A sixth site of major importance to ecotourism in the Philippines is the Apo Reef Natural Park. It contains Apo Reef, the largest contiguous coral reef in the island republic and the second largest such reef in the world. The park consists of three islands, the largest of which is the Apo Island and is located in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro in Southern Luzon. The two other islands that make up the park are Binangaan Island and Cayos Del Bajo Island.
Acclaimed as one of the best diving sites in the Philippines, and some would say the best in Asia, the Apo Reef has been submitted for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in a continuing effort to preserve its raw beauty. The 34-square kilometer Apo Reef is also considered the second largest atoll-reef in the country and consists of two separate coral reefs separated by a 30-meters deep channel. The shallow lagoon found on the island is surrounded by mangroves which serve as a food-source, a nursery and spawning grounds for several marine and coastal species of fauna. The deep channel has a sandy white bottom where patches of branching corals abound. There are about 500 different types of corals in the area. Almost the same number of fish inhabits these waters. Fishing within the reef has been banned and was declared a protected area in 1996. Marine life includes sharks, manta and stingrays and you do not need to go too deep to see these beautiful creatures up close.
The Apo Reef is essentially a submerged lagoon system with two shallow wrecks. The underwater terrain of the area is interesting and consists of coral walls, caves and drop-offs. The presence of the ship wrecks makes the dives a bit more interesting. Wall diving is all the more interesting because of the magnificent corals that abound there. Gorgonians, Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish and thousands of other reef creatures that swim in and out of the crevices of the rock formations makes diving in the area extremely pleasurable. The eastern side of the reef may provide you a closer look at larger sea creatures such as manta rays and sharks which has been aptly name shark ridge precisely because of the presence of these elegant marine mammals.
The park has numerous diving sites. Apo Island is perfect for viewing hard and soft corals, turtles and other big fishes. Hunters Rock is a huge coral wall located about 14kms west of Apo Island. It is a sheer drop that attracts a variety of big fishes. Merope Rock is a vast group of corals where sharks, big-eye trevallies and barracudas are spotted frequently. Shark Ridge is popular as a perfect site for encounters with white and reef-tipped sharks, barracudas and other pelagic species. Binangaan Drop-Off is a diving wall where Gorgonians, hump-head parrot fish, tuna; groupers and snappers are often seen darting in and out of the crevices within these amazing formations. A wide variety of marine fauna from colorful corals to small reef fishes can be sighted off the Coast of Pandan Island.
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