Tubbataha Reef: Exploring the Biodiversity of the Coral Triangle on the Frontier of the Philippines

Tubbataha Reef uncovered

Located within the Northern apex of the Coral Triangle, Tubbataha reef is often considered to be the best dive spot in the Philippines. Reachable only by scuba diving liveaboard boats leaving from the province of Palawan, Tubbataha dive trips are often booked years in advance.
 / ©: Tommy SCHULTZ
Tubbataha Reef, Philippines
© Tommy SCHULTZ
It’s no surprise that scuba divers would want to experience Tubbataha firsthand. Recently nominated as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the Natural World’, this marine protected area is home to a staggering wealth of biodiversity. 

Where is Tubbataha Reef?

Tubbataha reef lies in the middle of the Sulu Sea, approximately 50km southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, the most western province of the Philippines.

Distance from the mainland is good for conservation—Tubbataha is reachable only by boat, a journey which takes 10 to 12 hours and is only attempted from mid-march to mid-june. This means the reef receives less pressure from fishermen than the coral reefs located closer to population centers.

How the Tubbataha Reef Marine Protected Area was created

Fishermen in the Southern Philippines have known about Tubbataha for generations, embarking from their villages in small fleets of traditional wooden sailboats every summer for their annual Tubbataha fishing expeditions.

By the 1980’s these traditional sailboats were disappearing to be replaced by motorized boats traveling from ever-increasing distances to grab a share Tubbataha’s fishing wealth.

Alarmed by the decline of Tubbataha’s spectacular coral reef, a small group of divers and environmentalists launched a vigorous campaign to save Tubbataha.

In 1988, the Provincial Government of Palawan endorsed the idea, and President Corazon Aquino declared Tubbataha a National Marine Park. In 1992, the site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Read about threats to the Coral Triangle and WWF's work to protect the Coral Triangle—the 6 million km2 ecosystem upon which Tubbataha Reef and millions of people depend ►

Tubbataha Reef Biodiversity

  • +/- 600 species of tropical fish
  • 359 species of corals (+/- 50% of all coral species in the world)
  • 14 species of sharks including tiger sharks, whitetip sharks, and blacktip sharks. Whale sharks have also been sighted at Tubbataha from time to time
  • 12 species of dolphins & whales
  • A nesting population of endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles
  • Over 100 species of birds, including rare migratory birds

Tubbataha Scuba Diving Highlights

How to visit Tubbataha

The reef of Tubbataha lies approximately 50 km southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, with most liveaboard scuba diving boats using Puerto as their launch pad to Tubbataha.
Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines both have regular service to Puerto Princesa from Manila and Cebu: Tubbataha scuba diving liveaboard boats typically leave Puerto’s harbor at sunset for the 10 to 12 hour journey, arriving at Tubbataha reef at sunrise. If you are able to catch an early afternoon flight to Puerto, it’s possible to connect with your dive boat the same afternoon.


View Tubbataha Reef in a larger map
 / ©: Tommy SCHULTZ
Tubbataha Reef, Philippines, Coral Triangle
© Tommy SCHULTZ

Tubbataha Reef Photos

Dive Tales from Tubbataha Reef

  • It was the first dive of the trip, and it started with very slight current and some fan corals. The highlight of the dive came towards the end, when we reached the wreck in very shallow waters.

    There were sweetlips and a nearby school of jacks, which promptly went towards the wreck, making for some very nice pictures. Other people on our group saw four stingrays and lot of baby grey reef sharks—about 10, they said.

    Maybe they were lying . . .

    read more from the Coral Triangle photo expedition blog ►

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required