MANILA, April 18, 2005 (STAR) By Butch Jimenez - Scuba diving is one of the fastest growing sports in Asia. There are millions of divers in this region alone, and thousands are certified every month. And if you ask any diver what he or she is looking for, no doubt, itís the underwater adventure of a lifetime. We may not be very competitive in attracting tourists vs. our Asian neighbors, but thereís one arena where we canít be beat, and thatís underwater.

The sad truth is that our Asian neighbors have capitalized on this and have used diving to lure tourists to their homecourt. Malaysia banners Sipadan, Indonesia heralds Bali, Thailand positions Phuket, Micronesia boasts of Palau, while the Maldives say theyíre tops. But 150 kms. off the port of Palawan lies what many divers consider the mecca of scuba diving Ė Tubbataha. No less than famed diving stalwart Jacques Cousteau went to Tubbataha and dubbed it one of the underwater wonders of the world.

Tubbataha is actually two islands, or more specifically two coral atolls separated by an eight kilometers channel in between. The North Reef is the larger of the two atolls measuring 16 km. long by five kilometers wide. The South Reef is smaller stretching only five kilometers long by three kilometers. wide. At the tip of the South Reef is a bird sanctuary where tens of thousands of seabirds, masked red-foot boobies, terns and frigate birds stop over during their migration.

If you want to do something other than dive in Tubbataha, forget it. The 33,200 hectare reef has been declared a marine sanctuary in 1988 and therefore fishing, coral collecting, or any activity that may destroy the habitat is illegal. The government has established a monitoring center in the area complete with rangers, speed boats, communication equipment and even weapons with the power to apprehend offenders. The United Nations has declared Tubbataha a "World Heritage Site," a testament to its unique quality unparalleled anywhere in the world.

Visibility And Variety

There are two qualities found in a world-class dive spot: visibility and variety. In both areas, Tubbataha scores high on a diverís list. The crystal clear water offers visibility of up to 100 feet. This allows "aquarium like" images of the underwater life found in the area.

The variety of marine life in Tubbataha is as diverse as it is unbeatable. The site offers nearly 400 species of marine animals from the small and vividly colorful nudibranch to the biggest whale shark who decides to just pass through. A vast array of corals and plant life provides each dive spot with a unique landscape that looks like another planet.

While giant sea turtles and sharks only play a cameo appearance in other dive spots, they play your hosts in Tubbataha. At every turn, youíll be welcomed by these fascinating sea creatures that seem like they patrol the reefs to make sure the habitat remain pristine for the next generation of divers. Tubbataha also has its own underwater "airports." This is usually a white sandy bottom where dozens of sharks park like a fleet of airplanes. Upon seeing a diver, each shark "takes off" in a smooth, fluid motion, one after the other similar to an airplane ascending from a runway, circling the area, and landing once again at the same spot.

Currents Are A Diverís Ally

Currents in Tubbataha can sometimes be strong, but manageable even for the new diver. In reality, currents provide more of an advantage than a disadvantage. You can actually just float with the current, and let it sweep you as you watch the interaction of the marine life. Itís like riding on a flat escalator. Just hop on, fold your arms, and enjoy the ride. The second advantage of the current is that it brings nutrients and food to the reef which the living creatures eat. So more often than not, when the currents come, thatís when the schools of fish come out because it signals feeding time.

It will take at least a dozen pages to enumerate what you can see in Tubbataha. Suffice it to say that if you watched the movieís Shark Tale and Finding Nemo, then put the animals you saw in these movies together and double them, and it will still not come close to the variety that lives in Tubbataha. In just a few days, we came across hammerhead sharks, manta rays, barracudas, and schools of giant tuna, lobsters, sea turtles, the French general look-alike, Napoleon Wrasse, parrot fishes, and many more.

The best show in the Philippines isnít on land. Itís actually underwater: Tubbataha is one of the best, if not the best dive spot in the world.

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If youíre interested to see an underwater water video of Tubbataha, e-mail me at

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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