Tubbataha Reef Natural Park lies at the center of the Sulu Sea. It is 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa (Palawan), the jump-off point for most Tubbataha liveaboards. My Tubbataha 2017 trip took 6 days and included 4 diving days.
Life on the Boat
A six-day trip would seem like forever if you were on a boat with people who didn’t get along. Fortunately, Team Pinoy and Team Foreigner got together like old friends, bonding over food, card games, booze, and our shared Tubbataha experience.
Team Pinoy was very Pinoy, indeed! I sat down with them for the first time at the boat’s outdoor lounge. Kevin had asked each guest to take their essentials; he needed to store the rest of our bags within the boat’s hull. So, the Manila-based barkada of Peewee, Kim and Sheryl brought out this huge box, half the size of a balikbayan box; and proceeded to empty it of snacks (local chips, chocolates, and candies) and a bottle of Tanduay rum. They stored the snacks and rum under the lounge’s table for easy access.
Of course, being Pinoy, they brought enough for everyone. The first snack was opened and shared within 10 minutes of emptying the box, as we waited for coast guard personnel. We had snacks after every meal (even when meals came with dessert), while on surface intervals, and during our nightly movie or card game get-togethers. We even had snacks to accompany the mid-afternoon snacks served by the kitchen crew. I loved it!
Camille provided the boat’s music, and I chuckled at watching the Kevin-Third-Camille love triangle unfold. Third’s the man in the middle – LOL! Kar Wai (a UK national of Chinese descent) and Gabriela (a Denmark-based South American woman) were like long-lost amigas. Luke was my drinking buddy but I could never keep up. He was on a mission to top his previous record of 83 cans of beer within 6 boat days. He succeeded – barely.
While it truly felt like home in the company of new friends, my favorite time was very early in the morning. This was our quiet time – a time when we settled into our wakefulness, alone.
I spent a part of it sitting in front of the boat, on the edge of one of its hulls. There would usually be birds diving for their morning meal a few meters away from me. Their squawks rang loud against the boat’s hushed tones. The sun awakened too; and from where I sat, I would just let it all sink in.
Isolation can be a blessing. For Tubbataha Reef, it has done wonders.
Cagayancillo, Tubbataha’s municipality, is 130 kilometers away. While motorized boats from this area, as well as Puerto Princesa and others, used to spend days in the reef to reap its bounty, this had since been disallowed when Tubbataha became the country’s first national marine park in 1988 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
This gave Tubbataha the time, distance and legal support needed to reverse the creeping ravages of dynamite and cyanide fishing, and an encroaching commercial fishing industry. It was left alone; and, in isolation, it thrived.
Marine biologist John McManus of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School said: “All of the signs are that Tubbataha Reef is nearing what we believe to be the true natural state….This is an amazing thing that’s happened.”
And we were witness to this. On our second and third dive days, we visited Shark Airport, Malayan Wreck, South Park/ Ranger Station and Black Rock.
We saw endless parades of reef sharks.
Malayan Wreck was a sight to behold – at only 5 meters deep, at that!
Schools of jacks, barracudas and tunas were everywhere.
Mantas and whalesharks left us wide-eyed and mesmerized.
Tubbataha Reefs: A Marine Protected Area That Works. WWF-Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines 2006
Email interview with Ms. Angelique Songco
How the Philippines’ Coral Heart Keeps Beating. Michael Greshko. National Geographics.