Marine biologist Miguel Azcuna curates of underwater species in the Philippines you should see at least once in your life.

The Philippines is an archipelago. This means it’s made up of groups of islands surrounded by a vast expanse of water, ergo, a rich diversity of marine life. Diving is the best way to see the beauty that our water holds.

We spoke to a marine biologist, Dr. Miguel Azcuna from Batangas State University, to know which marine species in the Philippines you should see at least once in your life.

Nudibranchs

Photo by Lisbeth Jensen

Where to find them: Anilao, Batangas

The name rolls off the tongue, right? These are the cute, colorful, shell-less mollusks (scallops, clams, snails, cuttlefish) you see in those island hopping package pamphlets that offer snorkeling. They love seawater and some have been referred to as sea slugs.

Thresher sharks

Thresher
A thresher shark at Monad Shoal near Malapascua Island. Photo by Klaus Stiefel

Where to find them: Malapascua Island, Cebu

“Thresher sharks are unique in that they use their unusually long tails to catch their prey,” says Dr. Azcuna. This particular species have found a home in the waters off of Malapascua Island in Cebu, known for its magnificent and quiet beaches. They are often found in Monad Shoal and pose no threat to humans. Be at the site early, like around 4am to 5am, for better chances of sighting.

Orcas

Where to find them: Tañon Strait, between the islands of Cebu and Negros

Dr. Azcuna says they rarely pass by the Philippines but they do swim from time to time. “These apex predators prefer cooler tropical waters and can (in very rare cases) be seen in Tañon Strait between June and October.” The last time orcas were seen in Philippines waters, it was 2018.

Sea Turtles

Photo from Inaladelan Island

Where to find them: Apo Island, Negros Oriental

Yes, there’s more than one place to find the humble pawikan. They can usually be found nesting in the waters of Palawan (for instance, just offshore of Club Paradise), but for a better chance of spotting one, Dr. Azcuna recommends Apo Island. You’ll usually see them grazing on seagrass.

Freshwater Jellyfish

Where to find them: Sohoton Cove, Siargao

You may be asking yourself this: “Why would you recommend seeing jellyfish as a once-in-a-lifetime activity?” Well, these jellyfish are ones you can actually swim with and not be extremely worried. Dr. Azcuna says the jellyfish that swim in Sohoton’s jellyfish pond are stingless “because they have no need for stings in freshwater.” Go early in the day to avoid the crowd.

Who is Dr. Miguel Azcuna?

Miguel Azcuna is a marine biologist who specializes in Bioprospecting for New Medicine, particularly from marine sponges. He holds a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute, where he majored in Marine Biotechnology.

He was a part of the team from UP MSI’s Bolinao Marine Laboratory that donated giant clams to Camiguin’s Giant Clam Sanctuary.

He is currently an associate professor at the Batangas State University – ARASOF Nasugbu Campus and a member of the research staff at the Verde Island Passage Center for Oceanographic Research and Aquatic Life Sciences (VIP CORALS).