Whale Sharks, wrecks and many other wonders
Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 26-28°C/79-82°F
Diving: Wrecks, Sharks, Manta Rays, walls, pinnacles, coral gardens, swim-throughs, critter diving
Willing to share option
Liveaboard diving in The Philippines has only recently been ‘discovered’, but pioneer explorations have demonstrated the huge potential of many of the more remote areas in this vast archipelago. Be a part of some true frontier diving and see for yourself why Philippines liveaboard diving is going to become world-renowned. Some of the highest standards of liveaboard diving in the Philippines are offered by Atlantis Azores and Philippine Siren.
APO REEF & CORON
Apo Reef, situated between Mindoro and Coron, is such a wonderful dive area that a liveaboard can stay up to a week in order to allow divers a thorough exploration. The north side of the island consists of drop-offs and overhangs where one can find reef sharks, turtles, barracudas and some huge schools of snappers. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is covered with some spectacular table corals (it is always worth searching under these amazing structures for lurking sweetlips and other fish), fields of staghorn corals and fire corals. Some of the sites have steep walls and swift currents that encourage the presence of Manta Rays and schools of Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks.
On 24th September 1944 the US Task Force 38 launched an air strike from the flight deck of the USS Lexington against a fleet of Japanese supply ships lying at anchor around Busuanga Island, particularly in Coron Bay. Some say this area is like a condensed version of Truk Lagoon with 12 of the wrecks at diveable depths and including the auxiliary vessels Nanshin Maru, Taiei Maru, Kogyo Maru, Olympia Maru, the Irako and the Gunboat at Lusong Island.
Akitsushima is a true warship, lying on her port side in 20-38 metres. She was a seaplane tender/carrier powered by four diesel engines which gave her a speed of 19 knots. The ship was almost torn in two when she was hit near the stern where the flying boat rested. The flying boat was flung away in the blast and has not been located. Apparently the boat has an interesting history and was hit twice at Truk Lagoon and survived long enough to make it to Coron Bay! Though no swim-throughs are possible due to depth and metal hazards, it is possible to penetrate the engine room. Kogyo Maru was a Japanese freighter carrying materials to build a runway. She lies on her side in 34 metres of water and offers the opportunity to swim through the engine room and bridge area. Some say that the Irako is one of the best wrecks in the Philippines due to the usually good visibility and the intact quality of the wreck. This 147 metre vessel now provides a home for some big groupers, while schools of tuna sometimes pass by.
Some liveaboard cruises to Apo and Coron also visit the Anilao region of southwestern Luzon, which lies at the apex of the famous ‘Coral Triangle’, the world’s epicentre of marine biodiversity. Anilao is said to be the birthplace of Philippine diving and much of this region is a marine reserve as it is probably the best known and most discovered area in The Philippines. Here you will find hundreds of species of fish and hard and soft corals. The reefs here are healthy and colourful and this shows in the numbers of smaller schooling fish and everyone’s favourites, those beautiful anemonefish! Macro sites are also to be found in Anilao, with nudibranchs, flatworms and sea stars all present, as well as Mandarinfish at dawn and dusk.
Tubbataha Reef was proclaimed as a National Marine Park on 11 August 1988 and inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, in recognition of its outstanding universal value in terms of marine species diversity and richness. Situated about 180 km (112 miles) southeast of Puerto Princesa City on Palawan Island, the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea offers some truly amazing diving only accessible by liveaboard. Tubbataha comprises 2 reefs, referred to as the North and South Reefs, which are separated by a distance of 4 nautical miles and some very deep water (around 1200m/4000ft!). Vertical walls or near drop offs rise from these great depths. The shallow reef tops are teeming with reef fish; in many places stingrays, spiny lobsters, immature Manta Rays, turtles, Leopard Sharks and Guitar Sharks are common. The walls are covered in huge barrel sponges, gorgonian sea fans, soft corals, hydroids and black corals. Schools of angelfish, butterflyfish, pennant fish, Rainbow Runners, Moorish Idols, fusiliers, jacks, snappers and sweetlips create a kaleidoscope of colour Large trevallies, tunas and barracudas, as well as Grey Reef Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks, patrol the reefs. Giant Manta Rays and Spotted Eagle Rays ‘fly’ overhead, while turtles, groupers large and small, and Napoleon Wrasse pass by.
North Reef is around 4 kilometres wide and completely encloses a sandy lagoon. The reef tops are shallow and parts of it are above water at low tide. Southern Reef is around 2 kilometres wide and also encloses a lagoon. At its southern tip is a small islet marked by a lighthouse and used as a rookery for seabirds and as nesting grounds for turtles. Tubbataha Reef contains almost 600 species of fish, almost 400 species of corals, 12 species of sharks and 12 species of dolphins and whales along with nesting Hawksbill and Green Turtles. What more could a diver want?!
THE SOUTHERN VISAYANS (INCLUDING BOHOL) & SOUTHERN LEYTE
Liveaboard trips to this area of the Philippines are for those seeking some big fish encounters and some interesting macro life. The west coast of Bohol is relatively new on the Philippine diving scene, but here, four smaller islets; Cabilao, Balicasag, Panglao and Pamilican. Currents that sweep amongst these islets make the walls and reefs very busy places. There is a wealth of smaller life hidden on the walls, from Thorny Seahorses to pygmy seahorses and from Ghost Pipefish to numerous frogfish, but you may be distracted because behind you in the blue you can expect to see hammerheads at depth, schooling barracudas, jacks and Napoleon Wrasse, as well as numerous reef sharks. It’s reassuring to see such a diverse cross section of marine life. Don’t lose concentration though or else you’ll be down the wall at 40 meters (130 feet) before you know it! Balicasag Island is a flat island with healthy corals on vertical walls that plummet into deep, deep water. This is where pelagic encounters are possible as the ‘big fish’ pass the wall. Groupers, jacks, and snappers hang around the edge of the reef. At Cabilao Island most divers will keep their eyes open for the schools of Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks that can been seen passing through, but perhaps more common sightings will include reef sharks, barracudas and turtles. The walls, overhangs and plateaus offer some great drift dives past walls decorated with huge seafans and black corals at depth. Siquijor Island has a very healthy coral population, big barrel sponges and great fish life. Nudibranchs in all their fine colours, anemonefish and their colourful anemone hosts, mantis shrimps, sea moths and an especially fine population of Blue Ribbon Eels enjoy the warm waters around this small island.
The southern tip of Leyte Island has some of the Philippine’s finest diving and it is here that Whale Sharks may be spotted from December to May. Though diving with these gentle giants is not allowed, it is possible to enjoy snorkelling encounters – a truly memorable experience. Highlights of this area include Sogod Bay, a large area accessed by jumping off points in Padre Burgos or Limasawa. The bulk of Sogod Bay is a marine sanctuary so fish life thrives. It is a terrifically varied area with plunging walls festooned with hard and soft corals, as well as a healthy population of larger pelagic life at Baluarte, with schooling jacks, barracudas, various reef sharks and of course Whale Sharks in season!
One of the largest islands in The Philippines, Mindanao has some excellent diving but poor infrastructure and facilities. This is one reason that taking part in the Abyss World Safari is an excellent way to access these sites comfortably and safely. Sites around Camiguin offer a variety of drop-offs, walls and coral gardens with excellent diverse fish life. Macro and wide-angel opportunities abound and there are several shallower sites where easy diving is the order of the day. Manta Rays and Spotted Eagle Rays have been known to visit divers on these sites too. Duka Bay offers several soft coral sites and teeming with tropical reef fish. Most are relatively shallow though some deeper ones have fascinating canyons and swim-throughs to explore.
ABYSS WORLD PHILIPPINE SAFARIS
Abyss World offer a series of three safaris taking in separate regions of The Philippines; The Camiguin Safari, The Megellan Safari and The Visayas Safari. The concept of each safari is simple; visit the best dive sites by traditional Bangka boat, stay on land in comfortable and pleasant accommodations, and take the opportunity to enjoy top-side attractions where possible. Please click on the relevant links above to find out more about each safari. You can also check out the official Abyss World video to get a real flavour for the experience!
Each safari is conducted by bangka boat, with the sea crossings and diving done from the vessel. You will sleep and eat on land at the various hotels and resorts outlined in the relevant itinerary. You have the same crew and guides throughout the whole safari and all your gear and luggage is handled for you.
With a hull constructed from wood and a large deck and shaded area, the Bangka boats can accommodate 14 to 18 divers. The boat is balanced by two bamboo outriggers and can travel at speeds of up to 12 knots.
Abyss World operate three different boats on their itineraries, depending on the size of each group. Jumica is 25 metres long and can take up to 14 divers plus 3 crew members. Sagana is 28 metres long and can take up to 18 divers plus 4 crew. Katawa is 18 metres long and can take up to 16 divers plus 3 crew.