A lifetime opportunity appeared in the form of a scuba dive safari to a World Heritage dive site on a liveaboard ship in the Sulu Sea. Although it was challenging traveling from Bangkok to the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, it was worth it.
First by air, from Bangkok to Manila, the Capital of the Philippines, then to the port city of Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island where the ship awaited. 10-hours away at sea (~93 nautical mi), east to the middle of the Sulu Sea, is the Tubbataha Reefs. Arriving there at the crack of dawn was rewarding and breathtaking.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is Philippine’s first national marine park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the heart of Coral Triangle. It’s recognized as a center of marine biodiversity due to the astonishing density and diversity of the sealife; 75% of the described coral species and 40% of the world’s reef fish are represented here. In sum, lots of gorgeous tropical fish and friendly sharks, manta rays, and sea turtles and healthy coral life – everywhere!
By law, these dive sites are only available from mid-March to mid-June. It is protected and pristine, one of the best dive sites in the world.
On this scuba trip, I enjoyed frolicking above and below water with all of the 20 guests aboard: a group of 15 close-knit Israelis (many of them have been diving together for over 10 years), two lovely couples (American and Japanese) and an elderly British East Indian gentleman with over 500 dives under his belt; he was a lovely roommate in a deluxe room with icy AC, a full bath with hot shower (the benefits of a big diesel engine!) and an espresso-maker. Nice! Our Dive Masters, Nori and Bond (below) provided outstanding professional service. They don’t call these liveaboard diving trips, “Float and Bloat” for nothing; the entire staff was attentive and friendly, service was efficient and top notch, and especially the cook/kitchen staff provided plentiful and tasty food. Excellent job folks!
On most days, we had a maximum of 3 dives and 1 night dive at 12 different sites; the weather was very hot (average 97F) and yet balmy; and sea conditions were mostly at their calmest and clearest ever.
Unfortunately, after the fourth day of diving, I and few others suddenly got quite sick: feverish, hacking up phlegm, and with eye infections. Luckily, we were all well pampered and slept a lot in our beds and up on the open-air top deck. Once back on land, I immediately went to medical professionals and got treated as my generic travel antibiotics were ineffective. I am on the mend.
Although we missed some of the dives due to illness, we were all very pleased to witness another world: amazing sea creatures from gregarious white-tipped sharks and playful mantis rays to tight swarming schools of Giant Trevally, and most amazing of all…. a calm and very large whale shark. Whew!
Today, I am a PADI certified Advanced Open Water Diver and Nitrox certified as well (an air tank with higher oxygen and lower nitrogen content allowing divers more bottom time).
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Location:Sulu Sea, Philippines