Adrift at Sea
Trip Start Nov 12, 2011
46Trip End Aug 18, 2012
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What I did
Tubbataha Reef is 181km away from shore in the Sulu Sea off the coast of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. The name Tubbataha means "a long reef exposed at high tide" and that is exactly what it is. There is a small 'shack' that sits on the reef that has a sandy beach at low tide and sits on stilts above the water at high tide. This ‘shack’ is a ranger station that houses 4-16 volunteer rangers who patrol the region for illegal fishing. We did a little tour of the facility and I can tell you that most prison cells I have visited are more spacious and better equipped. They have such a shortage of fresh water that each ranger is limited to a ration of 500ml of water per day… in 30C + weather. I have no idea how they recruit volunteers, perhaps it is in lieu of prison sentences? Anyway, very impressive that these guys stay out there for 6 month terms patrolling.
This was a trip that Sukhia and I had attempted to do in 2007, the last time we were in Southeast Asia. The season that you can dive at Tubbataha, however, is only about 3 months (March to May). The seas are simply too rough the rest of the time and we were unable to make it out on our last trip.
Perhaps it was because we anticipated the trip for 5 years, perhaps it was because we had just had such a wonderful experience in Raja Ampat, or perhaps because we had just been in Palau. Unfortunately, we were just not all that impressed with Tubbataha. Being on a boat that broke down several times, was covered in soot, and run by the worst dive manager we have ever met certainly did not help matters.
We made some new friends on the trip and enjoyed the company of one another. Hopefully that made it a wash? Probably not… Luckily, it was just six days in the midst of our ten month adventure. Onward and upward.
Next stop: Sabang
Tubbataha reef is only accessed by liveaboard and is a dive location that has been critically claimed as one of the best dive spots in the world. I have to say I wasn’t that impressed, there were a few unfortunate circumstances that didn’t help our trip, like the boat and company running the Expedition Fleet but I can see how there could be spectacular diving in Tubbataha if the current is right and the pelagic fish swim past but sadly that didn’t happen for us.
We had a great group of guests and it was fun to commiserate together when the boat broke for the second and third time or when our skiff motor died half way between the dive site and the boat, floating dead in the open ocean can really bring people together.
The underwater walls along Tubbataha were amazing and we always had three or four reef sharks swimming with us, dog toothed tuna would coast by occasionally along with schools of trevally. Sadly I lost many of our videos for this dive trip with a corrupted memory card but a few photos were saved.