The Coral Triangle covers approximately 2.3 million square miles of ocean and encompasses six countries in the Indo-Pacific: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. An unbelievable amount of biodiversity is condensed into less than 1% of the world's ocean surface area: The Coral Triangle (CT) is home to one-third of the world’s coral reefs, 75% of known coral species (~600 species of corals), nearly 3,000 species of fish, half of the world’s seagrass and marine mollusk species, 75% of known mangrove species, six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles green, hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and flatback, and more than 22 species of marine mammals.This article was originally published in blog:
The abundant resources of the Coral Triangle directly support the livelihoods of 126 million people as well as benefiting millions of others worldwide. The total annual economical value of natural habitats in the Coral Triangle including coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds is an estimated US $2.3 billion. Not to mention the ever-growing business of ecotourism, as well as the multi-billion dollar tuna industry that is directly supported by the spawning and nursery grounds of the Coral Triangle, making it even more obvious why their protection is paramount. Many commercially important species of fish inhabit these waters, making them an ideal place for local people to live and work.
The most northern point of this triangle, the Philippines, is a place that, according to leading authorities in the taxonomy world, contains “the center of the center of marine biodiversity.” The Philippines is comprised of 7,107 islands and is a place of remarkable diversity and immeasurable importance that is considered top priority for conservation along with the Amazon, Arctic, Galapagos Islands and Madagascar. The Philippines is an evolutionary hot spot due to the combination of light, high water temperature, and strong, nutrient-rich currents from the collision of the Pacific and Indian oceans. The seasonal influx of nutrients from these deep ocean upwellings along with equatorial sunshine and warm seas results in an abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton. This provides nourishment for corals, fish (larvae) as well as migrating giants like manta rays and whale sharks. The presence of coral reefs and mangrove forests buffers the effects of storms and tsunamis on coastal communities.
Considering the large number of islands that make up the Philippines, it's easy to imagine how many different dive spots there are and how difficult it can be to decide where to go. But before diving into the beautiful blue water, we have to actually get to the Philippines, a task that certainly takes a little effort. I always fly Korean Airlines on a direct flight from Chicago to Seoul, a trip that takes about 15 hours. After a layover in the Seoul-Incheon airport, which is actually a pretty nice place to spend a few hours, I fly to Manila, which is another 5 hours. From Manila, you can get to almost any major island in the Philippines by plane within a few hours. I'd like to highlight 5 dive spots in the Philippines, all of which have unique characteristics that make them more than worth visiting.
- Dumaguete is in the province of Negros Oriental, and is known for being able to provide divers with some of the best dive site variety in one area. There's great muck diving, beautiful reefscapes, some nice walls, and if you're willing to spend about an hour on a boat, you'll be rewarded with the pristine tabletop acropora colonies characteristic of Apo Island. Siquijor Island is approximately equidistant from the mainland as is Apo, and is a great place to see schools of jacks, barracuda, sea crates, and other pelagics. Dumaguete is wonderful and I highly recommend it is a first location to dive in the Philippines. Grab all your lenses and get in the water!
- Tubbataha is a bit more difficult to get to, but is really a memorable place. It is the Philippines' first National Marine Park as well as a UNESCO world heritage site, and is located about 8 hours by boat off the coast of Puerto Princessa, Palawan. There is zero light pollution and the night dives here are absolutely magical. One of my most memorable dive experiences occurred right after a night dive in Tubbataha; we surfaced after an hour of photographing a wide variety of nocturnal cephalopods, pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs, and carnivorous gastropods, to be greeted by a sea of glass and a clear sky overflowing with stars. The water was so still that all the stars were reflected on the surface of the ocean, and it felt like we were floating in the middle of the universe. There aren't many nights like this one, but you have a good chance of finding them in Tubbataha. During the day, you might see whale sharks here, along with lots of small reef sharks and huge schools of pelagics. The reefs are beautiful and make you wish for a tank that refills itself underwater.
- Anilao has been called "the center of the center of marine biodiversity" by world renowned nudibranch expert Dr. Terry Gosliner and is home to an ever-growing number of these fascinating gastropods. There are over 600 identified species of nudibranchs there along with several hundred more that have yet to be classified. Anilao is part of Batangas and is regarded as the birthplace of diving in the Philippines. It is known for incredible muck diving with fantastic opportunities to take macro shots of rare critters and is a must if you enjoy "the little things" in life.
- Puerto Galera, part of Mindoro, has some very unique dive sites including deep canyons with ripping currents that are absolutely filled with lush, brightly-colored soft corals and healthy, vibrant gorgonians. Some of these are home to pygmy seahorses, which are always a treat to see. Verde Island is a popular day trip that can be taken from Puerto Galera, and is a great opportunity to see some of the most beautiful reef walls the Philippines has to offer as well as mantas, eagle rays, black and white tip reef sharks, and large wrasses. PG is so full of color that is makes autumn leaves look drab!
- Davao is located in southern Mindanao, and is considered the gateway to the south. It is where durian fruit comes from, and one of few places in the Philippines where one can dive in caves; black corals and NPS corals are common in many of the deeper water dive sites. Pearl farming is big business in this area, and these are certainly interesting places to visit. There are tons of opportunities for macro shots as well as the possibility of seeing sharks. There are some unique dive sites in addition to the caves, including pinnacles surrounded by large schools of jacks, trevally, and surgeonfish and a dive site that disappears from surface view when the tide rises. Davao is another place in the Philippines where you should pack all your lenses because you'll want to shoot everything from macro to wide angle.
There are essentially two seasons in the Philippines, dry season and rainy season. Rainy season lasts from May to October during which time there can be typhoons and other types of violent weather, so this is typically not the best time to travel to the Philippines. November to April is the dry season, and this is when most of us go there.
But divers, I will warn you, once you've dived in the Coral Triangle, you'll be ruined for Caribbean diving. There are many more amazing dive sites in the Philippines that I have yet to visit, and I will write about those when I have experienced them firsthand. Diving in the Philippines is a fantastic experience all around; the landscapes are beautiful, the people are friendly and wonderful, the service is unparalleled, and the underwater world is breathtaking. With that in mind, book your plane tickets now and get ready to be blown away!