Let us talk about numbers for the moment. According to the World Atlas of Coral Reefs published by the University of California, coral reefs cover more than 284,000 square kilometers of the planet. That is just 0.1 percent of our ocean’s total surface area. A majority of the area occupied by coral reefs, around 92 percent, is located in the Indo-Pacific region, which includes Southeast Asia, Australia, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean. Around 32 percent of that coral-encrusted area is in Southeast Asia.
Now, we all know that the Philippines is located in the coral-rich region of Southeast Asia. But what most of you probably don’t know is that, according to National Geographic, our own country’s coral reef area is the second largest in Asia. Put in numbers, we have a humongous coral reef area of 26,000 square kilometers, which holds an astonishing variety of marine species. So far, marine biologists have identified more than 400 coral species, with 12 of which are endemic, and over 915 reef fish species. And they have barely scratched the surface.
Sadly, not everyone can witness our stunning, otherworldly coral gardens. To do so, one needs to invest in snorkeling or scuba equipment to witness the alien world under the sea. If he wishes to explore deeper, he needs special training, which is, admittedly, insanely expensive. He has to face a variety of special risks that are not normally encountered on dry land.
But there’s no need to fret. Fortunately, China Oceanis Philippines, a subsidiary of China Oceanis Inc., has developed a facility that enables people to have a glimpse of our reefs without getting their feet wet! That facility is the Manila Ocean Park, located near the Quirino Grandstand, Rizal Park. With an area of 8,000 square meters, the Manila Ocean Park is actually bigger than Singapore’s Sentosa Underwater World oceanarium.
This was our main birthday gift to Alexa; we’re sure she would enjoy the marine exhibits here. But most importantly, this was part of practical learning. Alexa would see actual marine organisms “at work,” know more about their unique features, and determine how they fit in a reef’s ecosystem.
After spending more than an hour of climbing in Power Up Tandang Sora, we headed back to Roxas Boulevard. It was a good thing we came on a Saturday, a weekend, because traffic was moderate in EDSA. Our guide, Tito Neil, said that during weekends, traffic is horrendous.
But even if it was a weekend, Roxas Boulevard was abuzz with activity.
A short walk later, we arrived at the gate of Manila Ocean Park. Everyone was clearly excited considering that none of us has ever been to an actual ocenarium before.
By the time we arrived at the oceanarium, there were busloads after busloads of young elementary-level students of different schools. Apparently, they were on field trips organized by their respective schools.
Before you can enter the oceanarium, you need to pay for tickets in this booth. Ticket prices can vary, depending on the exhibits and packages that you wish to avail.
Let’s check out some of their offers. We believe that we booked at the right dates because the prices of their attractions were slashed off. Also, they bundled attractions into packages, which were valid for a limited period.We believe this was a shrewd move by the oceanarium’s management. By themselves, each exhibit is simply too expensive for the average person to afford.
We had enough money to take the Deep See Rush package. From the name and the inclusions of the package, this package apparently aims to introduce guests to the wonders beneath the sea.
From this point, this post will feature videos linked to our YouTube account. We feel that merely posting photos is not sufficient to explain the marine wonders we’ve seen at the Manila Ocean Park. Besides, some photos turned out dark and blurred, especially in the Bahura section of the oceanarium, because one, flash photography is not allowed and two, we are using a point-and-click digital camera.
Musical Fountain Show
Our first activity was to witness the Musical Fountain Show, which is performed in an open-air stadium outside the main oceanarium. Children and parents came in droves, eagerly waiting for the magical show to start.
The show started as soon as the entirety of the sun’s disc dipped into the waters off Manila Bay. The first segment involves this laser light show that features a talking fish welcoming the audience and stating the rules and regulations.
Suddenly, lively music blared through the speakers, colorful laser lights lit up the night sky, and jets of water formed delightful spikes that pierced the air. The show has started!
Below is a video of the fountain’s first performance of the night. It may be nowhere near the magnificent Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas or the vast Dubai Fountains. Still, the musical fountain’s magic awoke the child in us, and we were as giddy as the kids there.
Another cool feature of Manila Ocean Park’s fountain is its capability to spray a huge fan of water into the air. The result is a large translucent screen in which animated images of Disney and Pixar characters are projected.
The musical fountain show ran for around half an hour, comprising of around four or five different performances. Some of the performances feature mascots and dancers carrying out certain routines in concert with the musical fountain. Personally, we found their routines bland and actually distracting.
All too soon, the finale came, with the fountain “dancing” to the tune of one of Yanni’s composition.
Extremely tired but truly satisfied from the day’s fast-paced activities, we had dinner at a local Jollibee outlet and, at last, blissfully retired in our room at GoHotel in EDSA.
Not wanting to join anticipated throngs of people, we woke up early the next day and headed to Manila Ocean Park. However, since it was our first time to take the MRT and the LRT by ourselves, we got a little bit delayed.
We met Tito Neil at the Jollibee outlet at Rizal Park and ate a heavy breakfast. We also got into a squabble with an unscrupulous, scamming tartanila driver who initially charged a less-than-a-mile ride for P150 for our entire group of four. We really didn’t want to take the ride since the price is too expensive and Manila Ocean Park is just a 15-minute hike away from Jollibee. However, we want to let Alexa experience what it’s like to ride in a tartanilia; that’s part of practical learning.
But halfway to Manila Ocean Park, he suddenly announced that we need to pay P150 each! What the heck! A couple of his partners “assisted” him, and we got into a heated squabble. Finally, Sweetie had enough and alerted an MMDA policeman. Seeing the policeman approaching, the tartanila driver and his cohorts left in a jiffy.
You want a traveler tip? Never avail of a tartanila ride in Rizal Park. Ever! These scheming guys will rip your wallet apart. In Cebu, a tartanila ride only costs around 8 to 10 pesos.
Anyway, when we arrived at around 9:30 AM, there were already several crowds of children waiting for the oceanarium to open. Sweetie’s long-time friend, Kei, together with her family, was also there, having arranged a meet-up with us a few days before our trip. At exactly 10 AM, the doors opened, and we joined the kids in the oceanarium’s massive Rotunda.
You can buy souvenirs and other knickknacks at the souvenir item just behind the entrance doors. While they may look cool and cute, personally, we find their wares overly expensive.
After locating Tito Neil who got lost inside the facility, we excitedly went inside the main attraction of the park, its massive oceanarium, which hosts various species of freshwater and saltwater creatures.
Hold on, what’s a rainforest setting got to do in an oceanarium? You may wonder. Indeed, the first part of the oceanarium features a wooded setting. Are we in the right place?
Well, it turned out that the first part of the oceanarium featured aquariums and exhibits of freshwater marine fauna. These are remarkable animals that inhabit our streams, rivers, and lakes.There were many other species of freshwater fish in aquariums. Although not as colorful as that of saltwater fish, these creatures are still extremely gorgeous!
The deep sea is not the only body of water that holds humongous creatures. Our freshwater rivers, lakes, and streams are also homes to huge creatures such as this alligator gar, a huge primitive ray-finned fish. It is named as such due to its teeth and snout, which looks like those of an alligator. It is one of the largest species of gar; alligator gars 8 to 10 feet in length have been reported.
Strange species of fish also inhabit freshwater systems. Sightings of these weird fish give rise to legends of marine monsters such as Loch Ness’s Nessie. Check out this catfish below. The catfish is named for its unique barbels, which look like a cat’s whiskers.
Sans the modern contraptions, it really seemed like we were walking inside the ruins of an ancient temple that has been overgrown by the jungle.
Check out those trailing vines! They’re quite eerie and beautiful.
That’s a saltwater crocodile, the biggest of all living reptiles and the largest riparian predator in the planet. This guy is still pretty small compared to the crocs we saw in the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, but don’t let its size fool you. It’s a true and brutal killing machine!
Another predatory fish displayed in Manila Ocean Park are these red-bellied piranhas. Movies such as the Piranha series give these fish a reputation of being ferocious predators. In reality, this is not really the case as their main diet is insects, worms, and other fish. However, they can be aggressive if threatened. Furthermore, red-bellied piranhas do not hunt together as a group; they group together to protect themselves from other predators.
Farther down, we saw a shallow tank full of very graceful skates swimming across the sand. The way their bodies “flutter” for locomotion is just awesome to look at.
Bahura (meaning “reef” in English) is dark, but illumination is provided by lighted tanks. This exhibit features the diverse species of marine life that inhabit our rich and beautiful coral reefs. After seeing the marine life here, you feel the need to do something to protect and preserve our reef systems.
Be sure to follow the rules as posted at the entrance of Bahura.
The beautiful Bahura exhibit has plenty of clean, clear blue-lighted fish tanks that let you fully view marine life in all their glory.
Lighted information boards such as these tell you a lot of details about the creatures displayed in the tanks.
Oh, are those Nemo’s brothers? That’s a lot of colorful clownfish. Clownfish are common seawater reef fish that develop symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationships with anemones. The sea anemone protects clownfish from predators. In return, clownfish defend the anemone from parasites and anemone-eating fish.
Look at all those vibrant fish! Absolutely beautiful!
Check out those weird twig-like fish that swim vertically in the video below
Lovers! Actually, they are a couple of stonefish, also called sumaplaw or catasan in Tagalog. To protect itself from predators and to hide themselves from their pray, stonefish use superb camouflage to blend perfectly with the surroundings. While they can be seen relatively clearly here (still they look like a clump or rocks), they are almost invisible out there in the wild.
A stonefish has venomous spines to further protect itself from predators. Being stung by a stonefish is a very, very painful experience that can last for days. In fact, some fishermen who got stung by such a fish ask to have the affected part amputated just to ease the pain!
Aside from fish, many aquariums also showcase other creatures. Check out this strange nautilus. The utterly alien-looking nautilus is an ancient marine mollusk that inhabits at the deeper parts of a reef system, typically around several hundred meters below the water’s surface. They are usually harvested for their beautiful spiral shells, which are prized by shell collectors and homeowners.
The next time you wade barefoot in the sea and you feel you’re stepping on sharp rocks, put on your snorkeling mask and peer under the water. You might not be stepping on rocks but on bivalves like these tiny clams. Starfish, seabirds, and other creatures prey on these clams.
See those hair-like organisms? Those are sea anemones, which are usually mistaken for marine plants. Sea anemones are predatory creatures that feed on microscopic organisms, plankton, bacteria, and even small fish. They stun their prey with toxins from their nematocytes.
The photo below looks like a scene from a horrifying science-fiction movie; strange “things” poking out of the ground. These are spotted garden eels, a sub-family of the conger eel family. To protect themselves from prey, these eels burrow in the sand. The only parts that are visible are their heads poking out of their burrows.
Many garden eels tend to stay in groups, thus the many eel “heads” poking out of the sand bear a resemblance to plants in a grassy garden lawn, thus the name “garden eel.”
Is it a snake? An eel? A worm? Nope, it’s neither of those. The photo below shows a really long, wicked looking convict blenny. Convict blennies are common in coastal reefs and coastal lagoons. They are often found in crevices and under ledges. Since they swim in tight groups, they often look like a single creature.
Here’s a long, thin ribbon eel. The ribbon eel is a creature that suffers from an identity crisis. It can change its color from blue to yellow as it matures. It also changes its gender from male to female. Unlike its cousin the moray eel, the ribbon eel is not aggressive towards humans.
Shark eggs! These eggs come from a female white-spotted bamboo shark. In 14 to 15 weeks, they will hatch into sharklings.
Nearing the main attraction of the aquarium, we saw this large sawfish being cleaned by a remora (that leechlike fish that is attached at the sawfish’s head). This is a perfect example of commensalism, a type of symbiotic relationship wherein one organism benefits without affecting each other. The sawfish as a host gets nothing from the relationship. However, the remora benefits from the host: it uses the sawfish as transport and protection and feeds from the scraps of food the host leaves behind after feeding.
Just before the oceanarium’s main attraction is this aquarium that simulates the bridge of a sunken ship. Large fish are found here.
The video below shows a large porcupine fish. Porcupine fish, also called blowfish, are common in shallow tropical and temperate seas. Although they are slow swimmers, porcupine fish has three effective defense mechanisms to protect themselves from prey. One, they can inflate their bodies by swallowing air or water; the sudden increase of size scares away the predators or makes it difficult for predators to eat the porcupine fish. Two, porcupine fish have sharp spines that radiate outwards when the fish inflates itself. Finally, some species produce tetrodoxin in their internal organs; tetrodoxin is a deadly neurotoxin that is more than a thousand times more potent than cyanide. Although slow swimmers, porcupine fish have few predators due to these three defenses.
In the same aquarium, Sweetie came face-to-face with a giant grouper! It is the largest bony fish in coral reefs. The giant grouper can grow up to 2.7 meters and can weigh around 880 lbs. It is now declared as an endangered specie due to overfishing.
The main attraction of Manila Ocean Park is the Buhay na Karagatan (The Living Ocean), a 25-meter-long. 220-degree walkway tunnel made of transparent acrylic walls. The tunnel is situated under a huge aquarium that is chock filled with amazing creatures of the sea. Check out the video below.
Sweetie and the guys thought I was taking a still photo when, in fact, I was taking a video. Hehehe! Oh, we were pretty lucky because it was the fish’s lunchtime! According to Alexa, the fish were on a feeding frenzy!
As we exited the tunnel, we found these cool fish swimming in circles for some reason.
The Shark Tank was one of our favorite aquariums. This tank showcases some of the most ferocious predators in our seas.
Kids Learning Area
We found this activity center where kids can draw, read, play, and socialize while learning more about the world under the sea.
If you want your children to be staunch and responsible advocates of environmental protection and preservation, then it is best to let them start their advocacy early and in a fun way. Information boards such as these provide very insightful data that helps children realize the importance of taking care of our seas.
Several of our friends who have visited the Manila Ocean Park said that the Jellyfish Exhibit was one of the most profound and unique exhibits in the park. Well, let’s check it out!
How are jellyfish born? Check out this information board.
We were utterly astounded by the beauty of this exhibit. Translucent Sanderia jellyfish swim slowly inside enormous tanks to the tune of classical music. The tanks are equipped with lamps that change colors. And when the colored lights illuminate the swimming jellyfish, then you’re treated to a spectacular underwater dance.
Here’s a Cassiopea jellyfish, an upside down jellyfish. They are usually found in warm coastal regions, mangrove swamps, canals, and mudflats. The creature gets its name due to the fact that it swims upside down. The Cassiopea jellyfish’s tentacles contain a mild sting.
We came to a multi-colored wall filled with translucent moon jellyfish. The jellyfish is easily recognized by its four horse-show shaped gonads at the top of its almost flat bell.
But the wall was just the appetizer. We went into a really dark room that was lighted by cylindrical tanks filled with delicate moon jellyfish. It was like entering an alien spacecraft or a mad scientist’s laboratory!
Penguin Talk Show
After spending about an hour in the Jellyfish Exhibit, we exited and went to watch the Penguin Talk Show. We really thought the show would really feature cute penguins that can somehow talk. How gullible of us!
It turned out it was just a sort of interactive kiddie show in an audio-visual room. An animation of a cartoon penguin talks about penguins and life in the arctic and makes corny jokes. It’s pretty boring, actually.
Feeling hungry after the tour? Don’t worry since there are several food stalls and restaurants around the facility where you can satisfy a hungry tummy.
Our tour around the Manila Ocean Park was definitely fun and educational. After experiencing her first oceanarium, Alexa remarked that it was her best birthday ever. For Sweetie and I, seeing the magnificent wonders of the underwater world up close makes us want to pursue our scuba diving license so we can explore, enjoy, and protect our seas in our own small little ways.
1. Use the following details to get in touch with the administration of Manila Ocean Park:
- Mailing/Street Address: Manila Ocean Park, behind Quirino Grandstand, Luneta, Manila, Philippines 1000
- Phone Numbers: (02) 567-7777 / (02) 567-2309
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. For more information on the oceanarium’s events, advocacies, activities, rates, etc., check out Manila Ocean Park’s website at https://www.manilaoceanpark.com/main/
3. The oceanarium’s operating hours are as follows
- Weekdays: 10 AM to 9 PM
- Weekends and Holidays: 9 AM to 9 PM
4. There’s a parking area beside the oceanarium, but we’re not sure if there are fees involved. Please contact the oceanarium’s administration for more information.
5. Always follow Manila Ocean Park’s main house rules:
- No flash photography in the oceanarium
- No food and drinks should be brought into the oceanarium’s exhibits. Infant formula, however, is allowed.
- No pets allowed
- No smoking
- No running, shouting, or banging on the glass or aquariums. Parents should strictly monitor their kids, and children should stay with their parents or guardians at all times.
- Re-entering the exhibits is not allowed
6. For convenience, do not bring large bags or trolleys.
7. The oceanarium does not issue handy maps. Even the layout inside the facility is confusing. But don’t let that discourage you. In fact, use that to your own advantage; explore the oceanarium on your own. Getting lost is all part of traveling and adventure.
8. If you are taking a package that involves visiting more than two exhibits and shows, we recommend spending an entire day in the oceanarium. That’s because several of these shows have specific schedules, which may not coincide with your planned itinerary. Yes, you can leave the park between scheduled shows, but don’t go too far. Don’t worry, there are lots of attractions in the area such as the Museo Pambata, the National Museum, Rizal Park, etc.
9. If possible, purchase your package early in the morning or the afternoon before your tour (we haven’t tried online booking yet). For some reason, Manila Ocean Park runs out of package tickets mid-afternoon.
10. To avoid large crowds and mass field trips, visit the oceanarium during opening hours.
11. Bring the following:
- camera (you can take photos inside the oceanarium)
- extra clothes for children
- a bottle of water