TUBBATAHA  REEF:  THE  DIVE  OF  A  LIFETIME

MANILA, MAY 29, 2007
(BULLETIN) (Second of two parts) by ROBERT DEAN S. BARBERS General Manager, Philippine Tourism Authority.

"Tubbataha’’ is a combination of two Samal words which mean "a long reef exposed at low tide."

Tubbataha Reef was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in December, 1993. It is now a marine sanctuary protected area and is made up of two atolls, the North and South Reefs. Each reef has a small protruding beach with no vegetation at all. A deep channel with a length of approximately 8,000 meters divides both atolls.

Getting to this marine paradise entails total dedication since it would take a 10 to 12- hour journey by sea from Puerto Princesa using a sea vessel commonly called by divers as "live aboard".

I invited a group of foreign and local divers for a four-day underwater adventure. They were first time divers in Tubbataha.

Curiously, I asked them how they learned about Tubbataha and they said that the positive reviews, writeups in international diving magazines as well raves that travel fast on the internet all inspired them to check it out.

Indeed, Tubbataha has earned an unparalleled image of a sports scuba diver’s bliss because of its one–of–a–kind marine life. I have seen and experienced many dive sites in and around the country, but Tubbataha is one underwater seascape escapade that tells a thousand tales.

ENDANGERED SPECIES

Being a certified scuba diver for the past six years and having the opportunity to experience the beautiful and colorful underwater edens of the sea, diving the world-famous Tubbataha Reef gave me an arcane feeling on what to expect beyond those deep blue crystal waters.

We left the port of Puerto Princesa at dusk with all our gears checked as preparation for an exploration into a nirvana of deep abyss.

As we all organized and planned our dive, we transferred from the big boat to the chase boat en route to the dive site. We descended 50 feet and witnessed a spectacular array of vivid corals and a diverse ecosystem that I have never seen in my years of diving.

As we flutter our fins to explore the wonders of Tubbataha, it was like entering a whole new world. Friendly marine creatures greet you as if you are a stranger visiting a bustling city on another planet.

Going down to more than 80 feet, a huge and majestic manta ray with a wingspan of about six feet glided towards me. It was so near that I could literally make a detailed description of the manta’s underbelly. It seemed like it was trying to deliver a message to us visiting humans that we are much welcome to enter into their realm. These sea creatures of the deep were unmindful of us as we feast our eyes with much amazement.

The endangered species called napoleon wrasse, known as "mameng" to locals, are a target of poachers for their priced meat. They roam freely and although they are bigger than human beings, giants even, they are surprisingly friendly to divers.

Moreover, cowtail stingrays, nurse sharks and the magnificent swirl of a thousand jacks were also a sight to behold. Rare and imposing seven–foot hammerhead shark would also intermittently appear from nowhere.

Imposing fan corals that are probably more than a hundred years old compose a maze of what seems to be a never-ending cluster of multi-colored delicate curtains. Their size usually measures the age of these craggy beauties, thus we were very careful not to break or disturb their habitat.

There is no doubt in my mind that sports scuba diving is one of our country’s best assets. I am totally convinced that marketing these tour packages in the Philippines should be given more thought, effort and consideration. It is a very potent market that can validate our country status as a tourist’s haven in the world map.

The PTA is now mulling on ways to develop the ranger station in Tubbataha, perhaps to add a recompression chamber and an emergency medical station to cater to the needs and safety of divers wishing to experience Tubbataha Reef. I hope that in the years to come, this natural heritage and amazing grace from heaven will forever be protected.

(Barbers is a certified NAUI scuba diver. A dive enthusiast, he was the former chairman of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving. Barbers is also a hobbyist of underwater photography and videography.)


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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