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Manta ray at Black Rock

Diving the Tubbataha Marine Park | the Philippines


As far as you can see in any direction there's nothing but blue. Bright blue sky and deep blue sea. It feels like the middle of nowhere but it's actually the Tubbataha Marine Park in the Sulu Sea in the far west of the Philippines.

Tubbataha is a long way from anywhere – 181 kilometres southeast of the island of Palawan – but divers will find this region a unique scuba experience. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1993, which is reassuring as so much of this isolated ecosystem is in good condition. At certain times of year, the reef tops take a battering from storms but monitoring by various conservation bodies has found fish populations are on the increase. The presence of rangers assist in restricting illegal fishing practices while the remoteness no doubt helps protects Tubbataha from the ravages of man-made problems.

This is also one of the few areas in the Philippines where encounters with large species, like reef sharks, mantas and turtles are frequent.

Pair of decorator crabs
Tubbatha dive photo gallery Scuba diving features
Marine Life

Whitetip sharks
Grey sharks
Manta rays

Seasons March to May only
Visibility 30 – 40 metres
Water temperature 28 – 29º C
Deco chambers Manila and Cebu City
Flights to Puerto Princessa on Palawan island
Dive operators & accommodation Search online for up-to-date liveaboard options and look for boats that have good standards.

The Philippines are a long way from Europe or the USA but everything is cheap once you arrive. The trip out to this remote area adds an additional overnight sail and you can only get there for a few short months due to adverse weather conditions. Another issue is that there are only a handful of liveaboards and some are not of a particularly high standard. Because the crossing can be rough, you want to be on a reputable and stable boat.

SCUBA DIVING Despite the above, Tubbataha can be very impressive as an area for larger marine species. We didn't do a single dive without at least a half dozen reef sharks and the same number of turtles. In reality, there were always more, so many we even got to joking – not another shark! We couldn't complain when we got to snorkel with mantas nor about the 40 metre visibility. However, the tops of the reefs are not in great condition – most damage is natural but to get the best of the diving, you will need to go quite deep.
OPINION No crowds, few boats, almost no divers! This remote part of the Philippines is worth seeing at least once. There isn't a huge variety of dive styles, it's all walls and deep drop-offs, but it can be exciting. We travelled on a boat that no longer exists (it sank) and there isn't a great choice of liveaboards making this trip although the calibre is improving – check out Worldwide Dive and Sail's Philippines Siren.
More Philippines diving destinations
LUZON Anilao
Puerto Galera
VISAYAS Bohol/Balicasag

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Complete reports on this area are in
Diving Southeast Asia.

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