Tubbataha Adventure Day1: North Atoll

I had a number of recurring thoughts during the almost five days I was in the Sulu Sea and one of them was: how on Earth do I begin to describe the wonders of Tubbataha???

Last year, I signed up with my friend Rommel of WILD Expeditions Palawan for their 5-day birdwatching-snorkelling-diving trip to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Sulu Sea. I had one year to save up and prepare for the trip and I was looking forward to it as the months flew by. And, oh did I experience so much more than what I dreamt of!

I met up with birdwatcher friends Lu-Ann, Gina, Hernan with Rocco and Monique at the airport and we arrived in Puerto Princesa mid-morning of Monday. We were picked up and brought to Ellei's Place to meet up with the rest of the group and have lunch. It was off to the port after that!

At 3PM, we boarded the M/Y Zamerdius, which would be our home at sea, and were given an introduction by the staff of the Tubbataha Management Office and by Arne Jensen as well.

That's the M/Y Zamerdius!

Going on-board the M/Y Zamerdius

Watching a video from the Tubbataha Management Office

Arne giving us our first lecture about

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a World Heritage Site located in the middle of the Sulu Sea in the Municipality of Cagayancillo, Palawan. Covering 97,030 hectares, it is composed of the North Atoll, the South Atoll, and the Jessie Beazley Reef. Those areas we would be visiting throughout the week =)

We met Kymne, the dive master of the M/Y Zamerdius, and he gave us a tour of the yacht and gave us our rooming assignments. I was roomed with Elvira and Chase and we soon made ourselves at home in our cozy cabin.

The prow of the Zamerdius

The galley

The top deck where we would have our meals and also hang out

That's my bunk bed!

That's Chase and Elvira's beds opposite mine =)

After we got settled in our rooms, I took the time to read through some of the articles Arne brought as our mini "library" which included a journal article written by Dean Worcester who first visited Tubbataha in 1910!

We awoke the next day to find the M/Y Zamerdius already anchored in North Atoll. As I went up the deck, Brown Boobies flew overhead and perched on some exposed rocks! I started frantically taking photos not knowing I'd be getting much much better views in a few hours time!

Brown Boobies!

The divers were preparing for their first dive and we were told the rest of us could go snorkelling just around the boat. Did I mention I've never really went snorkelling before? Well, I haven't and I have this thing with fish and their proximity to my skin soooo.... 

The divers on their way for their dive

BUT! I was determined to experience Tubbataha in all its glory so I bravely covered up my skin as much as possible, donned my brothers full-face snorkeling mask, secured my Xiao Mi action cam, and tightened my life vest.

As I dangled my feet in the water for a few minutes, I virtually gave myself a push and then I was in the water! I saw my new friends Gibo, Chase, and Elvira happily swimming away and, as I held on to the life line connected to the boat, I allowed myself to enjoy my first taste of Tubbataha underwater. I didn't spend too much time in the water but I gave myself a pat on the back for actually getting IN!

Yay! I got in the water! AND enjoyed it! ;)

Lots of fish just beside the boat!

When the divers returned, we had breakfast and soon were on the dinghy speeding towards Bird Islet!

As we approached, we stopped by a sandbar which had lots of Great Crested Terns, a couple of black phase Pacific Reef Egrets, and Chinese Egrets! There were also smaller waders: Grey Plover and Grey-tailed Tattlers.

Chinese Egrets

Great Crested Terns and a Pacific Reef Egret

Grey Plover and Grey-tailed Tattler

It was already so amazing but I was about to be amazed some more as we approached Bird Islet! Hundreds of birds swarmed the air and dotted the islet!!!

Approaching Bird Islet
LOTS of birds is an understatement!

It was overwhelming seeing all these birds, mixed up in the air and on the island. I calmed myself down and slowly took in the birds. I got six lifers within minutes of being in Bird Islet!

Black Noddies by the water's edge

Red-footed Boobies (center) with the more numerous Brown Boobies

Red-footed Booby

Male and female Brown Boobies

Brown Booby just above our small boat!!!
The whole time I was listening to Arne as he spoke about the birds and the place. I tried to learn how to tell the Black and Brown Noddies apart and also to remember that the Black Noddies prefer to nest on the trees while the Brown Boobies prefer to stay in the central part of the islet, called the Plaza, and the Great Crested Terns preferred the sandy part of the islet. It was a sensory overload but I loved every minute of it!
Birding from the dinghy

We circled Bird Islet and Arne was concentrating on finding the Masked Booby that had been sighted during last year's bird census and also a few weeks earlier. It would be a mega lifer but, with all the lifers I've already seen, it would be a bonus: the cherry on top of the sprinkles on top of the whipped cream on top of the sundae 😍

Arne scanning and scanning

And then, Arne found it. 

Masked Booby, mega lifer of the trip!

The lone Masked Booby stuck its head out of the Plaza and allowed me a couple of documentary shots and a bit more time to observe it. Arne said it had bullied its way into a Brown Booby family, edged out the male, and was helping the female rear a chick in the Plaza.

We returned to the M/Y Zameridus after our mega sighting. We were given nice views of turtles as we made our way around the islet and back to the boat.
Brown Boobies would constantly fly above the dinghy!

Lots of turtles around us!

There was more snorkelling after lunch and we were brought to another location further from the boat. I saw my first shark (which didn't make me panic but I did swim away), my first rays, more turtles, and beautiful fish that afternoon!! 😍


A pair of stingrays under the sand

Snorkeling in the most wonderful place!!!

When we got back to the Zamerdius, I asked Kymne what area we snorkeled in and he said "Oh, Shark Airport." So yeah, I had my first legit snorkeling experience in a place called Shark Airport ;)

Our first day in Tubbataha was simply amazing! And, just like any epic adventure, it was going to get even better! 😁

Bird Islet

To be continued...


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Trinket!!! =) See you soon! =)

  2. Very exciting and interesting! A good read ☺️

    1. Yes, super exciting trip! Thank you, Karol! =)