Palawan: the last frontier.
Palawan is paradise, sanctuary to an amazing variety of fauna and flora found nowhere else in the world. It is blessed with incredibly awesome landscapes that astound even the most indifferent of visitors.
Palawan is the country’s biggest province and is composed of 1,768 islands and islets surrounded by a coral shelf with an exceptionally rich marine life. Its steeply sloped mountains are canopied by broad virgin forests.
An anchor tourist destination, it is the perfect playground for the adventurous, especially for scuba divers.
Among the sites for excellent scuba diving are the areas within Puerto Princesa, Dilumacad Island, Matinloc Island, , Miniloc Island, and Coron Bay of El Nido.
This is the capital of Palawan and in itself offers some good diving as well as being a stop-off point to and from El Nido and Tubbataha Reef. There are well established dive centres here and the area is certainly worthy of some exploration.
There are several sites around here, the most noteworthy being Helen’s Garden. This is a small, shallow reef and there is a good variety of hard and soft corals. It is a breeding ground for blacktip sharks and juveniles are often seen. You are also likely to encounter sergeant-majors, snapper, wrasse and trevally. It is also a good night dive. Henry’s Reef is closeby and is a shallow dive to 10m. Lionfish, cardinals, snapper, sweetlips and nudibranches are found here. Around Honda Bay you may be lucky enough to spot manta rays and the small Pandan Island is as good a place as any to encounter them. The area also sees juvenile whale sharks, although their exact location is kept a close secret for obvious reasons.
About a 5 hour drive north of Puerto Princesa, there are some excellent sites here and dive centres and resorts are numerous. This area is certainly worth a visit.
Again situated about a 5 hour drive north of Puerto Princesa and on the west coast of Palawan, this area is largely undiscovered and offers some rewarding experiences for the intrepid. Shark Rock is furthest away and offers good opportunities to see blacktip and whitetip sharks. Whalesharks have occasionally been spotted here as well. Royalist Shoal can reach depths of 40m, but at 12m the coral is amongst the best in the area. Marine life is plentiful. At Ten Fathoms you may see hammerheads, leopard and nurse sharks. Corals are everywhere and grouper and snapper are regularly seen.
South of Coron, on the northwestern coast of Palawan Island is El Nido. The area is dotted with some 2,000 islands and Palawan is regarded as the last nature frontier in the Philippines. It lies in Bascuit Bay which, in 1991, was declared a marine reserve. There are some 54,000 hectares of marine waters.
Diving can be good year round and is very varied with lots of pelagics and excellent wall and drift diving. There are towering limestone cliffs, great beaches and clear waters. The bay is home to dugong, dolphins, turtles and an amazing array of colourful reef fish.
Situated 6 km west of El Nido, this island is best known for a cave dive that can be found on the north side. The entrance is wide enough for two divers to enter together and a 15-20m tunnel leads to a cavern at the centre. The bottom is sandy where small fish and crabs can be seen.
The way out is more narrow and only one diver can exit the 10m tunnel at a time. It will bring you out to a rocky area some 20m from the entrance and you may see larger fish here.
NOTE: this dive should not be attempted when there is a strong north wind.
Again situated west of El Nido, the island is home to a luxury resort and there are a number of decent sites to explore.
Off the northwest point of Miniloc, this tiny island is also known locally as Tres Marias in reference to the three reefs that lie between the two islands. As it’s shallow here, snorkeling is good and you can expect to see lots of reef fish, colourful corals and painted crayfish.
This site is on the southern tip of the island and ranges from 13-21m. There are plenty of lettuce corals and sponges. You’ll encounter jacks, barracuda, squid, cuttlefish and angelfish. The site is very sheltered, so it’s a good all year round spot to explore.
On the north side of the island, this site again slopes from 13-21m and has a sandy bottom. It is charactarised by a profusion of table corals, sea whips and sponges. You will see small stingray and angelfish here.
This island is situated west of El Nido and has some interesting dives on the island itself and the surrounds.
Situated on the southern tip of the island, this a great site to see pelagics. Currents can be strong, bringing with them tuna, jacks and mackerel. Don’t be so busy viewing the fish that you miss the coral encrusted rocks.
Also known as Picanayas, on the western side of the island, the site has some large boulders that whitetip sharks frequent. Pelagics can often be seen here as well.
Just to the southwest of Bikanayos, this site has some impressive gorgonians and green corals on a slope to 35m. Jacks, tuna and mackerel are common and it is home to a unique species of angelfish (Pomacanthus annularis). Only here and at Tres Marias can this fish be found.
With a region of outstanding beauty and wildlife, Coron Bay is a tropical dream come true. Limestone cliffs and tiny isolated beach coves are spectacular. Walls of coral explode with color and life while, above, monkeys, parakeets and other animals frolic and flit in the dense foliage. Tropical magic is in the air, the sea and the islands of Coron, a tangible presence that hints of adventure and mystery.
Situated in North Palawan, the most westernly part of the Philippines. It lies in between Busuanga and Culion Islands. There is fabulous diving all around the area, but the bay is particularly well known as having some of the best wreck diving in the world. To appreciate the region, a little history goes a long way.
On the 24th September 1944, The US Navy launched a massive air strike on a Japanese supply fleet that was anchored in Coran Bay. Debate as to whether the fleet was discovered by ariel reconnaissance – the Japanese had camouflaged the ships with trees and photos showed that the “islands” had moved – or whether Japanese radio transmissions were intercepted, still rages today. The fact of the matter was that at the end of the day’s air strike, US fighter aircraft and dive bombers claimed to have sunk 24 vessels. Some 60 years on, 12 of the wrecks have been discovered. 8 of them are close together in Coron Bay, the others are slightly further afield.
As the wrecks have remained fairly inaccessable until recently, the corals in the area are exceptional. It is worth while pointing out that planning is essential for the wreck dives and some are for the experienced only.
Tai Maru is located South of Conception village on Busuanga Island, on the outer edge of the Lusteveco Company Pearl Farm. Normally calm but fierce currents are common in the area. Novices should check the tide tables first and penetrate the wreck only with an experienced divemaster. Use the shotline for descent and a safety stop on ascent. Average Depth – 52ft/16m. Maximum Depth – 85ft/26m.
An auxiliary oil tanker of the Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet in the World War II, she is 550ft/168m long and is 10,045 gross tons, sits almost level, with a slight list to port, pointing 330 degrees, with a bow broken off in 75ft/26m of water. The main deck is at 52ft/16m. It is well covered with good corals, particularly large lettuce corals, sponges and shoals of fish including fusiliers, snappers and batfish, plus the ubiquitous lion and scorpion fish.
The Akitsushima is located between Lajo Island and Manglet Island, south of Conception village on Busuanga Island. Average Depth – 92ft/28m. Maximum Depth – 125ft/38m.
One of the few true warships among the Coron wrecks (the others were mostly auxiliary vessels), the Akitsushima, was a flying boat tender. The wreck is 487ft/148m long, 4650 gross tons, and lies on its port side pointing 290 degrees in 125ft/38m of water with the starboard side hull at 65ft/20m. The arms of the stern crane used to load and unload the flying boat lies broken to port in 112ft/34m. The main deck is split between this crane and the funnel. There is no sign of the flying boat. This is an advanced dive due to the depth. The ship can be penetrated with care, but is also good for fish life. Large groupers lurk in the hull and shoals of barracuda, tuna and snapper are found along it.
Located Between the Northern end of Lusong Island and Tangat Island. Average Depth – 62ft/19m. Maximum Depth – 80ft/25m. This Japanese Freighter is 450ft/137m long, and 5,617 gross tons, lies on its starboard side pointing 50 degrees in 80ft/25m of water. The portside hull is at a shallower portion, 40ft/12m.
The portside hull has many large lettuce corals, hydroids, black corals, brown finger sponges with Alabaster Sea Cucumbers wrapped around them, white sponges and sea anemones with clown fish. The fish life includes shoals of small fusiliers, batfish, large groupers, golden rabbitfish, damselfish and pairs of whitecheek monocle bream.
Located East of the Southeast corner of Lusong Island, south of the Olympia Maru. Average Depth – 92ft/28m. Maximum Depth – 110ft/34m.
A Japanese freighter, 520ft/158m and 6,352 gross tons-lies on its starboard side pointing 230 degrees in 110 ft/34m of water. The portside hull is at 22 meters (72 feet). In the large cargo room you can still see loaded construction materials, mixer and even bulldozer. On the deck anti-aircraft weapons can still be seen. On the port side, there are many corals and abundant fish life. Many groupers live around the wreck.
This is located at the southern end of Lusong Island, the stern breaks the surface at low tide. Average Depth – 6 meters (20 feet). Maximum Depth – 10 meters (33 feet).
A shallow wreck, lying from the surface to 10 meters (33 feet), this is equally good for snorkeling and wreck photography, and is often used for relaxation between main dives. The wreck has been salvaged, and the entire top is gone. It is nicely covered with sponges and soft corals, and has many copperband butterflyfish, six-banded angelfish, and pufferfish of all sizes, batfish and various sea cucumbers.
Located Southeast of Lusong Island, south of the Kogyo Maru.
Average Depth – 35 meters (115 feet). Maximum Depth – 42 meters (138 feet).
The Irako is a Japanese refrigerated provision ship, 147 meters (482 feet) long, 9,570 gross tons. The wreck is almost upright, listing about 10 degrees to port in 42 meters (138 feet) of water pointing 260 degrees. The main deck is at 34 meters (112 feet). Penetration represents an advanced dive due to the depth, but the superstructure is interesting, with soft corals and sponges. Large groupers hover inside the wreck, while lionfish, scorpionfish, shoals of barracuda, batfish and snappers are outside.
Located West of the northwest side of Tangat Island.
Average Depth – 25 meters (80 feet). Maximum Depth – 34 meters (112 feet).
This 160 meters (525 feet) Japanese freighter lies on its starboard side in 34 meters (112 feet) of water. The portside hull is at 24 meters (78 feet). The large holds are easy to penetrate and contain construction materials. The port side has good stony and soft corals and a variety of fish life, sponges and anemones with clownish. Large grouper, lionfish and surgeonfish abound in the wreck with shoals of barracuda, snappers, batfish, sweepers and fusiliers around it.
Located West of the southwest end of Tangat Island.
Average Depth – 24 meters (80 feet). Maximum Depth – 30 meters (100 feet).
A Japanese freighter 122 meters (400 ft) long, 5,000 gross tons, it sits almost upright with perhaps a 15 degree list to port, pointing 170 degrees in 30 meters (100 feet) of water; the main deck is at 18-24 meters (60-80 feet). The site provides a good introduction to wreck diving for novices, with easy penetration of the cargo holds and a good variety of fish lives. There are several large puffer fish, lots of large lionfish and scorpion fish, a lone bump head parrotfish, shoals of batfish, snappers and sweepers, six-banded angelfish and innumerable sponges. In good visibility, this is an excellent wreck for photographers.
Located close to southwest side of Tangat Island.
Average Depth – 10 meters (33 feet). Maximum Depth – 22 meters (72 feet).
Believed to be a tugboat or an anti-submarine craft, 40 meters (130 feet) long, 500 gross tons, it lies to its starboard down a sandy slope, with the stern at 22 meters (72 feet) and the top of the bow at 3 meters (10 feet), pointing 320 degrees. The water is mostly shallow enough for snorkellers.
There are no corals on the wreck, but there is some large lettuce coral beside it. There are small angelfish, buterflyfish – particularly copperband butterflyfish – and white sponges.
Located Close to Club Paradise Resort which is located on Dimakya Island.
Average Depth – 30 meters (100 feet). Maximum Depth – 43 meters (131 feet).
A Japanese freighter, 152 meters (500 feet) long, 6,492 gross tons, sits almost upright with a 15 degrees list to starboard, pointing 160 degrees in 43 meters (131 feet) of water. The main deck slopes from 22 meters (72 feet) to 28 meters (92 feet). The wreck is almost intact and can easily be penetrated, with cars and trucks in the hold.
Located at the East Side of Malajon Island, called Black Island because of its black rocks. The wreck is just off the beach in front of a stranded vessel on the shore. Average Depth – 20 meters (56 feet). Maximum Depth – 32 meters (104 feet).
This is a 45-meter (150 feet) coastal vessel. It sits upright but down the sandy slope from the shore, with the bow bottoming at 32 meters (104 feet) and the stern bottoming at 20 meters (65 feet). There are many large scorpionfish and lionfish on the superstructure, small shoals of batfish, large shoals of sweepers, snappers, fusiliers and groupers, trumpetfish, six-banded angelfish and emperor angelfish. The hull has lots of sponges and hydroids.
A Japanese freighter sitting upright with a length of approximately 140 meters near Coron Bay, a very good dive spot with a variety of marine lives. Large shoals of banana fish, giant bat fish and giant pufferfish, especially around the mast, bow and stern. Easy penetration at the cargo rooms. Maximum depth is around 28-30 meters, deck-level is around 18-24 meters.
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