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Tubbataha Reef Trip Report, April 2014

Tubbataha Reef Trip Report, April 2014
Tubbataha Reef is famed for offering South East Asia’s best ‘Big Fish’ diving and so as we set sail from Puerto Princesa we had high hopes for our Tubbataha Reef Group Trip on Philippine Siren Liveaboard! Tubbataha Reef is a 16 hour sail from Puerto Princesa and is only visited by a handful of liveaboards for three months per year – this ensures its reefs are pristine and the fish life is prolific. Our crossing from Puerto Princesa to Tubbataha was incredibly smooth allowing plenty of socialising in Philippine Siren’s alfresco dining area. By the time we arrived at Tubbataha our guests from the UK, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong were well acquainted with each other and eager for the next morning when we would get our first taste of Tubbataha’s reefs! Tubbataha National Park consists of the North Atoll, the South Atoll and the Jessie Beazley Reefs and our diving would begin at the North Atoll. We decided to start as early possible each day to maximise our Big Fish encounters and this paid off continuously during our trip!

Tubbataha Reef – North Atoll
Our first two dives were on the Malayan wreck which is more famed for the fish life it attracts as opposed to the wreck itself. That said there was plenty of metal underwater and at only around 5 metres we were able to make beautiful photos with the light dancing off the remains of the wreck and Harlequin Sweetlips and Turtles gathering around it. Those who ventured deeper and a little into the blue were rewarded with two Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks – not a bad start to a Big Fish trip!! It’s worth noting that whilst Hammerheads are certainly not guaranteed at Tubbataha Reef we encountered multiple Grey Reef Sharks, Whitetip Reef Sharks, large Dogtooth Tuna, Giant Trevally and Napoleon Wrasse on literally every dive we did during our trip. Certainly Tubbataha rates are the “sharkiest” destination we have dived in South East Asia. We also found a Giant Black Frogfish on these dives and with a little patience we were able to wait for him to yawn – always the best time to take their photo! Our remaining dives of the day were on Wall Street and Asul Buhangin where we were treated to lots of schooling snapper, anthias, fusiliers, trevally, rainbow runner and bannerfish, plus plenty of reef sharks, a free swimming moray eel, blue spotted stingray and also some nice macro critters including orangutan crabs, porcelain crabs and several types of nudibranchs. Our dive at Asul Buhangin was a sunset/night dive and as dusk set in the Whitetip Reef Sharks started to hunt making for some great underwater action!

The next day we stayed around the North Atoll to dive Tubbataha Reef’s most famous dive site – Shark Airport. The name derives from the Whitetip Reef Sharks that use the sandy areas as a landing strip and whilst we saw plenty of these shark the show was well and truly stolen by two of the friendliest Whale Sharks we’ve ever encountered! On our two morning dives and our afternoon dive we were spending up to 20 minutes at a time with the Whale Sharks from around 10 metres deep right up to the surface where the Whale Sharks would chase the divers around the dingy! A truly amazing experience especially for those who were encountering Whale Sharks for the first time and to whom the Whale Sharks showed a particular affection! On the third dive the Whale Shark mixed with a HUGE tornado of Big Eye Jacks making for some of the most impressive photos of the whole trip! Of course there were many other schooling fish, sharks and turtles on these dives but the one that was putting up the strongest competition against the Whale Sharks was the large Guitar Shark! Everyone encountered the Guitar Shark multiple times during our dives at Shark Airport and being quite a rare species and such an impressive looking shark it was a definite trip highlight!

Tubbataha Reef – South Atoll
Following our amazing dives in the North Atoll we made the short journey to Tubbataha’s South Atoll in search of more Big Fish encounters! The next day we awoke to a huge school of Spinner Dolphins playing and jumping around the boat. With the dolphins so close we decided to see if we could have an underwater encounter before our dive. Our dingy driver expertly dropped us in front of the pod and as they came past us we got a few quick photos – a great start to our time in Tubbataha’s South Atoll! The dives that followed at Black Rock were also excellent with plenty of reef sharks, schooling barracuda, schooling bluefin trevally, napoleon wrasse, batfish, large groupers, sweetlips, giant trevally, dogtooth tuna and a few of the group also spotted an Eagle Ray! At the end of one of our dives at Black Rock we headed into the shallows (literally 2-3 metres deep) and there we found a huge pack of Bumphead Parrotfish, numbering in their hundreds, feeding and pooping enthusiastically!

For our second day at Tubbataha’s South Atoll we’d dived the Delsan Wreck, Ko-Ok (both Eiger Wall & Timo Wall) and Amos Rock. Here we were treated to lots of schooling fish, turtles, schools of Grey Reef Sharks as well as beautiful hard and soft corals and crystal clear visibility. Indeed, one of the most impressive things about Tubbataha Reef was the stunning visibility and pristine corals that were present on all our dives. We also had a second appearance from the Spinner Dolphins and this time we set out with haste in the dinghies and had multiple amazing encounters with the dolphins in the water! The Spinner Dolphins were definitely a highlight of our trip as being able to get in the water with dolphins can be challenging at best but these Spinners were happy to play with us again and again! With our dives finished for the day we headed to the ranger station to see how they operate and to buy some Tubbataha Reef t-shirts. It was nice to spend a brief moment on land and we toasted the moment with a beer!

Jessie Beazley Reefs
For our last day of diving we sailed the short distance to the Jessie Beazley Reefs. Here we made our earliest dive of the trip with the hope of an early encounter with Hammerheads! Unfortunately it wasn’t to be but with a Whale Shark making another appearance, along with a few reef sharks it was easy to forget about the Hammerheads and again we were reminded what a special big fish destination Tubbataha Reef is! For our final evening with had a BBQ and a few beers, cocktails, wine…and celebrated another successful trip that had surpassed our expectations and provided some of the most memorable underwater encounters of our dive careers!