Introduction to Tubbataha Reef

In the Sulu Sea, Philippines – at the geographic centre of world marine biodiversity – lies an underwater nature reserve that is considered both a mecca for scuba divers and model for coral reef conservation.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Palawan, the westernmost Philippine province. It is located 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa City, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, the global centre of marine biodiversity.

Tubbataha is only reachable by live-aboard boats which can be found in Puerto Princesa itself. Despite its inaccessability, the reef is now extremely popular with adventurous divers.

Tubbataha is made up of two reefs, simply referred to as the North and South Reefs or Islets, that are separated by 4 nautical miles of water with surrounding depths that descend to around 1,200 meters. The North Reef is 4-5 km wide and completely encloses a sandy lagoon. The reef is shallow and some of it is uncovered at low tide. The South Reef is 1-2 km wide and also encloses a lagoon. On the southern tip is a islet with a lighthouse. This is used as a rookery for birds and is frequented by turtles.

Diving in Tubbataha

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.

Best Time to Dive Tubbataha

Best Dive Season March to June
Temperature 28-32C
Water Temperature 27-30C

Tubbataha’s dive season is just three months long, running from March until June.

How to get there

From Manila, take one of the regular flights to Puerto Princesa.  Dive operators usually transport their guests from the airport to the pier, just minutes away, where their boat awaits.

It takes around 10 hours to get to the Park from Puerto Princesa.  Most dive boats leave after dinner and arrive in Tubbataha early the next morning.

Tubbataha Liveaboards