CNN Travel picks Tubbataha Reefs as 8th best dive spot

CNN Travel names Tubbataha Reefs among the best dive destinations in the world, ranking it 8th of the top 50 underwater spots.  The reefs are home to several hundreds of coral and fish species, and protector of one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds.  

The top 50 dive spots

The complete list of the “Top 50 Best Dive Spots in the World” cited by CNN Travel includes:

  1. Barracuda Point, Sipadan Island, Malaysia
  2. Yongala, Queensland, Australia
  3. SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea, Egypt
  4. Blue Corner Wall, Palau, Micronesia
  5. Richelieu Rock, near the Surin Islands, Thailand
  6. Gordon Rocks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  7. Great Blue Hole, Belize
  8. Tubbataha, Palawan, Philippines
  9. Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt
  10. Maaya Thila, Maldives
  11. Sistema Dos Ojos, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
  12. Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa, Polynesia
  13. Point Murat Navy Pier, Australia
  14. Shark and Yolanda Reef, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt
  15. Silfra, Þingvellir, Iceland
  16. Antons, Sodwana Bay, South Africa
  17. Kailua Kona, Hawaii, United States
  18. Middle Arch, Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
  19. North Horn, Osprey Reef, Australia
  20. Elphinstone Reef, Red Sea, Egypt
  21. Liberty, Bali, Indonesia
  22. Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman, Cayman Islands
  23. Cod Hole, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  24. Manta Reef, Tofo, Mozambique
  25. Bajo Alcyone, Cocos Island, Costa Rica
  26. Sha’ab Rumi South, Sudan
  27. Batu Bolong, Komodo Island, Indonesia
  28. SS President Coolidge, Vanuatu
  29. Elephant Head Rock, Similans, Thailand
  30. Ulong Channel, Palau, Micronesia
  31. Layang Layang, near Borneo, Malaysia
  32. The Cathedral, Flic-en-Flac, Mauritius
  33. Great White Wall, Taveuni, Fiji
  34. Banua Wuhu, Mahengetang, Indonesia
  35. Manchones Reef, Cancun, Mexico
  36. Cocklebiddy Cave, Australia
  37. La Dania’s Leap to Karpata, Bonaire, Netherlands
  38. Scotts Head Pinnacle, Dominica
  39. Yonaguni Jima, Yaeyama Islands, Japan
  40. Raja Ampat, Irian Jaya, Indonesia
  41. Jackson Reef, Straits of Tiran, Red Sea, Egypt
  42. Perpendicular wall, Christmas Island, Australia
  43. Aliwal Shoal, Umkomaas, South Africa
  44. The Canyons, Puerto Galera, Philippines
  45. Japanese Gardens, Koh Tao, Thailand
  46. Grand Central Station, Gizo, Solomon Islands
  47. Aquarium, Mnemba Island, Tanzania
  48. Blue Hole, Gozo, Malta
  49. Burroo Ned, Isle of Man, United Kingdom
  50. Darwin’s Arch, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Aside from the Tubbataha Reefs, another Philippine dive site named in this CNN Travel list is The Canyons in Puerto Galera, at the 44th rank.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park


Considered as one of the Philippines’ oldest ecosystems, the Tubbataha Reefs are Marine Protected Areas (MPA) situated within the Coral Triangle in the middle of Sulu Sea. Because of its distance to habitable land, the reefs become a convenient and safe refuge for several marine life species, and habitat for different kinds of animals.

Tubbataha map

Declared as a national marine park by former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, and acknowledged as a world heritage site by UNESCO, the whole area is now officially known as The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. The reefs sprawl across an area of 130,028 hectares, including the North and South Atolls which are separated by an 8-kilometer deep and wide channel.  Each of the atolls has a lagoon and small sandy islets.

The North Atoll is bigger with an area of 16 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide; while the South Atoll covers an area of only 5 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide. There’s also a smaller reef, called Jessie Beazley Reef, approximately 20 kilometers north from these two atolls.


Spectacular corals spread over two-thirds of the area and the water surrounding the reefs is home to an assortment of marine life, including:

  • 374 species of corals, or almost 90% of coral species found in the Philippines
  • 11 species of cetaceans
  • 11 species of sharks
  • approximately 500 species of fish, including the iconic and threatened Napoleon wrasse
  • the highest population densities of white tip sharks
  • pelagic species like manta rays, tuna, barracuda, jacks,  whale sharks, and other different species of sharks.

Tubbataha 4Also, the reefs and the sea serve as a nesting and resting ground for the endangered green and hawksbill turtles. The Bird Islet and the South Islet are favorite breeding places for the seven resident and endangered species of seabirds, and host to the critically endangered Christmas Island Frigatebird, which frequently visits the area.

The presence of top predator species, like the tiger and hammerhead sharks, offers an ecological balance in the marine park.


The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is essentially protected by the Philippine National Protected Areas legislations and other environmental bills.  Tourism activities there requires careful planning and management to ensure the preservation of the entire natural system as well as the safety of visitors.

Up to the present, there is only one means to reach Tubbataha – and that is, by liveaboard. Since it is remotely located, going to the marine park requires significant logistical preparation, well-equipped people with operational boats, and sufficiently trained staff or tour guides to ensure a strong and responsive presence on the water.

The diving terrain at the marine park is characterized by extensive and continuous reef platforms, sandy lagoons, spectacularly perpendicular walls that drop to over 100 meters. It also has an enormous area of deep sea, the average depth of which is 750 meters. Currents along the North Rock are unpredictable.  But, the flow at the South Islet is quite predictable and friendlier, making it suitable for drift-diving.

Moreover, since The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park display a rich coral reef formation and support a significant number of marine species, it makes an ideal natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes.  It can also be a conducive demonstration site to study how the natural reef system respond to the impacts of climate change.


However, just like any other tourist spots, The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park faces a number of threats, like marine litter, over-fishing, shipping activities, marine pollution, and oil exploration.  In fact, there had been three cases where ships ran aground onto some parts of the reefs, causing considerable damage on the corals and other marine creatures.

Internationally-supported legislations should be enforced and effective buffer zone arrangements are required to protect the entire area from another shipping tragedy.  Also more stringent policies should apply against marine litter and fishing activities.

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