Apo Reef Natural Park is the perfect canvas to paint beautiful memories. Its crystal-clear waters are teeming with fascinating colors, shapes, and activity. With an area of 34 square kilometers, Apo Reef is the second largest connecting coral reef in the world. The first place goes to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. In the Philippines, Apo Reef is the largest atoll-type reef. No wonder these waters are rich in life.
It’s not just the sheer size of Apo Reef which made it one of the world’s best dive sites. It’s the abundance of marine life and a wide range of species that make Apo Reef a spectacular underwater destination.
You can dive all year round in Apo Reef but it is best explored from October to May. This period is the Philippines’ “dry season” which means lesser chances of rain. The average water temperature in Apo Reef is 26-30°C. Visibility can stretch up to 50 meters. Join our liveaboard Philippines to explore this beautiful aquatic sanctuary.
Apo Reef Natural Park
In 1980, the late president Ferdinand Marcos declared Apo Reef as an official marine park. However, lax enforcement still enabled illegal fishing methods to continue. On September 6, 1996, former president Fidel Ramos by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 868 declared the entire reef as Protected Area under the category of Natural Park and its surrounding waters as a buffer zone.
The Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP) encompasses an area of 15,792 hectares while its peripheral Buffer Zone has 11,677 hectares. All in all, it has a total area of 27,469 hectares consisting of three islands namely The Apo Island, Binangaan, and Cayos Del Bajo Tinangkapang.
Fishing ban protects the largest coral reef in the Philippines
Destructive fishing methods such as dynamite and cyanide fishing including unsustainable fishing practices took a toll on Apo Reef. A former protected area assistant superintendent told WWF that he used to hear 25 to 30 dynamite blasts each day.
With the introduction of a fishing ban around Apo Reef, the population of reef fish and other marine species is gradually flourishing. Under the ban, extractive ways such as fishing and coral collection and harvesting are strictly prohibited. This “no-take” zone is helping its marine residents recover from years of fishing.
Flora and fauna
Located west of Mindoro Island, a 30-m deep channel that is open to the west separates the northern and southern atoll-like reefs. These blue waters have around 26 species of algae and seven species of seagrasses.
It is home to 285 species of fish and 197 species of coral. This marine wonderland is a favorite playground of jacks, tuna, and giant Napoleon wrasses. There are also damselfish, angelfish, parrotfish, cardinalfish, triggerfish, snappers, trevallies, and groupers. It’s hard not to be awed by the multitude of fish that paints the waters with all kinds of hues. Other interesting marine life in these waters are sea squirts, clams, brittle stars, and coconut crab. You may also spot squids and octopus swooshing in the water.
Macro photographs can take advantage of the small residents that inhabit the Apo Reef Natural Park. Sponges, clams, worms, snails, and stunning nudibranchs make great underwater subjects.
Reef sharks, white-tip, and black-tip sharks also patrol these blue waters. Sea turtles are also spotted gliding their way through the clear waters. You may also come across majestic and graceful manta rays that flap their wings underwater as if they are flying. If you’re lucky, you might see a dolphin or even whales.