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TUBBATAHA REEFS NATIONAL PARK

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is home to some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. Rising from the volcanic depths of the Sulu Sea in the western Philippines, these magnificent atolls encompass an astonishing diversity of marine life.

The park is an underwater sanctuary where nature thrives. Tubbataha is the Philippines' first national marine park and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place of global importance being preserved for future generations of humankind.

Tubbataha supports an unparalleled variety of marine creatures. Colorful reef fish crowd corals growing in the shallows while sharks and pelagics haunt the steep drop offs to the open sea.

A team of rangers are stationed on the reef year-round and, from March until June, divers visit Tubbataha to experience the wonders of this unique underwater world.

Ecological Significance

In 2007, the University of the Philippines in the Visayas conducted a study on the distribution and dispersal of fish larvae in the Sulu Sea. The study revealed that Tubbataha Reefs, Jessie Beazley and Cagayancillo are major sources of coral and fish larvae, seeding the greater Sulu Sea. This is very significant, since the Philippines - the second largest archipelago in the world - relies heavily on its marine resources for livelihood and food.

Formation

The coral atolls of Tubbataha and Jessie Beazley began to form thousands of years ago as fringing reefs of volcanic islands along the Cagayan Ridge. Over millennia - as the volcanoes became extinct and the islands sunk into the ocean depths - only the corals remained and continued to grow upwards towards the sunlight.

Location

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) lies in the middle of the Sulu Sea and falls under the political jurisdiction of Cagayancillo, an island municipality situated 130km to the north. The park is 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa City - capital of the Province of Palawan - the usual jump-off point for visitors and dive boats going to Tubbataha. It is composed of North and South Atolls and the adjacent Jessie Beazley Reef.

History

Tubbataha is well known to fishermen of the southern Philippines but until the late 1970s, Cagayanons were the primary users of the reefs' resources. During the summer, they would make fishing trips to Tubbataha in fleets of traditional wooden sailboats.

Tubbataha's isolation and its susceptibility to harsh weather once protected it from over-exploitation. But by the 1980s, fishermen from other parts of the Philippines started visiting Tubbataha in motorized boats, many using destructive fishing techniques to maximize catch.

In 1988 - in response to a vigorous campaign by scuba divers and environmentalists, and with the endorsement of the Provincial Government of Palawan - President Corazon Aquino declared Tubbataha a National Marine Park.

Biodiversity

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is home to no less than:

  • About 600 species of fish
  • 360 species of corals (about half of all coral species in the world)
  • 12 species of sharks
  • 13 species of dolphins & whales
  • Nesting Hawksbill & Green sea turtles
  • Over 100 species of birds

The park contains roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef, lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle - the centre of global marine biodiversity.

Management

The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) is the policy-making body for the Tubbataha Reefs. Established in 1999, it is made up of 19 members from the national and local government and the private sector.

The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), which is based in Puerto Princesa City, serves as the TPAMB's executive arm, carrying out day-to-day park administration.

A field station located in the North Atoll houses marine park rangers from the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Municipality of Cagayancillo and TMO. This composite team of law enforcers is assigned in the Park on two-month rotations.

CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT The raison d'etre of the TPAMB is to effectively conserve and protect the marine and terrestrial resources of TRNP for the long term. This will require the TPAMB to prudently use human and other resources to maximize scarce financial assets and to practice the principles of adaptive management.

CONSERVATION AWARENESS Through this program, the TPAMB aims to promote awareness, generate support and achieve voluntary compliance with regulations. It seeks to foster a holistic view of the park ecosystem as an interrelated and interdependent system and engender a sense of stewardship towards the marine environment.

The thrust of the TRNP 3-year Information, Education and Communication (IEC) Plan is to raise awareness on marine biodiversity conservation in order to develop an active public constituency for the Park. Conservation awareness activities are focused on children and the youth, fishing communities, and the private sector.

ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH AND MONITORING A regular, uninterrupted monitoring regime is conducted to provide understanding of biological resources and ecological processes and their interrelationships. Dependable scientific assessments provide inputs for anticipating potential problems and serve as a basis for decision-making.

SUSTAINABLE RESOURCE MANAGEMENT Philippine experience has demonstrated that locally-managed marine reserves can significantly increase fish catch for local communities, often within three years of designation. Increased fish catch can reduce fishing pressure on target conservation areas. Resource management strategies are implemented in the island municipality of Cagayancillo in order to conserve biodiversity and maintain marine resource productivity. Productive resources will enhance living standards in the locality and serve as a disincentive to fishing within TRNP. If deemed necessary, similar activities will be initiated in other localities where fishers have impacts on the conservation of TRNP.

Dive Tubbataha

Tourism plays an important role in Tubbataha. It provides the income needed to manage the park and increases awareness and support for the reefs' conservation. Visitors come from around the world to experience Tubbataha's natural beauty and incredible dive opportunities.

Dive Season The dive season usually runs from March until June. This time of year typically gives outstanding diving conditions clear skies, flat seas and excellent visibility (30 to 45 meters).

Rules When diving in Tubbataha, everyone must follow the Park Rules and Regulations. In doing this they help to protect the reef from destruction and exploitation. Please also refer to Diving Best Practice to minimize your impacts on the reef.

Dive Operators A range of dive companies offer liveaboard trips to Tubbataha. People who want to go to the park should contact these dive companies. The TMO does not operate commercial trips to Tubbataha but will assist guests in securing a booking, if necessary.

Tubbataha Reefs is accessible only by sea transport. It generally takes 10 hours to get to the park from Puerto Princesa, depending on the speed of the boat. Most of the vessels leave after dinner and arrive in Tubbataha at around 6 a.m. Some slower vessels, however, leave the wharf earlier in order to arrive in the Park at first light.

Get Involved

VOLUNTEER PROGRAM Share your skills, talents and time... Be a volunteer for Tubbataha!

Volunteering is another way of getting involved in the enormous task of conserving Tubbataha. Your time, skills, technical and professional ability might be what we need to improve the management of the Park. From the design and layout of collaterals to research and data analysis, you can devote as much time as you are willing and able.

The Tubbataha Management Office developed a volunteer program to provide opportunity for individuals to contribute to the conservation of the Tubbataha Reefs or gain practical experience in the implementation of specific programs and activities.

Fill out the Official Volunteer Application Form and send it to tmo[at]tubbatahareef.org.

DONATION

Conserving this immense Park requires collaborative efforts. You can do your part in the meaningful task of protecting Tubbataha by donating to TRNP's operational fund, or directly to a specific program:

Enforcement

As marine resources elsewhere dwindle, fishers are driven to take greater risks to illegally harvest within Park boundaries. Hence, the challenge of protecting the Park has not diminished through the years. The year-round presence of marine park rangers and their vigilance in detecting, arresting and prosecuting illegal use cases has served as the major disincentive for violating the no-take policy. See Enforcement Requirements.

Information & Education

Education and information activities need to be intensified to engender greater appreciation and understanding of the value of maintaining a productive nursery that will enrich fisheries around the Sulu Sea. TRNP 3-year IEC Plan.

We need your help in enabling us to carry out our mission. Tubbataha is a global resource and as such is our shared heritage. Support now!

Tubbataha Reefs National Park Photos

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