Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tubbataha Adventure Day3: South Atoll and Jessie Beazley Reef

It was our third day on board the M/Y Zameridus and we were greeted by a beautiful watercolor sunrise at Tubbataha's South Atoll.

The sky was painted with such beautiful colors that morning 💗

That's Doreen capturing the sunrise at the prow of the boat

Slowly, more of our companions joined us at the prow of the boat. We saw a silhouette of a ray skimming the surface of the water as it fed near our boat. It was exciting seeing a fin or two breach the water's surface from time to time.
   
Lu-Ann, Arne, and me with the lighthouse behind us

We had breakfast and headed out for some birding in South Atoll. As we were getting in the dinghy, the ray appeared quite close to the boat so we sped off to get a closer look. Rocco called out from the Zamerdius, "Maia! Put your GoPro in the water!!" So I grabbed firmly to my (cheap) selfie stick, plunged my Xiao Mi action cam in the water, and pointed it in the general direction of the ray all the time praying I would be able to get some footage of this ray! I had to wait until we got back to the Zamerdius to check if I did get any videos and I was so very lucky that I got an awesome video of a Manta Ray!!! Watch in HD! =)



When the ray swam away, we focused on getting closer to the lighthouse on South Atoll. Tubbataha Reefs' South Atoll has a lighthouse that was built in the 1980's. Currently, the islet is uninhabited and off-limits to humans but the lighthouse is still functioning.

Approaching the lighthouse

The crumbling lighthouse and seawall of  the South Atoll

South Atoll is a nesting place for Red-footed Boobies and Black Noddies, the subspecies of which is only found in the Sulu Sea. There are also small numbers of Brown Boobies and Great Crested Terns. As we approached, there were even some Frigatebirds perched atop the tall tree in front of us! Such prehistoric-looking birds!
  
One of the Frigatebirds on the leftmost perch with some
Brown Boobies and Red-footed Boobies

South Islet still has some trees but are slowly disappearing too
and cannot support the number of birds living on the islet

Red-footed Booby

Black Noddy sitting on its egg (and showing its strange tongue)

We went around the islet, taking in the close-up views of the birds. We were able to observe the Red-footed Boobies and Black Noddies sitting on their nests, most laced with bits of plastic. We even saw some birds come in carrying plastic in their beaks to use as nesting material...
 
Black Noddy on its nest with lots of plastic

Parent Red-footed Booby sits with its chick on its nest with plastic string

We circled around the islet a number of times, and I took the time to really take good looks are the birds I would most likely never see again this well (unless I am blessed enough to get to visit Tubbataha again in the future 🙏)

Handsome Black Noddy
It's really hard to describe how beautiful their coloration is.

Red-footed Booby showing its very red feet

Pair of Black Noddies looking beautiful without even trying

Frigatebird soaring above our small boat
  
We soon said goodbye to the the lighthouse and its birds and headed back to the Zamerdius. We made a quick stop at the Delsan wreck, which ran aground on the South Atoll in the 1970's. Some Brown Boobies and Pacific Reef Egrets were perched on the wreckage and flew off as we approached.
  
Birds on the wreckage
Gawin requested we go around the wreck one more time and as we circled, our boatmen spotted a pod of dolphins nearby! We sped closer to the dolphins and enjoyed another unexpected surprise!
We had some time to go snorkeling before we moved to our last stop, Jessie Beazley Reef. I was even more confident in the water and ventured further from the dinghy. I was rewarded with a sighting of Blacktip Reef Sharks, more turtles, and a big Grey Reef Shark! 😍

That's Ampy, one of the crew on the Zamerdius who led me to the
Grey Reef Shark!

We soon had to get out of the water, get back on the Zamerdius, and head to the Jessie Beazley Reef. Another bonus for me was being "kapitana" for a few minutes when the captains gave me the wheel of the Zamerdius on our way to the Reef.

Another bonus on this trip!

We soon approached the Jessie Beazley Reef which has a small islet made up of broken corals which gets submerged during high tide. It was added to the Park in 2006 which tripled the size of the Park. It was low tide when we got there exposing the islet which had a big number of Great Crested Terns.

Birding in the Jessie Beazley Reef

We just stayed for a few minutes and then started our journey back to Puerto Princesa. It had been an amazing 3 days in Tubbataha, with lots of unexpected sightings and experiences! Sharing the compilation of video clips from the trip below (watch in HD!) =)



Thank you again to Rommel of WILD Expeditions Palawan for organizing this amazing trip!
Thank you to Arne Jensen for being such a fantastic guide!
Thank you to everyone on the trip for the wonderful company!