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Dive Review of Atlantis Azores in
Philippines/Tubbataha

Atlantis Azores, May, 2014,

by Mel Cundiff, CO, US (Sr. Reviewer Sr. Reviewer 11 reports with 2 Helpful votes). Report 7688.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 4 stars Food 5 stars
Service and Attitude 4 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 2 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments Tubbataha Reefs, Palawan Province – Philippines
Atlantis Azores Live-Aboard May 17-24, 2014

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the middle of the Sulu Sea, has become a recent go-to diving destination in the Philippines. Being 100 miles off shore, rough waters and bad weather prevent diving there except from March to June. It is comprised of two atolls that barely break the surface at low tide, so there are no protected mooring sites for boats at night. Closest airport access is from Puerto Princesa, and the boat journey from there on smooth waters takes 12 hours. Because of bad weather this last March 2014, charters were confined to port, and when they finally made an effort to venture out, multiple hours were added on to the trip. In some cases waves were breaking over the bows of the boats and only three and one-half days of diving were available for one–week charters. In May I was on the Atlantis Azores ([atlantishotel.com link]), a 107’x18’ deep hull metal craft, and the water was glassy smooth. We had 16 divers representing six countries and dove from two zodiacs, each taking 8 of us. We were able to do five dives a day including a dusk dive and were free to dive our own profile except that we were asked to surface after 60 minutes. The average visibility was 80 feet and the average water temperature was 86°F.
Overall the boat was comfortable and the dive deck had ample room for us with space and rinse tanks for camera equipment. Access to the zodiacs was off the sides and down ladders, and this would be troublesome to the aged and handicapped divers. Staterooms were a bit cramped and shy on individual storage space, but then we weren’t in them a lot. The food was ample and scrumptious, mostly of an American/Filipino/Asian variety with lots of shrimp and fish and with excellent snacks during the day and deserts at night. Soft drinks, local beer, white and red wine and local rum were included with our package.
There were very many large barrel sponges, and the diversity of corals on these reefs was very high. Large pelagics were common. White tip and grey reef sharks were seen on almost every dive, and we experienced numerous sightings of great barracuda, trevallies, snappers, horse-eye jacks, green and hawksbill turtles, and occasionally Napoleon wrasses, bump-head parrotfish, tunas, marble rays and eagle rays. We saw no mantas. The dominant fishes on the reef were the surgeons and triggers with the nesting titan triggers being especially aggressive and bothersome. Sea cucumbers, crinoids and tunicates, also played a major role in all the reef communities.
A large pod of pilot whales came near our boat on one occasion, but the highlight of the pelagics was our encounter with four whale sharks on two different days. A 42-foot male whose tail was entangled in a barnacle-impregnated fishing net was the largest whale shark I have ever seen out of some 15-20 sightings. Having seen this entangled male the day before, our dive master, Jess, was prepared and able to cut the net free and our Captain, Todd McConnel, captured all this on video. Back on the boat we measured the length of the recovered net and from the images we had of the entangled shark were able to extrapolate the sharks length fairly accurately. At one time I was immediately in front of and within a few feet of this shark, and my outstretched arms and hands were the width of its mouth. The video is on YouTube and can be found at: [youtube.com link]
The currents were moderate to high, which is expected when coral diversity is high, as it was there, and the high concentrations of plankton in the surface waters at nigh provided ample food for the filter feeders. But the currents never carried us far and our zodiac captains were always above us when we surfaced. We were required to carry a safety sausage and it was highly recommended that we have alternative signaling devices, but these were never needed.
Most of the beautiful corals were in the shallows on the top of the vertical walls rising upward from the deep. With staghorn corals almost gone from the Caribbean, it was reassuring to see lots of healthy beds of it in the Sulu Sea. Our M.O. each dive was to drift along one of these relatively dark vertical walls, and the use of our lights was very helpful in observing the organisms found there. Instead of pointing out the critters on the wall for us, our dive masters were determined to find sharks out in the deep blue, which they were able to do. Being a critter person, this got old for me very fast, and as it turned out, this may have been okay since the critter diversity on these reefs was relatively low. Overall, our dives were quite stereotyped and began to get a bit boring. Indonesia, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and even other sites in the Philippines have more critter diversity than we found in Tubbataha. We experienced either the absence of, or very small numbers of: flatworms, nudibranchs, cuttlefish, squids, brittle stars, basket stars, sea urchins, frogfish, pipefish, crocodile fish, scorpion fish and sea snakes. Of course, with no reachable bottom to dive, it would not be expected to find the weird critters encountered on muck dives. Yes, we saw a fair number of nudibranchs, but not the large numbers and diversity of species we have seen on more complex reefs, and we saw no Spanish dancers. Cone snails, 14” pleurobranchs, pygmy seahorses and ornate ghost pipefish were a welcome sight. I tend to be rather naïve, so I had bought into the advertising hype that this was “one of the most diverse coral reefs anywhere and was the center of coral diversity for the whole world.” Well, sorry, this statement is highly overrated! Reefs in Indonesia and PNG are significantly more diverse. While I am confident there were many others, I recorded seeing six new species: a sea pen, a flatworm, two filefishes and two wrasses.
While not mentioned previously, this 7-day charter started out as a disaster in that the air conditioning system on the boat was not working, and the stateroom temperatures reached 96°F during the day. We were housed in a hotel for two nights and provided land-based excursions while the AC was being repaired. One of the Atlantis owners, Andy Pope, flew in to negotiate a reasonable compensation for our inconvenience. As it turned out, we were all pleased with the outcome, and I am confident that we would do business with the Atlantis organization in the future.
Mel Cundiff, Broomfield, CO Cundiff@Colorado.EDU 7/26/14
P.S.: In the beginning, I considered naming this write-up “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” but Andy is to
be commended for reversing the negative aspect of this dive adventure!

Websites Atlantis Azores   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience Over 1000 dives
Where else diving On all the best coral reefs in the world.
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas calm
Water Temp 84-88°F / 29-31°C Wetsuit Thickness
Water Visibility 60-90 Ft/ 18-27 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions 60 minutes, maximum
Liveaboard? yes Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas None
Dolphins 1 or 2 Whale Sharks > 2
Turtles > 2 Whales > 2
Corals 5 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish 4 stars
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 5 stars Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's 4 stars Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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