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Pambato Reef, Honda Bay

Pambato Reef located about 30 minutes by boat from the port of Honda Bay can be accessed from downtown Puerto Princesa in about 30 minutes. The reef was accidentally "discovered" in 2006 by a fisher as he was dragging a fish hook that got entangled in the reef. The young fisher dove to retrieve the hook from the "rocks" underneath the well-frequented route of fishing and tourism boats between mainland Palawan and Luli, an island nearby that bobs in and out of the water. This is the reason why that island was called "Luli" from the word "lulubog" and "lilitaw, meaning "submerge" and "emerge" respectively.

The fisherman was amazed upon seeing the colorful and lush growth of corals unexpectedly in a place frequented by people. Incidentally, the young fisherman is a member of the association of boatowners, the Honda Bay Boatowners Association or HOBBAI. He immediately informed the leader of the group about the wonderful find. Recognizing the potential of the reef as a very accessible site that will add more excitement to the experience of tourists who normally avail of the island-hopping tour of the islands dotting the bay, the association decided to make the reef one of the "must go" destinations for tourists.

Despite the lack of legal mandate to protect the reef, they protected it themselves and started to collect fees from the tourists. When the local government knew about this, they noted that the declaration to protect the reef is illegal but the association was tenacious in its stand to keep it as an important resource that must be protected, primarily because it can generate revenue to them. After the legal issues have been addressed, the reef eventually got a legal status as a protected area where limited tourism use, such as snorkeling, is allowed. The reef had become a favorite destination of tourists coming from all over the country and even the globe - a showcase of sustainable reef conservation.

Honda Bay was an overfished bay. In the 1970s, there was rampant illegal cyanide and dynamite fishing that destroyed most of the reefs. Pambato Reef, it appeared, was spared. There is a rich diversity of life underneath and no one suspected it exists. Different kinds of massive and branching corals thrive with various kinds of fishes in it.

The reason for its continued existence and recovery can be attributed to the active enforcement of fishery ordinance by the Bantay Dagat (Baywatch) stationed just nearby. If someone does something unusual in the surrounding area, he will be easily spotted and accosted.

In 2007, the ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. established a project with HOBBAI. They set up a school in the seas or "Dalub-Karagatan", a floating schoolhouse with a roof shaped into a sea turtle set up in the deeper, marginal portions of the reef. They trained the HOBBAI members about reef ecology and the importance of the reef to their life. Common corals and fishes in the reef were identified and laminated for HOBBAI tourist guides' use. The school in the seas served as a place where the trained fishers, who were once illegal fishers themselves, brief the tourists and tour them around to see one of the city's pride - a reef near the city.