Tubbataha Love Affair

What we went through to finally be again aboard this vessel, Stella Maris, would give the reality show, ‘The Amazing Race’, run for its money. But that’s history already (hop here for the story).

And I am not exaggerating if I say the suspense ‘24’ always delivers was pale in comparison to what I had at the airport’s check-in counter 20minutes before ETD (Estimated Time of Departure)…yes folks…20minutes before ETD because of a long, slow & chaotic campaign motorcade of a mayoral & vice mayoral candidates of Quezon City which I’m tailing to. It made my supposed 40-minute drive swell to 90minutes of unbearable, heart-pounding and buzzer-beating-not travel time. But thanks to L & Z who pressed hard the check-in officer not to close the counter as I am only a minute away (actually they’ve been saying that for the past 15mins, my friends are just cheeky like that). I was lucky too that the flight was delayed thus they have generously extended the checking-in time for me.  With my laptop bag, DSLR camera bag, 10kg duffel bag, I felt light, almost elated in fact, because I made it and the promise of Tubbataha was already within reach.

From the smooth landing to Palawan’s soil to the airport transfer to PPS Pier to the embarkation to Expedition Fleet’s Stella Maris, everything went like a breeze.  I have to say though I felt rather odd not to have hassles & stress since we flew out Manila. I’ve been waiting for those mishaps to break lose again but none came until we sailed to the open seas around dusk time, right after TPMO oriented the 18 aboard divers of Park’s laws and policies and got off the boat.

M/V Stella Maris Explorer

M/V Stella Maris Explorer, our home for 7 days (photo from SPD)

It’s more than a month of waiting for this second attempt and we were careful not to spill any hint of excitement to our other friends outside the Mamburao crew. We’re hush-hush the entire time not to preempt the trip again. But amongst us, an uncontainable excitement was ever present. You can call it a delayed reaction when we all started celebrating. We have already lost mobile phone signal and traversed the strait when we, all 10 members of the original 20-member Mamburao crew, cheered in unison, “THIS IS IT!!!”.

I was greeted the next morning with a ringing bell signaling our first dive of the day! Finally, thankfully, officially we’re right at the heart of Sulu Sea and below where our boat was moored is arguably The Holy Grail of Philippine diving! What else can we ask for but to gear up, hop on our assigned chase boat and ask either our buddy or the boat man “clear?”. It didn’t take us long before we all found ourselves doing a synchronized back roll to the Amos Rock dive site. Boy!!! The splashing of waters and our dive computer’s beep echoed sweetly to my ears as my closest dive buddies and I descend to the depths. Water temperature was perfect and visibility was incredible! The reef wall, which we kept on our right shoulder was heavily covered with colourful gorgonian fans, whip corals, christmas tree worms, and soft corals. On our left was an infinity of blue waters liven up by a seemingly soiree of various fishes. It’s stunning, overwhelming and magical until on the twelfth minute immediately after L & I saw our first juvenile shark, a minor mishap on my inflator hose shot me & my buddy Z to the surface. (This deserves a separate post).

banggigay wall diving

drift diving (photo from Sharkbite)

The succeeding dives were all drift dives making it more enjoyable and doubly exciting! We rode the current as we get charmed with the pelagic around us. Hawksbill sea turtles, Bluespotted Stingrays, Marble Rays, Eagle Ray, Nurse sharks, Grey reef sharks, Blacktip sharks and the ubiquitous Whitetip sharks were perpetually gracing all our dives. Schools of big Tuna, Trevally, Barracudas, Grouper,  Harlequinn Sweetlips, Wrasses, Parrot fish, Bat fish, Angel fish, Damsel fish and a lot more marine species we are yet to fish ID gave us an extravagant showdown underwater. Our safety stops were like send-offs to us by playing big, fat Whitetip sharks and turtles as they swim around us to conclude each dive with a remarkable close shallow encounter.

whitetip shark

Whitetip shark (photo from SPD)

sleeping shark

sleeping shark (photo from SPD)

school of juvenile barracuda

school of juvenile Barracuda (photo from SPD)

Hawksbill sea turtle

Hawksbill sea turtle (photo from SPD)

bluespotted stingray

Bluespotted Stingray (photo from SPD)

Emperor Angelfish

Emperor Angelfish (photo from SPD)

preggo map puffer fish

prego map puffer fish (photo from SPD)

It was so surreal you wish to hold the time for as long as you could. Fifty to sixty minutes of diving wasn’t just enough to marvel the beauty of Tubbataha Atolls. Tubbataha indeed defines ‘teeming with diversity of marine life’!!! It first teases you with its 20-30m great visibility then transports you to an enchanting world of marine life before it finally seduces you to the pleasurable climax of the whole diving experience!

We came to Tubbataha with a very high expectation, as we hear our buddies, who dove it, rave about it incessantly even after 2-8 yrs have already passed. We knew that sightings of hammerhead sharks and roving mantas are few and far in between, but we were optimistic of what a wild marine park can deliver. We did not relinquish the quest and up to our last day of diving at Shark Airport, we were positive about seeing them. But when we did our final chase boat ride back to our chartered boat, after our 20th dive, there was no sign of disappointment nor discontent among the 10 divers for not seeing them on this trip. With such lush landscape and bountiful sea life, how could we ask for more?! We were all ecstatic and screaming “we love you Tubbataha” for all the world to hear how fantastic the weeklong trip was!

Mamburao Group (at least half of it) at Tubbataha ReefMamburao Crew (at least half of it) at Tubbataha Reef promoting world class Philippine diving (photo from SPD)

banggigay's tubbataha dive log map dive log map (map courtesy of this site)

chase boats

Parked Chase Boats (photo from Wanderlass)

last day euphoriaLast day euphoria at shower deck (photo from Sharkbite)

Tubbataha you did not fail us! All these raves about you are nothing but understatements of what we have experienced in the last five days of diving! In your waters, there was a spiritual experience. I was humbled immensely how little we were compared to the vast beauty you have generously shown us. If to others, you are a love-hate relationship, you to me are love, love, and love alone!  You are beautiful and immeasurably so much more!

fish ID was aided by this site

– photos were from SPD, Wanderlass, Sharkbite

– dive site map was from this site

– for further info on Tubbataha Reef Conservation, please hop here

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11 Responses to “Tubbataha Love Affair”


  1. 1 chris 3 May, 2010 at 5:39 am

    Yo great job on the photos :)

  2. 3 E-Rod 3 May, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Wow! That is so amazing. You’ve got me drooling with envy!

  3. 4 banggigay 3 May, 2010 at 11:40 am

    @Chris Yo!!! thanks man! how did it go with your MRI. i’m a lurker of your FB page you know? ;p so are you going back to MNL anytime soon and dive with us? i miss NY, there i said it! blech!

    @Lil sooo true!…sis, finish your vid na…so we’d have another hangover after a few days! hahaha!

    @Eric, when is your flight to MNL? we might be diving on 8-9th May to Verde Island (Puerto Galera). tara!

  4. 5 neil 3 May, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    WOW! For 15 years since college i have been wanting to go to Tubbataha! With your pics and your blog, I want to go there now na… You made me sooo inggit again hehehehe

  5. 6 E-Rod 5 May, 2010 at 9:35 am

    i’m flying out tomorrow, arriving in mnl late on the 6th. i’ll get in touch with you as soon as i get a sim card for my phone. woot!!

  6. 7 Wearkideore 23 May, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net

  7. 8 Anoki Anderrsen 12 October, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Awesome moments ,that’s why I’m so in love with the Philippines :D

    You rock guys !

  8. 9 victorian inn bed and breakfast 12 October, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    The Tabatha Reef is a good place to visit in Philippines with great opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving activities for visitors.

  9. 10 gelaikuting 25 July, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    WOW! kainggit! Diving at Tubbataha is one of my bucket-list :)


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