I am old enough to remember diving pioneers like Jacques Cousteau and have been lucky enough to dive in some amazing places during my diving career, from quarries in England, Stunning reefs in Egypt, with Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in Thailand. Mating Leopard Sharks in Malaysia and just about everything you can imagine in the clear tropical waters of the Philippines.
There are many reasons people come to diving, some learn to dive young and others like myself learn at an older age. When I was young I loved to watch the amazing undersea adventures of Jacques Cousteau. I would even play scuba diving in the bath tub, complete with mask snorkel and fins. What a sight that must have been !
I was always around water, from six years old I lived most weekends on a boat together with a couple of annual boating vacations. I enjoyed swimming, snorkelling and the sea but never got around to trying out diving even though it had held that fascination for many years. I would go on vacations and often a local dive school would offer try out scuba in the hotel pool, but for some reason I would always make an excuse not to try it, I had heard about equalising and think maybe I have a cold, I felt my ear on the flight there, or would plan to do something else instead. I’m not really sure why, I’m very competitive by nature and maybe subconsciously I feared not being able to breath underwater in front of others.
On vacation in Egypt I was taking a snorkel boat trip, something I had done many times before, and, in what I now know are some of the worlds best diving locations. I’m in the water and I see divers below looking at something. It frustrated the hell out of me’ that I couldn’t see what they were looking at. On the way back to my hotel I was telling my partner and she suggested I should book a dive at the hotel, yes maybe I replied and that was that.
Back in the hotel we had to visit the reception for something unrelated and I hear my partner asking about booking diving for the next day. Intermediately I went on the defensive I need to back out mode, Err I don’t know err its maybe expensive err what if we want to do something else – too late it was booked and I had finally run out of excuses.
So the next day I’m in the middle of the ocean on a boat wearing all this heavy equipment and lead weights on a belt and they tell me to jump in to the water, It didn’t feel much like Jacques Cousteau at this point “Cr**p I’m going to sink”, saying to myself as they pushed me to the edge. I had zero practice and virtually no instruction,with the exception of being shown two signals,’OK’ and the ‘Problem’ which was explained as this signal means calm down. So with a little nudge I was in the water, but I didn’t sink as I’d expected. instead the Instructor let the air out of my BCD and we started to descend slowly down a rope line. I remember to this day, it wasn’t the corals or the wonderful fish that fascinated me, or the clear water, it was how I was hearing myself breath and thinking how you stop breathing to swallow. Everything was so intensely apparent, I would never normally think about how I breath as a land dwelling animal.
So moving on, I liked the experience so much it triggered a change in my life of avalanche proportions, this first dive was followed by three more Discover Scuba Dives (try out dives) over the next 24 hours, Wednesday and Thursday. On the Friday evening I flew home to the UK, Saturday morning I signed up to an open water course and within a year I was a PADI instructor in Thailand.
Its not always been the easiest way to make a living, in some places I earned reasonably well, in others just enough to survive, I’ve had a few experiences that were not my favourite times in life, but I also had some wonderful times met many wonderful people and made some great friends. I now own my own dive school, and dive resort. I still like to go fun diving just for myself from time to time.
After more than 3000 dives I’m still in awe of what lies beneath the surface and how marine life comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors, and how it lives in all kinds of different environments, adapting to them perfectly. You can dive a site hundreds of times and still see something new, and sometimes very unexpected. I often wander back to those times watching Jacques Cousteau, who would have though back then I would become a professional diver and have the privilege to get paid for what I love to do.
My friends and acquaintances sometimes say I’m lucky to live on a beautiful tropical island doing what I do, and I guess I was lucky, but lucky to realise this is what I wanted to do. Actually anyone can do it, you just have to make the choice, sign up to a course and make it happen.
Pirates Diving Resort in Coron Philippines is the perfect location to go professional with a Divemaster course
Can Philippines make the claim for the worlds best diving ?
Wow what a very difficult question to answer for so many reasons. Many countries around the world have some amazing diving to offer, and most of us hear about the one or two special dive sites that each country promotes .So which country really ha the worlds best diving ? What if you were to choose just one country to make a dive trip of a life time, where would you choose and what should you expect?
Diving is very subjective and I often see interesting debates on forums and Facebook groups which show clearly that divers are a very diverse bunch. Divers come from all different backgrounds, social groups and nationalities, but as scuba divers they have a global common interest of submerging themselves underwater. That is where the common interest ends as every diver has their own preferences, likes, ambitions and wishes
Your interest may be historical wrecks, you may like fast adrenalin rush drifts or have an motivation to film Tiger sharks. Its clear this could be a very long and diverse list, so much so that it becomes a mammoth boast for anywhere to claim they have the worlds best diving.
I believe the Philippines can.
Lets first consider a few things that immediately propel The Philippines towards top spot in any list of the worlds best diving. The Island nation is situated in an area known as the coral triangle, which roughly covers a triangular area encompassing Paupua, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The region is considered by many scientist to be the region where most Marine life originated.
Today the Coral Triangle is home the richest marine eco systems on earth. It is an area with more species of fish and corals than any other marine environment on earth. More diverse than the Caribbean and Indian ocean put together.
Tropical reefs are the richest marine ecosystems on earth and those found in the Philippines boast a diversity of life and color that is unparalleled. More than 100 scientists have declared the Philippines as the world’s “center of marine biodiversity” because of its vast species of marine and coastal resources”- World Bank
The Philippines is the epicentre for marine biodiversity and what is considered the Amazon of the Sea. Scientific surveys taken throughout the Coral Triangle show that the Philippines is also the most marine bio diverse of all when measured per kilometre of coastline.
The Philippines can claim more species of marine life than any other country in the world. more species of fish and corals than any other marine environment on earth.
The largest fish in the sea, the whale shark, calls these waters home, along with over 2,800 species of fish, hundreds of species of corals, sea turtles, sharks and a breath taking variety of other stunning marine life.
Some 400-500 species in 90 genera of reef-forming corals are believed to exist in this region. Sulu-Sulawesi Sea, a 900,000-square-kilometer marine eco-region that lies at the apex of the Coral Triangle (70% in the Philippines, 20% Indonesia, 10% Malaysia), is home to some 2,800 species of fish
So that’s not a bad start to stake its claim to be the worlds best diving, but there is a whole lot more!
The Philippines has many wrecks scattered throughout its 7000 Islands. There are two locations that the serious wreck diver would want to dive, they are South East Asia’s two most concentrated wreck locations
Subic bay ‘
0ne of Asia’s largest deep water natural harbours. Subic Bay was home to the United states Subic bay Navel base, the largest US navel base outside of US territory until 1993.
The huge bay has a long history of conflict dating back as far as the 1898 Spanish/American war. Hosting more than 35 wrecks with an incredible variety from a Spanish steamer sunk during the Spanish American conflict to the worlds first armoured cruiser, The USS New York (formally Saratoga) . Japanese and US warships and aircraft of WW2 are found together with, US landing craft and aircraft from the Korean and Vietnam conflicts of the 1950’s/60’s and 70’s. Plus many other other merchant ships and bridge pontoons.
Diving here ranges from 5m to deep technical dives.
Between The Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19th and 20th 1944, and The Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 23rd to 26th 1944, the Japanese attempted to reinforce their forces occupying the Philippines.
For divers, Coron’s history started on 24 September 1944 when a US Navy strike force of fighters and dive bombers attacked a Japanese supply fleet of up to 24 ships, at anchor, in Coron Bay and around Busuanga Island.
Whether the Japanese fleet was spotted by aerial photo reconnaissance, interpreters who noticed that some camouflaged ships had moved, or whether Japanese radio transmissions were intercepted is still debated. Photos taken from the air during the attack do not show any signs of camouflage netting on the ships. The consequence of detection was a surprise aerial attack by US Navy carrier based aircraft that sank the fleet at anchor
Home to two great wrecks both sunk as artificial reefs; Camia 2, a large freight vessel and the Tribird a three engined passenger jet aircraft wreck, the only divable commercial jet liner in Asia, so a very unique and extremely rare diving opportunity.
Philippines protected Unesco World Heritage sites for diving
The UNESCO world heritage list comprises more than 1,000 spots — 20 percent of them natural — designated as the legacy of all mankind. Only 13 of these spots represent an even more precious slice: they can be fully appreciated only by divers as some of the worlds best diving.
From the Taj Mahal to the Grand Canyon, the most spectacular cultural and natural places in the world find a spot on the storied UNESCO World Heritage List. Of the 13, including Australia’s Great Barrier reef, Cocos Islands and Galapagas Islands The Philippines islands can boast two.
Since it was discovered by divers in the late 1970s Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) has been considered one of the most extraordinary dive sites, at the very top of the worlds best diving, a dream trip for most scuba divers. Recently, it was ranked eighth best dive site in the world by the CNN travel website
The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park declared a World Heritage site in 1993 covers 130,028 ha, including the North and South Reefs. It is a unique example of an atoll reef with a very high density of marine species; the North Islet serving as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles. The site is an excellent example of a pristine coral reef with a spectacular 100-m perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons and two coral islands
The reef supports 374 species of corals, almost 90% of all coral species in the Philippines. Within the reef are found eleven species of cetaceans, eleven species of sharks, and an estimated 479 species of fish, including the iconic and threatened Napoleon wrasse. The reef supports the highest population densities known in the world for white tip reef sharks. Pelagic species such as jacks, tuna, barracuda, manta rays, whale sharks and different species of sharks also are common here and the reef is a very important nesting, resting and juvenile development area for two species of endangered marine turtles: green turtles and hawksbill turtles.
Tubbataha’s dive season is just three months long, running from mid-March until mid- June. At this time of year diving conditions are usually optimum – clear skies, calm seas and visibility between 30 and 45 meters.
A coral reef system situated on the western waters of Occidental Mindoro province in the Mindoro Strait and accessed from both Mondoro or Coron. Apo Reef Encompasses 34 square kilometres (13sq mi), it is the world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef system second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier reef. Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP) is one of the best known and most popular dive sites in the country. It is in the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The atoll-like reef comprises of two isolated coral reefs that are disconnected by a 30-meter deep channel. The clear blue waters of the channel are teeming with 285 species of colourful marine life, including tropical aquarium fish, snappers and the crevice-dwelling moray.
It is one best dive spots in the world, attracting divers all the year round. The soft white sand and patches of fine corals, clearly visible through the crystal blue waters, is truly an entrancing sight to behold!
The Reef and the vast expansive waters around are protected areas in the Philippines, administered as the Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP), to help ensure it remains as one one of the worlds best diving locations. The National Park is located 33 kilometres (approximately) off the coast of Sablayan in the Occidental Mindoro province.
More Major Philippine dive destinations
Monad Shoal in Malapascua
Divers from all over the world flock to Malapascua Island to see the elegant, oddly-shaped thresher sharks that breach the waters off the island, moving their way into the depths of Monad Shoal, where divers patiently wait for a sighting. Here, the friendly thresher sharks spend most of their day in deep water, but come up early in the morning for a scrub in the area’s cleaning stations—where cleaner wrasses feed on dead skin and bacteria on a shark’s body. Dive at the Shark Wall between sunrise and 9 a.m. for the best odds. They make an appearance every day, but sightings peak from July to October, so best to book your flight to Cebu during this time of the year. In the afternoon, manta rays and devil rays are among Monad Shoal’s regular visitors. The scene also includes moorish idols, barracudas, tunas, batfish, lionfish, banner fish, unicorn fish, pipefish, frogfish, cuttlefish, nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses
Not only has it been voted twice the number one island in the world with two of the worlds top ten beaches, but it is also the most popular dive destination in the entire Philippines for good reason. It’s home to some of the philippines best lern to dive areas, and for the advanced diver, the series of walls to the Islands north are considered to be some of the very best wall dives in the Philippines, and the island has the only diveable commercial passenger jet in South East Asia.
Apo Island Negros Oriental.
This Island is named one of the 100 worlds best diving sites, thanks to the administrators who have taken all efforts in ensuring that the island lives up to world class standards. Locals of Dauin supported initiatives of scientists from Silliman University of Dumaguete to make the island one of the most well-documented and best protected marine sanctuary in the country.
Some of the world’s rarest critters compete for the underwater photographer’s attention along the Dauin coastline near Dumaguete in Negros Oriental. The area is often frequented by underwater photographers in search of exquisitely rare shots , probably only matched by Bunaken, Indonesia for rare critters, and firmly in the top two of the worlds best diving locations for critters
Donsol – a favorite spot for whale sharks
Suddenly an onlooker spots a dark shadow and the shout goes up: “Shark! Everybody get in the water!” At Donsol, the whale-shark capital of the Philippines, the aim is getting close to sharks . The focus at Donsol is not on spotting whale sharks, but on “interactions”. On a good day, swimmers can encounter a dozen. To put that into context, the great marine explorer Jacques Cousteau saw just two in his lifetime. It’s a wild encounter, and there’s an element of chance, but in peak season, when sharks gather to feed and breed, sightings are almost guaranteed.
Moalboal, Sardine balls and corals
Moalboal whose name means “bubbling water”, is a quiet, peaceful little village that has become a mecca for divers. Moalboal is now an internationally recognized center of diving excellence. Moalboal faces the Tanon Strait, a deep channel that separates the Islands of Cebu and Negros. Its coastlines are characterized by sharply sloping drop offs, so the vast majority of dive sites in the Moalboal area are wall dives along the coastlines.
With the exception of Pescador Island, the dive sites combine together to form one huge gigantic wall: the diver enters at different points to explore different sections of wall. Each section of the wall has its own distinct flavour, each with its own unique sightings. the jewel of Moalboal diving and considered one of the best dive sites in the Philippines. With a landmass big enough to warrant a lighthouse, Pescador Island resembles a vertical rod and plunges down to depths of seventy meters.
It gained further prominence a few years ago when a large school of sardines decided to make Pescador their home. With estimates as high as nine hundred thousand sardines, this sardine ball started attracting pelagic fish to hunt them around the clock. It even caught the attention of thresher sharks who would dart in and out of the bait ball energetically hunting.
From underwater caverns, freshwater cave diving, shallow shipwrecks to deep penetration technical wrecks diving, Mactan and Cebu is excellent to dive.
But there is not only caves and wrecks as a dive sites in Mactan or around Cebu; the marine biodiversity is one of the greatest in all the Philippines.
Puerto Galera in Mindoro.
The name was supposedly derived from a Spanish-era galleon wreck found off Puerto Galera in the 1890s. While there is no diveable galleons, the treasures of Puerto Galera is the over 40 dive sites in the area ranging from the easy and idyllic (Drop Off at Verde Island) to the dangerous (Washing Machine). Sabang is where the hardcore diving community and Long Beach is the easy-going beach culture.
Honda Bay in Puerto Princesa
This is a more affordable luxury of a dive in Honda Bay. Equally teeming with the same richness as Tubbataha, Honda Bay has the advantage of being dotted with spectacular islands with sparkling white-sand beaches
Barracuda Lake in Coron Island
Apart from wreck diving, Coron Island has Barracuda Lake, a seemingly underrated dive site in the Philippines. This lake is full of sharp thermoclines and alien underwater landscapes. Add to that the legend of the centuries-old monster-sized barracuda said to be the size of five large oil barrels
You don’t have to go far to reach the birthplace of scuba diving in the Philippines. An easy two-hour drive from Manila, Anilao is the go-to spot for divers planning a nice weekend dive, newbies going on their first underwater adventure, macro photographers seeking out their favourite subjects (nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses), and night divers hoping to catch a glimpse of rare marine creatures (sea goblins, ghost pope fish, catfish eels, sea hares, blue-ringed octopus, snake eels and mandarin fish).
What makes this place such a popular choice? Along with a host of dive resorts and good diving conditions year-round, Anilao has dozens of amazing dive sites. Cathedral Rock, the best-known of the bunch, features two giant mounds and a cross in between. Considered a marine park sanctuary, it shelters Moorish idols, damsels, parrot fish, sergeant majors, lion fish, clown fish and moray eels plus crinoids and anemones. Orange anthias and red tooth triggerfish abound in Bahura and Beatrice Rock, and soft corals in Sepok Wall and Sombrero Island. At Twin Rocks and Mainit Point, there are heaps of invertebrates, most notably nudibranchs
Verde Island, off Batangas
Scouting for a diving spot with rich biodiversity and excellent visibility? Verde Island is not just a great fit, it also lets you enjoy both idyllic and thrilling dive sites at the east end, where the hot volcanic water attracts tons of fish. If you want to take it a bit easy, go for The Pinnacle, a huge vertical reef that drops to 80 meters. Most divers of the Drop Off, as it’s also known, descend to a particular depth then start exploring as they zigzag their way up the pinnacle. Expect to see gorgonian fans, frogfish, jacks, banner fish, basslets and the occasional sea snakes.
For a high-voltage dive, try the Washing Machine. Named for its strong, churning currents, this site plays host to tuna, travellies and black- and white-tip sharks plus thousands of anthias. On good days, you’ll get to go around its canyons and see up close sea squirts, tubeworms, feather stars, sea fans, and siphon and basket sponges. Keep an eye out too for parrotfish, frogfish and wrasses. Do note, however, that the dive requires current-diving experience and a skilled guide
Ticao Pass in Ticao, Masbate.
This is known as “the Manta Bowl”. The rough waters off Ticao provide a perfect spot for the majestic manta rays. Divers can enjoy truly breathtaking sightings of these gentle giants gliding overhead. At Manta Bowl, you’ll get to catch oceanic manta rays playing and roaming, feeding on planktons, and even getting their parasites picked off by cleaner wrasses. But mantas aren’t the only attraction here. Whale sharks on their way to Donsol, Sorsogon, also stop by Manta Bowl to feed on planktons, usually between November and June. Other big boys—thresher sharks, hammerheads and black- and white-tip sharks—frequent the area too along with blue-spotted sting rays, eagle rays, jacks, tunas, barracudas and sweetlips. So what’s in store for macro photographers? Various species of nudibranchs and critters such as frogfish, mandarin fish, pipefish, sea horses and coleman shrimps. Brace for strong currents if visiting between October and April.
Only an opinion’ but an opinion based on facts
I have given some insight into the Philippines marine world and why I think its the worlds best diving, I’m sure some will not be convinced, some will agree and some will make some very legitimate counter claims, there are many places of exceptional diving and some very unique. but its hard to argue against The Philippines at the pinnacle as the worlds best diving.
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