The Tubbataha Reef is one of the many natural attractions that make the Philippines such a rewarding vacation destination. Isolated in the middle of the Sulu Sea, this amazing atoll reef is a wonderland, so much so that it has been nominated as one of the new "seven wonders of the world." Scuba diving enthusiasts will bask in the waters surrounding the Tubbataha Reef, and snorkeling can also be enjoyed. Giant jacks, manta rays, barracudas, hammerhead sharks, moray eels, and hawksbill sea turtles are just some of the creatures that frequent the waters surrounding the reef, which is part of a larger marine park.
The Tubbataha National Marine Park was created in 1988, and it protects the reefs and waters that lie within its boundaries. The Tubbataha Reef is actually made up of two coral atolls, which are divided by a channel that is five miles long. The North Atoll is approximately ten miles long and three miles wide, while the smaller South Atoll is about three miles long and one mile wide. No permanent residents live on the atolls, which are essentially small islets. As such, those who are interested in doing some Tubbataha Reef diving stay on live-aboard boats that are equipped with kitchen facilities, accommodations, and bathrooms. These boats depart from Puerto Princesa, which is the capital of the Palawan province. The boat trips take about ten to twelve hours, and they are worth the time.
Divers make up the bulk of the visitors to the Tubbataha National Marine Park, which is best visited between mid-March and mid-June. This is when the water conditions are most ideal for Tubbataha Reef diving. In addition to being compared to the Galapagos Islands, the Tubbathaha National Marine Park also draws comparisons to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In other words, the diving is about as good as it gets. The diverse ecosystem of the Tubbataha Reef includes no less than 500 fish species and 350 different species of coral.
Seasoned sports divers world wide are keen on the diving possibilities at the Tubbataha Reef, and many come to explore the reef's impressive coral walls. These walls separate the shallow waters surrounding the reef from the deeper waters farther out, and they are teeming with numerous colonies of fish. In addition to being a marine sanctuary, the Tubbataha National Marine Park is also a bird sanctuary, in which case visitors won't want to spend all of their waking hours underwater. Frigate birds, terns, and red-footed boobies are just some of the seabirds that flourish around the reef.
The Tubbataha National Marine Park covered an impressive 82,000 acres when it was created in 1988. It has since been expanded, and now covers 239,000 acres. Armed rangers guard the park around the clock, helping to protect its pristine ecosystem. Great measures have been made to protect the Tubbataha National Marine Park, which was described by Jacques Cousteau as having one of the world's most desirable seascapes. Common threats to the Tubbataha Reef include shipping, fishing, and oil exploration. General marine litter has also had negative effects on the health of the coral. That being said, the park is well managed and should be able to sustain tourism at a reasonable level.
As a side note, anyone planning on doing some Tubbataha Reef diving and birdwatching will want to book their trip well in advance. This is arguably the best place to go scuba diving in the Philippines, and the live-aboard boats that operate during the high season often fill up years in advance.