Another popular destination in Palawan is the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park. Almost textbook-famous, this marine park has gained much esteem from all over the world, especially among the diving and scientific communities, because of the diversity of marine life. The Tubbataha Reef is located in middle of Sulu Sea, specifically 175 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan.
It is a 12-hour boat ride from the city. The site is under the political jurisdiction of the Cagayancillo municipality. Policy and decision making is handled by the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board while day-to-day park management is carried out by the Tubbataha Management office.
In 1988, then President Corazon Aquino declared Tubbataha as a national marine park. As with the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and named as official nominee of the country to the search for the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. The reef was also put on the List of Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar List, in 2000. Aside from acknowledging its international importance, the inclusion of the reef in the List expresses the government’s commitment to conserve and maintain its ecological character. The reef is composed of two “atolls” or coral islands, each with an islet that can be seen above water.
The 10,000-hectare reef is home to about 600 species of fish, 360 species of corals which is about half of all coral species in the world, 12 species of sharks, and 13 species of dolphins and whale. These include manta ray, lionfish, clownfish, barracuda, giant tuna, sea sponge, nudibranch, moray eel and bearpaw clam. The islets are a refuge for Nesting Hawksbill turtles, green sea turtles and over a hundred species of birds. Marine life in Tubbataha was once threatened by illegal fishing methods and the establishment of a large seaweed farm, but since fishing and tourism has been regulated, the reef has regained its pristine beauty. The density and diversity of marine life in Tubbataha Reef Marine Park compares to that of the famous Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
As such, it has become a popular diving destination and ecosystem research and monitoring site. Dive season in Tubbataha runs from March to June when the skies are clear and the sea is calm, providing good visibility underwater. Dive boats usually leave the Puerto Princesa Pier at night and arrive at the reef at dawn. Divers should observe park rules and best diving practices, and arrange trips only with recognized dive operators, to protect the reef from damage and exploitation. Among others, divers are urged not to get too close to corals and marine animals, to enter and exit the water only in areas with no coral growth, to not disturb the sand because it can smother the corals, and to dispose of trash properly. Travelers who wish to dive in the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park can seek accommodation in the array of hotel options in Puerto Princesa City.