Without a doubt, the most unassuming destinations in all of Coron, Palawan are its many coral gardens.
Completely hidden from a topside (above water) view, and totally void of nautical markings, locating these hidden gems known as the coral gardens takes a skilled Bankero (boatman) and navigator.
This article is all about the Lusong Coral Gardens in particular, and will help inform you on what to expect, what to bring along, to make your visit as enjoyable as possible.
What to Bring to the Coral Gardens
First and foremost, find a mask and snorkel. The tour salespeople will most likely be glad to rent you one, and some tours already include the use of a mask and snorkel, so be sure to ask!
Despite this, many people (including yours truly) prefer to bring their own. This is mostly for personal reasons, as it is the only way to guarantee that the set that you are putting into your mouth is clean. A mask and snorkel with tempered glass and a purge valve are fairly inexpensive in the US, but you will be hard pressed to find such a high quality set in the Philippines outside of Manila or Cebu, and even then, you will be paying quite a premium.
Fins can also be helpful when swimming in a current or you have to travel long distances in the water. BOTH of these will be the case at Lusong Coral Garden so fins are definitely recommended. The guides will most likely want visitors here to wear life vests so that they can be easily spotted. Using fins will help speed you up here and that is a good thing because it leaves more time for sightseeing.
A beach towel is always good to have as you will be climbing in and out of the water all day and hanging it on the boat is a nice and fast way to let it air dry. This can even be shared among a group!
Sunblock is very important as you will have little to zero protection when outside of the boat. Getting in and out of the water also required frequent reapplication of sunblock in order for it to be effective; and lets not forget the fact that wearing a vest covers parts of your and exposes others…. avoid those tan lines!
Finally, some sugary snacks and a few liters of water will be important to bring along. Swimming (specially in a life vest) takes lots of energy in the tropical sun.
The Gardens’ Namesake
The Lusong Coral Garden gets is name because it is adjacent to Lusong Island; more specifically on the southwest side, which sees a fairly strong current.
That current plays heavily into the success of the hard and soft corals here, bringing in a fresh supply of nutrient rich water that is constantly moving, this creates ideal conditions for many fish and coral specials to succeed here at Lusong Coral Garden.
As an added bonus, (and as mentioned earlier) the current itself typically sweeps along the shore of the island, allowing the visitors here to simply drift with it.
Swimming/ snorkeling with a life vest on can certainly slow down your aqua dynamics and require additional energy to move at a normal pace, but the tour guides insisted that the vests stay on so that each person would be easier to spot. That is an understandable request for the one person in charge of keeping an entire group safe.
The Reef Itself
This aquatic area is large, with lots to explore on this thriving reef system. Tour group guides are OK with letting people spread out (if they like) and explore different areas of the reef on their own.
Typically, the tour boat (bangka) will drop of its passengers at one end, then motor on and wait at the far end of the reef for the drifting tourists to arrive. It is at this point that tour guides also get into the water to help enrich the experience of everyone, while also keeping a closer eye on people for safety reasons.
Above: Our group’s guide was able to get close enough to show us a live puffer fish and tell us a little bit about its habitat.
Many parts of the reef are in very shallow water. The decades old coral have been growing here and reaching for the sun for a long time and the structures that they have created can attest to that. Closer to the island, the coral growth is less then a meter from the water surface so it is advisable to head into deeper areas as fins, feet and shoes, can severely damage the life here. Also, a scrape against skin would almost certainly cut, another good reason to move into, and stay in, deeper water.
The majority of the reef was under about 2 meters of water and featured densely packed, colorful varieties of corals that seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. Towards the outer edge of the reef, visitors here can se the drop off which is teaming with marine life. Schools of fish and communities of (mostly) hard corals line the edge of the deep blue.
This location is excellent as it is never crowded or two dangerous. The tour guides are top notch at keeping people safe and enjoying their time here. Be sure to include Lusong Coral Garden in your Coron island-hopping adventures.
In summary, Lusong Coral Garden is one of the most beautiful natural coral reef systems in all of Coron and should not be missed.