Scuba Diving in the Philippines

Overview

Over the past five years I have dove in Mindoro, Negros, Cebu, Palawan, Bohol, Mindanao and Southern Leyte. Most of my diving and time is spent in Panglao Island, Bohol for reasons that go beyond just the scuba diving. I have not dove the Tubbataha Reefs which are reputed to be the best diving in the Philippines. They are classified as a World Heritage Location. That dive destination is done by liveaboard only and is seasonal.
There is some diversity between the areas I have dove. For example; Sabang, Mindoro had a wider variety of nudibranchs than the other locations as well as three small ship wrecks located close together with a lot of marine life on them. Moalboal, Cebu and Panglao, Bohol are primarily wall dives, each with a small island located offshore that contains a variety of marine life. Dauin, Negros was a good "target specific" area for underwater photographers. Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte is an isolated destination but with very healthy soft corals. Coron, Palawan is noted for it's WWII Japanese shipwrecks. The wrecks are deep with poor visibility. They were mostly stripped in the early years after the war. Camiguin in Mindanao has a black sand ocean floor which makes for good photographic contrast.
Sea fans, colorful sponges and soft corals abound in the Philippines as well as a wide variety of small colorful tropical fish. What is missing is the larger fish. They have been for the most part fished out. The Philippines has a population of approximately one hundred million people, most of whom eat rice and fish. Fishing is a must for many to survive, for both eating and selling. Add to that foreign vessels illegally fishing in Philippine waters. The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and therefore a protected area. It is plagued with poaching problems by both locals and foreign fishing vessels. Dynamite fishing over a span of years has damaged many of the reefs throughout the country. Although illegal it still goes on. On two separate occasions while diving in Bohol I heard the blast of dynamite in the distance.
My consensus is scuba diving in the Philippines is on very borrowed time. There is little being done at the national or local government  levels to preserve the existing dive sites. Enforcement in "sanctuary" zones is near impossible to enforce or non-existent. The dive sites are so devoid of large fish that I'm not sure it's possible at this point for those areas to replenish themselves, even if left unmolested. In a nutshell the waters in the Philippines are being fished to extinction, as is the case in many other parts of the world. If push comes to shove between local fishermen and tourist scuba divers, I think the government will side with the fishermen.
The Philippines still offers some good diving. The key to diving there, as with any dive location, are the dive guides. The experience level of local guides is most important when it comes to finding specimens to simply view or photograph. The guide can be more important than the dive site itself, especially in the Philippines where specimens are becoming harder to find. If possible ask around about the reputation of the local dive guides before you commit to a dive shop.
 

Dive Costs

 
One tank boat dives average $25.00 US and include weights, tank, dive guide and boat. Rental gear is extra as well as is Nitrox at most dive centers.
 

Boat Diving

 
Most diving is done from speedboats and "banca boats" which are wooden hull boats with bamboo outriggers and diesel truck engines.
 

"Sanctuary" and "Camera" Fees

 
Charging additional "sanctuary", "environmental",  "camera", etc. fees is a growing trend at many of the dive destinations throughout the country. Local Government Officials have mandated certain dive sites be designated as "sanctuaries". Extra fees are then charged for diving those sites and in some cases camera usage fees are also added. In some instances the fees can be exorbitant in comparison to the cost of the dive. Some locations charge a fee for diving and snorkeling at any location in their jurisdiction. Where those fees end up is anyone's guess. Even though some sites are labeled "sanctuaries" they are almost never policed and the local residents may fish them. In reality there are virtually few, if any, protected and policed dive sites in the Philippines.
 

Dive Season

 
Scuba diving is good all year. It's best to check each island for its weather patterns.
 

Ocean Temperatures

 
I found the ocean temperature to be 80F plus degrees in the areas I dove with the exception of Sabang, Mindoro. There the water was 77F to 78F in January. A 3mm wetsuit is fine for anyplace in the country. A full suit or skin and shorty suit has the added protection from any coral cuts which can lead to infection.
 

Equipment Repair

 

If bringing your own gear be sure it is in top working order and recently serviced. Regulator repair can be difficult to find in many areas. Big cities like Manila and Cebu have authorized dealers for some brands.

 

Hyperbaric Chamber

 
There are hyperbaric chambers in several areas of the country. Make knowing their locations a part of your trip planning.
 

Medical Treatment

 
Doctor and hospital treatment is usually on a pay as you go basis. Reimbursement is likely done by your insurance provider after the fact so save all your reciepts. Antibiotics are sold over the counter in the Philippines. A doctors prescription is not required. It is best not to buy generic drugs as their potency and quality can be questionable. Bring your own antibiotics for treating infections especially one for ear infections resulting from diving.
 

Personal Safety

To date I have never had an issue with personal safety. Of course Manila and Cebu have the same problems associated with any big city. Overall I find the Filipino people to be polite, easy going and somewhat shy with foreigners. On the other hand, all areas of the ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) are unsafe.
 

Baggage Limits

 
International flights to the Philippines from some countries offer generous baggage limits. Be aware that in-country flights in the Philippines, if not an international connecting flight, allow a 15 kilo limit per passenger regardless of the number of bags and one carry-on at seven kilos. They do not allow averaging the weight between a group of people or a couple flying together.  It is best to check each airline on the web for their specific baggage limits. Flights from the Philippines to some of the other Asian countries are considered "regional" not "international" and have the same baggage limits as domestic flights. Certain domestic flight destinations are limited to 10 kilos.