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Only 40 minutes by boat from Atmosphere Resorts & Spa, a trip to Apo Island should be on everyone’s wish list. Apo Island is home to the longest continual marine sanctuary in the Philippines. The surrounding reef also contains some of the world’s best hard coral gardens. The tiny island is surrounded by so much hard and soft coral and it is difficult to find a sandy patch! Blessed by no mass coral bleaching, it truly is a coral wonderland. With a mix of world-class coral, diverse marine life and lots of turtles, Apo Island is perfect for divers and snorkellers alike! Continue reading for our top 5 reasons to visit the amazing Apo Island.

1. Apo Island is home to one of the world’s best-known community-based underwater sanctuaries

Apo Island is a very small island, measuring at only 74 hectares and has approximately 900 inhabitants. The island is home to one of the best examples of a successful community-based marine sanctuary. The inhabitants of Apo Island used to prefer destructive fishing methods, such as dynamite fishing, cyanide fishing, and the Japanese form of Muro-ami – pounding rocks on coral to chase fish into nets.

In 1982, the inhabitants of Apo island were concerned about their declining fish stocks. They invited Dr. Angel Alcala, a biologist from the nearby Silliman University in Dumaguete, to discuss their problem. Dr. Alcala took them to Sumilon Island, a marine sanctuary set up in 1974 about 45 minutes away from Dauin. This was to show them how effective a marine sanctuary can be.

After a few years, some of the families, as well as the bantay dagat (marine police), agreed to set up a marine sanctuary. They selected an area that is 450 meters wide and stretching out 500 meters from shore, where no fishing was to be allowed. Fish numbers and sizes increased and caused a spillover effect, resulting in more fish in the surrounding areas where fishing is allowed. By 1985, all of the families on the island agreed with and supported the sanctuary and made it legally binding through the local government.

An aerial photo of Apo Island village, near Atmosphere Resorts & Spa, Dauin, Philippines

Apo Island is home to one of the world’s best-known community-based underwater sanctuaries

2. Witness some of the best hard coral gardens on the planet at Apo Island

Apo Island is home to over 650 documented species of fish and over 400 species of corals. Most of the Philippines’ 500 species of coral can be found here.  You can see anything from tiny bubble corals to huge gorgonian sea fans and brain corals. Visitors and tourists pay a fee to enter Apo Island, to snorkel or dive in the marine sanctuary. These fees are used to keep the sanctuary clean and in good condition.

Apo Island has been protected for nearly 40 years and this is immediately visible when you enter the water. The soft coral gardens at five metres are completely untouched, even with daily diving pressure. There is very little coral bleaching and no signs of destructive fishing anywhere. The soft coral transitions to hard coral as you make your way over the wall or down the slope, depending on the dive site. Although not as vibrant as the soft corals, the hard corals are incredibly healthy and abundant.

A photo of a woman snorkelling amongst colourful hard coral gardens at Apo Island.

Witness some of the best hard coral gardens on the planet

3. Experience a diverse mix of colourful reef fish and exciting underwater macro

A great thing for photographers is that many of the fish at Apo Island are not found on the Dauin coast due to the extreme differences in habitat. For example, the gilded triggerfish is very common at Apo Island but much more rare along the Dauin coast. There are plenty of other reef fish to be seen, such as longnose butterflyfish, anthias, many species of clownfish, trumpetfish, as well as parrotfish. Keep your eye out for bigger species such as sea kraits, jackfish, barracuda, tuna, wahoo, and the occasional shark.

There are also good macro opportunities at Apo Island, with many critters including candy crabs, orangutan crabs, nudibranches, flatworms, frogfish, and even blue-ringed octopus if you’re lucky! You can see squid and day octopus as well.

A photo of a longnose butterflyfish, common in the waters of Apo Island but not along the Dauin coastline

See lots of colourful reef fish, like the longnose butterflyfish

4. See more turtles in the waters of Apo Island than you can count!

Although Dauin is known around the world for its amazing muck diving, tourism here started for a completely different reason – reef diving and sea turtles. Apo Island is a feeding ground for female sea turtles. The lack of poachers, nearly 40 years of sanctuary protection and plenty of food ensures that turtles keep coming to Apo Island to feed. There are two species that can be found there – green turtles and hawksbill turtles.

Green turtles are normally found in shallow water (0-15m), either grazing on algae in extremely shallow water or taking naps in the soft coral. They can also be found cleaning their shells on exposed rock or letting butterflyfish do the job for them. Their main diet includes sea grass, algae, sponges, and the occasional jellyfish. Algae is something that Apo Island has plenty of in the shallow water! Green turtles can be identified by their bullet-shaped head.

Hawksbill sea turtles can be found in shallow water but are normally deeper. Their diet is mainly hard coral with the occasional anemone. They can be identified by their pointy beak, which is used to cut off chunks of sponge and hard coral. They also have a distinctive pattern of overlapping scales on their shells that form a serrated-look on the edges.

One of the best aspects of Apo Island is that it can be enjoyed by snorkelers and divers alike. Many times our snorkelers see more turtles than our divers! This is due to the large amount of algae covering the shallow rocks, which turtles love to eat.

Snorkeling with turtles in crystal clear water over a coral reef in Apo Island

Many times our snorkellers see more turtles than our divers!

5. Apo Island is a technical diver’s playground

One of the reasons to visit Apo Island, is that it’s perfectly suited for technical divers. One side of Apo Island boasts mesmerizing walls, inviting recreational divers to delve down to 30 meters. On the other side, brace yourself for drift dives amid wild currents. Here you’ll encounter massive schools of jacks, vibrant reefs, and an abundance of sea snakes.

But that’s not all – beneath those walls lie deep, awe-inspiring rock formations extending from 45 to a staggering 80 meters. It’s a playground perfectly suited for divers of all technical levels. Brace yourself for a rendezvous with giant trevallies, elusive snakes and graceful eagle rays. Experience an underwater world teeming with marine life found nowhere else. What sets this experience apart? You’ll have it all to yourself, away from the commotion of shallower sites.

A map of the dive sites around Apo Island, near Atmosphere Resorts & Spa, Dauin, Philippines

There are 10 dive sites around Apo Island, each offering something different

We believe that no trip to Atmosphere is complete without a trip to this magical island. We offer trips almost everyday, whether you want to dive or just snorkel!

What are you waiting for? Contact us to book an unforgettable Apo Island experience!


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