to book a year out minimum as these trips book up quickly.

Like what you’ve read? Want to learn how to better enjoy your scuba diving vacation? Maybe you’d like to travel with Delightful Departures on an upcoming adventure? Become part of the Delightful Departures community. Discover different destinations and travel tips in our biweekly newsletter.  Join today.

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