May 1, 2011 - Palawan    No Comments

Exploring the Hidden Wonders of Palawan’s Tubbataha Reef

A usual description of a holiday destination is beauty that’s “overwhelming.” But say what counts most is to treat a mouth watering seafood and Filipino cookery; word of mouth considers that destination, and the next time traveling entails more, this destination in Palawan swells a number of tourists.

At low tide the long reef discloses a sensation. Reflections of the Samal derivative Tubbataha or “long reef” remains grandeur, or to some, sundry. Indeed lasting as a jewel it covers 33,200 hectare area of assorted corals, fishes, and other appearances of aquatic life. In fact, Tubbataha is the largest coral reef and the first natural World Heritage Site in the Philippines.

Tubbataha Reef

Coral reefs—Photo courtesy of scubaschnauzer on Flickr

Seasoned travelers from the country and abroad continue to visit Tubbataha reef, not just because it has been included in the seven wonders of nature in the world, but more so that the destination is a dream for divers, marine scientists, or explorers longing to see more from a natural milieu. A holiday merits hard work and this gem is worth for it.

For serious divers, Tubbataha Reef remains a must-see destination due to its rich and diverse marine world. Its north and south reefs holds the biggest concentration of fish in the country. It might surprise that everything in Tubbataha Reef is huge. Groupers, triggerfish, Napoleon Wrasse, turtles, even the lionfish and sharks are all bigger than those seen in other diving sites.

A common routine in Tubbataha Reef includes smaller fishes moving in shoals (hundreds and thousands), emerging like one large creature to defend them from bigger predators. A WOW Philippines commercial on CNN and BBC featured a school of orange fish swimming obliquely atop a coral with a caption “more than the usual rush hour”.

nemo fish

Photo courtesy of scubaschnauzer on Flickr

With a good climate the underwater is visible up to forty meters deep. At just twenty-five feet the coral garden of the north reef is vibrant and crowded with fish. The coral formations are like divine sculptures: some coral towers rises three feet, a kind atypical since corals normally grow between one to ten centimeters yearly. A warm temperature averaging 27.9 degrees centigrade makes it suitable for diving: No strong currents and good visibility, a worry-free dive.

Extending sixteen Kilometers long and three kilometers wide, the north coral atoll is bigger than the south reef. A sandy slope that drops after fifteen meters to a wall with caves and crevices become a spot for sleeping sharks and lobsters alike. Its twin atolls forms the marine epicenter, serves as a fish nursery for the greater Sulu Sea (a significant contribution to the country’s food security).

The southern area of the Tubbataha reef has been affected by dynamite fishing. But since environmentalist has taken action the southern area is under restoration and now with expected changes as the endeavor generate fine results.

Trail Ahead to Tubbataha Reef

Perhaps one reason why Tubbataha Reef did not suffer much from exploitation is its remoteness. And travelers who happen to read about Tubbataha will surely envisage how tough getting there would be. As it is likely easy to pay the wet market a visit or set fresh shrimps above the grill while the coconut milk is steaming with hot spices and crabs and fish broth is about ready in a table; one needs to commit to memory the word: Palawan.

Palawan’s Puerto Princesa City is about an hour’s flight from Manila. From the airport, dive operators are capable of transporting guests to the wharf some five minute drive away, where a dive boat waits. Since Tubbataha Reef can only be accessed by sea transport, it may take ten hours to get to the park (depending on the speed of the boat). Vessels leave early after dinner and arrive in Tubbataha Reef at roughly six in the morning.

Tubbataha reef Palawan

Tubbataha reef Palawan—Photo courtesy of scubaschnauzer on Flickr

Underwater, large fishes patrol the gorgonian coral walls: Jacks, Unicorns, Dog Tooth Tuna, Snappers and Surgeons. Pacific reef fish also inhabit Tubbataha, like Corentfish, Trumpet fish, Damsels, Anthias, Angelfish, Anemones with Clownfish, Boxfish, Titan, Scorpion fish, Orange-striped triggerfish, Peacock groupers, Clown, Moorish idols, Red Tooth Triggerfish, Sleeping Parrotfish, Star Puffer fish, Female Napoleon Wrasse, Hawkfish and Big Wrasse. Night dives are interesting with professionals who are well trained with current which can become strong without warning. At nighttime fishes are feeding and a superb view of crustaceans, pleurobranchs, garden eels, morays, segmented worms, Feather Duster worms, crinoids, nudibranchs, Bohadschia, sea stars, sea cucumbers, basket stars and flashlight fish.

A yearly increase merits the locals whose hard work played an important role in tourism. Since the income provided resources to manage Tubbataha Reef, increasing awareness and support for the drive to conserve it becomes and opportunity for guests to experience at the same time share its marvel.

A team of rangers stationed on the reef all year round protects the sanctuary from illegal fishing and ruin. All year round now, divers visit Tubbataha Reef to experience being stunned by rich nature. Since the number of tourists is increasing, it is highly appreciated to conform to the rules around the park because a guest is also a steward for this haven.

Preserving the unparalleled biodiversity of this favorably rich tropical marine life, calls efforts for the local and national governance to sustain the protection from degradation caused by illegal fishing. As a home to more than Three hundred coral species, at least Eight species of marine mammals, Three hundred eighty species of fish, Seven species of sea grass and Seventy One species of Marine Algae; non-government organization both national and global standing equally share responsibilities to sustain this haven for future generations to see.

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