Remote in the Sulu sea, the Tubbatha reefs offer the Philippines’ top diving, accessible only by liveaboard. Trips usually last six days, five nights and you won’t be disappointed!. You won’t make landfall, as the tiny atolls are protected bird sanctuaries. Owing to rough sea conditions, trips to Tubbataha, a Unesco World Heritage Site, run only from March to early June. Visibility is best in April and May. Trips depart from Puerto Princesa, Palawan, an hour’s flight from Manila. At South and North Tubbataha Reefs, where walls plummet to 1,200m, pelagic species are a given, as are the soft corals that make the Philippine diving so memorable. There is some damage from dynamite fishing, but the sight of sea turtles, manta and eagle rays, swirling schools of barracuda, white-tip and hammerhead sharks more than compensates. Spiny Lobsters and Leopard Sharks are also common. The walls are covered in huge Barrel Sponges, Gorgonian Sea Fans, Soft Corals, Hydroids and Black Corals. Caves in the walls often contain resting Nurse Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks, as well as Spiny Lobsters. Basterra reef, 80km southwest, is the cream of the crop. Strong downward currents called “El Presidente” may be present. To escape from such currents, swim away from the reef, into the blue water.
But it is off the walls in deeper water that these reefs show their true worth. Shoals of Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Pennantfish, Rainbow Runners, Moorish Idols, Jacks, Snappers and Sweetlips follow you around. Large Trevally, Tuna and Barracuda come out of the blue. Grey Reef Sharks and Whitetip, Reef Sharks patrol and giant Manta Rays fly overhead, Eagle Rays and Turtles pass by, Groupers, Napoleon Wrasse, large Pufferfish and Squirrelfish hover around.
The Sulu Sea is located in the Southeast Asian region known as the Coral Triangle, one of the world’s richest sources of marine life. It actually covers the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Studies and research shows that it contains more than 30% of the world’s coral reefs. Sulu Sea covers about 260,000 square kilometers with the deepest portion measured at approximately 5,580 meters. Together with the Sulawesi (Celebes) Sea, it comprises one of the world’s 49 large marine ecosystems.