Our journey to Tubbataha was aboard the comfortable Discovery Adventure liveaboard. The itinerary would take us first to Tubbataha before a visit to a little-known dive-site in Cayuan and a stop at Apo Reef before returning to port in Puerto Galera (another story).
The sighting of three whale sharks cruising the wall at the Staghorn Point site on the South Atoll occurred on our first day of diving in Tubbataha. Subsequent dives were equally electric, so much so that we almost became inured to the beautiful reefs and dynamic marine eco-systems that lay before our eyes on each dive. But not quite…
Top & right: Divers explore a shallow wreck. Above left: The Pacific sailfin tang is a striking resident of the reefs.
Along with the whale sharks we saw schools of trevally and striped barracuda at Staghorn Point. We also dived at a site known as Delsan Wreck, although the wreck itself is not part of the dive, because it sits in water too shallow for a safe approach.
A sheer wall drops off from a lush reef teeming with colourful Indo-Pacific reef fish. On one dive, a group of bumphead parrotfish cruised by, preoccupied by their search for food and unconcerned about the group of divers in their midst.
Schools of Moorish idols flitted over the reef at Black Rock, in the northern part of the South Atoll. We also found anemones with resident anemonefish nervously cavorting in their tentacles.
Strong currents are always a possibility at Tubbataha. Most of our dives were drifts carried out at varying levels of speed. The dive-guides are well-schooled in the vagaries of the water movement, and we hardly ever faced a dive into the current, nor were we ever confronted by a current too strong for our safety.
Still, currents can change in moments; they can be confusingly inconsistent from one depth to another, and down-currents are an ever-present danger, especially when diving close to the wall.
Proper experience provides greater comfort and proficiency in these conditions, and an SMB is a must.
On the North Atoll, we dived sites such as South Park, Shark Airport, Seafan Alley and the ominously named Washing Machine. We frequently came across whitetip reef sharks resting in the coral plains, but in the blue water off the walls we encountered silvertip and silky sharks on several dives.
One of our objectives was to dive with manta rays but we failed to see any, although another group on the boat did, when they hit the water at the Malayan Wreck. We were sceptical at first, but their video evidence proved us wrong!