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Your Guide to Diving in Coron

World Class Wreck Diving in Philippines

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...Highlights: turtles, dugongs, great macro life/ marine diversity...
...Diving environment: wreck diving, caverns, advanced divers...

Coron in the western Philippines is the wreck diving destination in the country and one of the best in the world. There is much more to Coron’s diving than wrecks, however, with some excellent reefs and fascinating experiences including caves, lakes and encounters with dugongs.

Diving in Coron - photo courtesy of Atlantis Azores

Of course the main reason divers visit Coron is for the wreck diving. Few places in the world have such a concentration of living history below the waves. After the bombing of 15 Japanese boats in Manila Bay, the Japanese command needed to find a safe anchor and selected Coron, believing they would then be out of reach of enemy bombers. This was a miscalculation. Up to 24 supply ships were at anchor supporting the Japanese forces occupying the Philippines, when they came under a surprise aerial attack by the US Navy in September 1944.

Now these structures lie on the sea floor and have become part of the marine ecosystem. The wrecks are very well preserved and mostly lie in quite shallow water. They are enjoyed by scuba divers from all over the world, particularly those lucky guests on a Coron liveaboard cruise.

Marine life that you are likely to see in and around the wrecks include barracuda, triggerfish, groupers, crocodilefish, scorpionfish and nudibranchs. Since many of the wrecks are very large ships (some up to 160m), your dives may focus on particular sections of each wreck and the penetration and swim-through opportunities are endless.

Dive Site Descriptions

There are at least 12 wrecks to dive in the Coron area. More may be discovered in time. Having been visited and assessed by so many divers from all over the world, there has emerged a list of favourites known as The Big 6! There are other wrecks which are entirely worth a visit even though they do not get the headlines. In addition to the wrecks, there are some excellent diving experiences to be enjoyed here: a warm water dive in a former volcano, some amazing caves, and even dugongs.

The "Big 6" Wrecks

The best dive sites in Coron are, for most people, the wrecks and the Big 6 are the best of the best. There are a variety of wrecks here: the seaplane tender Akitsushima, the deep dark Irako, an unnamed Japanese Frieghter, the big cargo vessel Kogyo Maru, the oiler Okikawa Maru, and the freighter Olympia Maru.
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This 118m long seaplane tender lies on the portside at a depth of 35m and is one of the best known wrecks in Coron. This ship did not go down without a fight. The US bombers passing overhead were met with heavy fire but eventually the ship was struck on the port side. Fire ensued and the Akitsushima sank in the channel that divides the islands of Lajo and Manglet.

Largely intact, you can dive around the huge crane which was used for lifting seaplanes. 2 machine guns nearby are also visible, as are the funnels, radio tower, and some loose gas masks. Suitably experienced and qualified divers can enter the wreck at a number of places and explore the 3 decks including the engine room and command room. The sight of the massive impact hole that sank the ship is incredible. What this wreck lacks in coral and sponge coverage it makes up for with fish life, with scorpionfish and lionfish seemingly everywhere, plus yellowfin tuna, giant groupers and schools of sweetlips, batfish and barracuda.

This 145m long wreck was a Japanese provisions vessel transporting mostly refrigerated food. Now it has become a feast for the senses and is considered by many to be the best wreck dive in Coron, and indeed, the Philippines. When it came under attack in September 1944 it responded with fire from its numerous flak guns but was struck a number of times. The main impact that sealed its fate was in the bridge. The wreck now lies upright but tilted, at a maximum depth of 43m, although the more interesting deck areas to explore range between 28 and 35m. Good visibility will allow you to spot the many lionfish, scorpionfish, groupers and turtles frequenting the wreck. Around it are often schools of fusiliers and jacks. This is not a wreck for beginners because of the depth and darkness inside and the sheer size of the structure. Experienced wreck divers will love exploring the engine rooms, transmission room, galley and starboard propeller.

Japanese Freighter
This unidentified wreck, at 12 to 25m depth, is one of the shallower dives, and more suitable for the less experienced. If you are suitably experienced then there are easy penetrations into the ship which lies on its starboard. The cavernous cargo holds and engine rooms are the easiest to explore. It is in fact even possible to enter the wreck at the bow and make your way through the full length of this 137m ship, exiting at the stern, which is rare! You can also see the blast damage behind the 2 enormous boilers at the centre of the ship.

If only diving around the structure of the wreck, you can enjoy the nice section of hard corals that have taken root on the port side. Fish to be seen here include meaty groupers, sweetlips, trumpetfish and as with many of the wrecks here, scorpionfish are lurking everywhere. Turtles and sea snakes are also commonly sighted.

Kogyo Maru
This is a 135m long auxiliary cargo ship that was transporting construction machinery and materials meant for the construction of runways in the Pacific to aid the Japanese war effort. Now lying at a maximum depth of 34m, this wreck allows divers to swim through the engine room, bridge and all 6 holds, all at depths in the 22-28m range. Schools of batfish and barracuda are common here as well as lionfish and nudibranchs. The hull in fact is quite nicely carpetted in soft corals and some hard corals. Grouper and turtles are often frequently sighted. Less frequently, a manta ray or 2 may swoop by to give you a welcome surprise.

39 lives were lost in the sinking and, because of the cargo, it is a wreck that can come alive in your imagination. When you see a bulldozer, a sloping wall of fallen cement bags, a tractor and a diesel engine, it is natural to muse on how they and the victims never fulfilled their purpose. You can explore the engine room and boilers illuminated by a shaft of light from above.

Okikawa Maru
Lying at a maximum 25m depth you will find this 160m long oiler which was engulfed flames after being struck by US bombers in the September raids over Coron. The ship limped on for a few weeks until taking a direct hit on the bow which consigned it to the ocean floor. Sitting perfectly upright this is the largest wreck in the area, although the bow is nearly completely ripped off. There is impressive and colourful coral growth on the structure, particularly in the shallower sections between 10 and 16m.

This is a popular dive site for the less experienced because even a tour of the outside can be richly rewarding, with a lot of macro life living in the coral gardens sprouting from the sides of the hull. In stronger current the fish biomass can be very impressive with schools of large batfish and snappers often present. If entering the wreck, you can do so by the propeller shaft and tour the accommodations and the tanks that stored the cargo of oil, ending in the engine room. Inside you might find the occasional grouper, lionfish and scorpionfish.

Olympia Maru
This 122m Japanese freighter lies upright in 30m near Tangat Island. A squadron of 10 US bombers all teamed up to make this so, and at the fourth attempt achieved a direct and central strike that doomed it, taking 19 lives in the process. This might be one of your first dives in Coron since it is relatively shallow (averaging 16 to 26m) and easily penetrable, making it a gentle introduction.

There are a couple of boilers left in the engine room, but a combination of salvage and damage mean there are not that many internal features remaining. There is a gun turret near the bow worth visiting, both for the turret itself and the schooling fish and large pufferfish that are often present there. The 2 masts are still intact and are worth investigating for macro life. Black coral bushes grow from both the port and starboard side sheltering lionfish and ghost pipefish.

More of the Best Wreck Dives

While the Big 6 may be the first names in Coron wreck diving, they are not the entire story. There are other less celebrated wrecks which can wow you with marine life and fascinate you with their historical context. Some do not really deserve to be considered second tier alternatives. If you find yourself diving Kyokuzan Maru and Morazán Maru you may conclude they deserve promotion and the 6 in Big 6 needs to be increased. Also some of the Big 6 are deep and require experience and specialist qualifications. So you may visit other, easier wrecks such as East Tangat Gunboat and Lusong Gunboat which lie in water so shallow that even snorkellers overhead can enjoy them
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Kyokuzan Maru
This wreck of a 180m Japanese freighter lies northeast of Busuanga Island, so is not in the immediate area where most wrecks are located. This means it is either dived a special daytrip or by liveaboard divers. It is definitely worth the visit since it is an almost entirely intact wreck with lots to see and explore. Only the less than stellar visibility and location keep it from being considered one of the Big 6.

Numerous batfish call this Coron wreck home and you will also likely see many pufferfish and scorpionfish here too. As you make your way around the various compartments (between 20 and 28m) you will see bits of pottery bearing the ship's insignia, parts of cars and trucks, and pieces of gas masks scattered around. There is a gun mount on the stern worth a visit, as are the cargo holds. You can easily drop into one of these from above and exit through the other. If you do so you will see a very strange hazy effect similar to how liquid nitrogen appears in air. This is caused by the silty asbestos floor, so it is probably wise not to sink into the cloud!

Morazán Maru
This is a 93m English passenger cargo vessel that had been captured by the Japanese and turned into an auxiliary cargo vessel. It lies on its starboard side in a maximum of 25m and can be penetrated from bow to stern. There are 4 large cargo holds with easy penetration. 2 large boilers are still present in the engine room. The engine was salvaged but left behind a hole through which the sunlight streams beautifully. Current is normally mild and washes over the skyward-facing portside hull, which is carpetted colourfully in hard and soft corals. Here and around the wreck you can see crocodilefish, many scorpionfish, and impressive groupers.

East Tangat Gunboat
This 35m submarine-chaser lies in very shallow water just off the east coast of Tangat Island and is suitable for divers of all levels. Its proximity to the land and the absence of any bomb damage suggest the crew scuttled the ship before going ashore. This location has also made it an easy target for salvagers who have stripped it of anything of value. In a depth range of 3 to 19m it is a well-lit wreck, although visibility can vary from a high of about 15m.

It is quite a small wreck which can be penetrated in a few spots with some scope for swimming through the compartments. You can expect to see batfish lurking in the still water and lionfish moving slowly around. There is more life in the area surrounding the wreck than in it, the highlight being the impossibly coloured and cute mandarinfish. Crocodilefish and groupers are also common.

Lusong Gunboat
Lying off the east coast of Lusong island is another Japanese gunboat or submarine-chaser. It lies in such shallow water that the stern is exposed at low tide and it is equally popular among snorkellers as it is with divers. At 30m length it lies at maximum depth of 14m and has become every inch an artificial reef bedecked by hard corals and anemones. The light and marine life make it a photographers favourite. Smaller reef fish in large number flutter all around this wreck. You will see butterflyfish and angelfish of various species. Rabbitfish, unicornfish and suregonfish are all commonly sighted too. Currents are normally mild if present at all, although the visibility can be a little towards the lower end; sometimes below 10m.

The best Non-Wreck Sites

If you are in danger of wreck-fatigue, it is worth considering some of the non-wreck diving opportunities that Coron presents. It is nice to mix things up, especially on a liveaboard trip, and there are some very interesting experiences in the area. It might be the highlight of any other trip to say you dived in a narrow dark cave in a warm volcanic lake, or in a cave with a sunken skeleton tree trunk in it, or dived with dugongs. In Coron they are considered the supporting cast to the A list wrecks.
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Barracuda Lake
This dive takes place in a lake in the crater of an extinct volcano where the water temperature can hit a maximum of 37°C! This site is less about the fish-life and more simply about the bizarre conditions and topography. As you initially descend through near black water, the visibility is zero but clears as you sink. The top few metres are salt water, then beneath that, it is fresh water with excellent visibility. As you get close to the sea floor at around 32m you will notice the substrate is not sand or rock but a weird brown viscous jelly-like gunge. The colour of this layer is caused by tannic acid in the leaves that fall into the lake. It is a most odd feeling inserting your hand into this slimy stuff.

Continuing the dive, you will cruise past unusual lunar rock formations, walls and caverns. You can see and feel the temperatures vary here according to your depth at around 15m. From the hot salt water at 37°C, you can exhale and sink into the freshwater which is perceptibly several degrees cooler. Very few of the regular Coron creatures live in this environment but you can see freshwater shrimps and shells plus some batfish and rabbitfish. There is also a single large barracuda who has been living here.

The Cave in Barracuda Lake
Within Barracuda Lake there is a cave that can be explored although it is not for the faint of heart. The entrance is at 33m and runs for 30m in length. It is large enough for only one diver at a time and the combination of dark walls and dark sediment give it a rather foreboding atmosphere. Measured careful movements, especially fin kicks, are required. If you are claustrophobic this might not be the dive for you. There is some current running through the cave with water moving between the lake and the sea outside.

Cathedral Cave
Divers will enter the water beside a sheer rock wall on the side of Coron island. As you descend you will see a hole in the reef at 6m. This is the entrance to a tunnel which leads to Cathedral Cave. Inside the cave a bizarre sight awaits you. The top of the cave collapsed bringing with it a tree. The trunk and branches remain there in a skeletal state on a sandy mound in the cave's centre. As you proceed, you will enter the large cathedral-like cavern lit by shafts of sunlight from above. One chamber even allows you to surface into an air pocket which is always a fun moment. The dive ends as you swim back through the tunnel and conclude your experience in a shallow coral garden with glorious visibility.

Siete Picados
Coral lovers will appreciate the impressive coverage at this site. There are massive table corals and patches of healthy staghorn at Siete Picados which is part of a marine sanctuary. There are also some impressive examples of gorgonian sea fans. It is often dived together with Barracuda Lake, given their proximity. A shallow reef slopes down to a maximum depth of 24m and is populated with a great variety of life. Among the corals and giant clams look out for cuttefish, clownfish, seahorses and mandarinfish. Meanwhile reef fish will be swarming all around you including barracuda, emperors and angelfish and bigger specimens such as turtles and Napoleon wrasse.

There is an eco-tourism scuba diving program called "Dugong Watch“ along the north coast of Busuanga, where about 30 endangered dugongs feed on sea grasses in their natural habitat. Dugongs can live up to 70 years, weigh up to 400 kg, grow up to more than 3m long, and are quite gentle and shy. They spend most of their time feeding in shallow waters but can dive for up to 6 minutes to a depth of 40m. This is a rare opportunity to dive with these wonderful creatures, once iconoclised as mermaids and sea sirens.

In Busuanga you will dive in sea grass beds, quite close to the shore. It is recommended to keep 2m distance from the dugongs, in order not to startle them or interfere with their feeding habits. Apart from spotting dugongs, you can also see stingrays and turtles in small coral gardens.

How to Dive Coron Island

The best option to explore the wrecks of Coron is to join a liveaboard that tours here, as well as Apo Reef. There dive safaris take 6-7 nights.

The Coron Island Diving Season

You can dive in Coron all year round, but the best conditions occur during the dry season from December to April. This is when the surface conditions in and around Coron Bay are glasslike, there is plenty of sunshine for better light penetration, and the visibility is best at up to 20m. The rainy season begins in May and ends in November, and it can get very wet in July and August. Typhoons are a low risk at this time too. Heavy rains can cause sea swells and reduce the visibility. The sea temperature is 27-30°C/81-86F - warmest in June, coolest in February. The air temperature is steady and warm at 30-31°C/86-88F, except it climbs to 33°C/91F in April/May. For more details on the climate of Coron Island visit Weather2TravelOpens in a new window.

Coron is one place where tides have a big effect on visibility and currents. Visibility is normally very good at the open ocean sites such as Cathedral Cave and Kyokuzan Maru. Barracuda Lake is geothermal with no current and the visibility is usually 20+m. Sites just outside of Coron Bay, such as Siete Picados, can have good visibility before high tide, but poor after high tide. The big wrecks inside the bay experience the best visibility at 8-20m before high tide, and worst after high tide; the extent depends on the tidal flow. Full Moon and New Moon extra tidal flows cause reduced the visibility. Currents can be strong on any given day, and stronger at Full Moon and New Moon. Our experienced dive operators will be able to guide you through these rather complex issues so that you hit the water at the right site at the right moment.

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Where is Coron and How Do I Get There?

Review our maps below showing the location of Philippines in the world, Coron’s host country. Here, you will find information on how to get to Coron, or Puerto Galera and then on to Coron.

Map of map of the Indian-Pacific Ocean region (click to enlarge in a new window) Map of the world (click to enlarge in a new window)

Reef Summary

Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 5 - 20m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface conditions: Calm but choppy in rainy season
Water temperature: 27 - 30°C
Experience level: Intermediate - advanced
Number of dive sites: ˜20
Recommended length of stay: 6 - 7 days as part of a Philippine liveaboard tour

Useful References

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