Apo Reef is the second largest contiguous coral reef in the world, and the largest in the Philippines. It is the largest of the three islands that make up the Apo Reef Natural Park, located in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental in Southern Luzon; the other two are the Apo Island and the Pandan Island.
The Apo Reef, acclaimed as one of the best dive sites in the country, is the largest atoll-like reef in the Philippines. It is a submerged platform, separated by a deep channel open to the west. This channel runs east to west from 1.8 meters to 30 meters deep with a fine white sand bottom, where numerous mounds of corals, approximately 34 square kilometers of reef, reside under the deep blue water and serve as the habitat of different species of fish, marine mammals and invertebrates.
Marine fauna is widespread and there are some 400-500 different types of corals. Moreover, about 500 different species of fish inhabit these waters. A shallow lagoon that measures 2 to 10 meters deep can also be found, surrounded by mangrove forests, which serve as a nursery and home to a myriad of coastal and marine species, and birds.
Apo Reef's main features are submerged--it is a sunken lagoon system with two shallow wrecks: an old steamer and a small fishing boat. The area possesses interesting undersea terrains such as coral walls, caves and drop off; and a presence of shipwrecks which are mainly admired by dive enthusiasts. Wall diving in the areas covered with fun corals and Gorgonians, and the presence of thousands of reef creatures including Napoleon wrasse and species of parrotfish fleeting in and out of its crevices, catches most attentions of the divers. Manta rays and sharks as well are occasionally seen around the appropriately named shark ridge on the east side of the reef.
Several diving-related websites have acknowledged the Apo Reef as one of the best diving sites in Asia and in the world because of its teeming marine life and extraordinary features, despite the unsightly view caused by dynamite fishing on the top area of the reef.
How to get there
The tourists have to travel by boat for 3 hours if they are coming from Pandan Island, while 125 kms by boat from Puerto Galera.
Famous diving sites in Apo Reef
- Apo Island
Apo Island has sites for viewing hard and soft corals. The scuba diving is always conducted in some type of current and can be quite tricky. They are also some huge drop-offs where the tourist can see turtles and other big fishes.
- Hunters Rock
A huge coral wall that almost reaches the surface and drops sheer on the sides, which attracts large currents and big fishes. Hunters Rock is about 14 kilometres west of Apo Island.
- Merope Rock
Merope Rock is similar to Hunters. It consists of a vast group of corals that comes within about 14 meters of the surface. It has some good coral walls, which are home to some big fishes, sharks, bigeye trevallies, and barracudas.
- Shark Ridge
On the east coast of Apo Reef, facing Mindoro Island you will find some more sheer drops in excess of 50 meters. As the name of the site refers it is known for sharks, both white and reef tips, barracudas, and other pelagics.
- Binangaan Drop-off
This drop-off site is located at the southwest side of Apo Island and another good diving wall to explore. Impressive Gorgonians and plenty of soft and hard corals can be seen in this site. Exotic marine life is vibrant and schools of humphead parrotfish, tuna, groupers, snappers and other large pelagics can be experienced.
- Pandan Island
Located off the west coast of Mindoro Island, this island has a private resort. There are numerous dive sites here and the depths range from 2 to 20 meters, which are ideal for beginners. Wide variety of marine fauna and life are to be found, from colourful corals to small reef fish and larger pelagics.
Apo Reef, along with its surrounding waters as buffer zone, was proclaimed as a Protected Area under the category of Natural Park by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 868, dated September 6, 1996. The Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP) and its peripheral Buffer Zone covers an area of 15,792 hectares and 11,677 hectares, respectively, totaling 27,469 hectares in all.
Prior to its declaration as a Protected Area under the category of Natural Park, Apo Reef has been designated as Marine Park through Presidential Proclamation No. 1801 in 1980, authorizing the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) to undertake the development and management of the area. It was also declared a tourist zone and Marine Reserve by virtue of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 1108 in 1983.
- Discovery Channel. Insight Guide About the Philippines. APA Publications: Singapore, 2000.
- Apo Reef Natural Park—UNESCO World Heritage Centre site. Accessed on July 25, 2007.
- E-Travel Pilipinas: Discover the Wonders of Island Paradise Accessed on 20 April 2009.