Though damaged by two cyclones in the last four years, the thriving reef surrounding Apo Island, Philippines, is still one of the best reef dives on offer in the Philippines.

Home to over 1,000 people, Apo Island was a dying fishery just a few decades ago. Extreme efforts were made to create a marine sanctuary, which has allowed the waters to rebound from destructive fishing habits and overfishing in general. The fee charged to divers and snorkelers helps pay for the reef’s general upkeep, patrolling costs, and aids the island locals. The overwhelming success of the Apo Island Marine Sanctuary and the turnaround from near collapse to a thriving reef has set an example for other parts of the Philippines regarding the positive impact of regulated fishing.

Just a 30-minute boat ride from the shores of Negros Island, Apo Island itself is a gorgeous site to behold, with white sand beaches and pretty bluffs covered in green. But it’s below the water that it really shines. The reef features more varieties of hard and soft corals than it’s possible to list in one place — the Philippines itself has 450 species of hard and soft corals, and 400 of them can be found at Apo, along with over 650 species of fish.

The reef is massive, with a large portion of it just 15 to 20 feet (3 to 5m) deep, making it an ideal place for snorkelers. Along the edges of the flat, shallow area, the reef drops off into a large wall, extending to over 100 feet (30 m). Every inch of it is covered with corals and sponges of some kind, and the waters are full of large and small reef fish and lots of turtles.

The guides told us that on occasion, thresher sharks and rays can be seen there, but it’s not very common. We saw turtles, huge parrotfish, giant trevally, Moorish idols, clownfish, emperor angelfish, various triggerfish and sea snakes, just to name a few. If you’re going to be in the Philippines, a dive at Apo Island is a must, and one you won’t soon forget.

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