The importance of coral reefs


Coral reefs are among the most diverse underwater ecosystems in the world. Kept together by calcium carbonate structures, they are made up of colonies of tiny animals and several other creatures called polyps, fish, and plants.  Coral reefs are home to a significant number of all marine life, making them worthy of preservation and protection from external elements.

USS Guardian hitting Tubbataha Reefs
USS Guardian hitting Tubbataha Reefs

On January 17, 2013, the US Navy minesweeper, USS Guardian, hit and destroyed 2,345.67 square meters of the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs, causing outrage and worries among many people, especially among environmentalists.

Importance of coral reefs

But why exactly did it draw so strong a reaction from several sectors all over the world? What is in the coral reefs that we should be concerned about?

More than being an eco-tourism destination and beautiful dive spots, the Tubbataha Reefs and all other coral reefs in the world have a lot more to offer to mankind than what satisfy the eye and make the coffers busy.

coral reefsHome to several species.  Coral reefs are among the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on planet Earth that support and provide an irreplaceable sources of food and shelter to about two million marine species, as well as a fourth of the ocean’s fish.  It serves as the foundation for complex food webs: from the little herbivorous fish to huge predatory ones – from lobsters, octopus to sea turtles and dolphins.  All of these marine creatures find food as well as protection in the reefs.

In fact, each of these animals plays a significant role in the reef ecosystem in different ways, such as filtering water, consuming prolific algae, or keeping a particular specie under control.

Barrier from storms and waves.  These marine structures are also called barrier reefs because of their ability to shield shorelines from storms, floods and surging waters, even as they slow down  waves before it reaches the shore.  Because of this, coral reefs protect people living near the coasts, ports, and other properties and economies along coastal areas.  

Breakwaters may serve as good barriers from tsunami surge, but they are far more expensive to repair and maintain; whereas, healthy coral reefs regenerate by itself. Coral reefs protect other ecosystems such as the seagrass beds, mangroves, and coastline wetlands.

Backbone of local economies.  Since healthy coral reefs are home to many fish, they can provide abundant fish to support subsistence fishermen, as well as make commercial fishing companies thrive.

Also, the corals’ unique beauty, vibrant colors, and formations attract tourists, which consequently promotes other businesses to develop around the area. Restaurants, hotels, dive centers and other businesses can thrive due to tourism, generating jobs among local peoples and income to the communities in the process.

Source of medicine.  According to The Nature Conservancy, many coral reef species have been found to produce chemicals like histamines and antibiotics, which are useful in medicine and science.  Hence, there is a potential for coral reefs to be the source of many new medicines.  In fact, medicines are now being developed for the treatment of ailments like heart diseases, Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, viruses, human bacterial infections, and other health conditions.

According to some surveys, around seventy five percent of the world’s coral reefs are in danger of destruction due to both local and global pressures caused by certain factors like destructive fishing practices, over-fishing, coral mining, careless tourism, inland and marine pollution, sedimentation, and climate change.

Tubbataha

How to protect coral reefs

What, then, should we do to protect the coral reefs?  Here are some easy steps:

  • Observe safe and responsible diving and snorkeling by not touching the corals or setting your boat’s anchor on the reef. This is to prevent damage on the fragile coral animals.  Anchoring on the reef can only kill the corals.
  • Refrain from or discourage fishermen from using dynamite in fishing.  Be vigilant about illegal fishing practices in your area.  If you cannot talk them out from doing so, report them to your local authorities and demand that they take action to protect coral reefs, put an end to sewage pollution of our ocean, and broaden marine protected areas.
  • Conserve water.   Even if you live farther from the shore, your runoff and waste water still reaches to the sea, eventually.  Therefore, the less water you consume, the less runoff and waste you send to the ocean.

marine garbage

  • Dispose of your garbage properly.   Any kind of litter pollutes the water and can destroy the reef and its inhabitants.  If you are a fisherman, do not leave unwanted fishing lines or nets in the water or on the beach.  Sea creatures can get entangled in them.  They can also get trapped in plastic bottle rings, rope, wires, and other garbage. They may even swallow the plastic, mistaking it for food.  Eating plastic can poison marine creatures or cause them other health problems.
  • Help in the coral reef cleanup
  • Reduce pollution by walking, riding a bike, or taking a bus for transport.  Fossil fuel emissions from vehicles and industry increase ocean warming, which consequently cause the mass-bleaching of corals and destruction of the reefs.
  • Make it a habit to use organic fertilizers in your garden or farm to prevent contamination of the water systems, which eventually flow into the ocean and pollute coral reefs and marine life.
  • Plant trees to lessen runoff into the ocean
  • Advocate reef-friendly businesses

Most of all, encourage your family, friends, and associates to get involved in helping to protect the coral reefs and the marine ecosystems.


Poor leadership, planning, and series of errors led the US Navy Minesweeper USS Guardian to hit and damage 2,345.67 square meters of a protected Philippine reef on January 17, 2013.  Reports have it that both the Guardian’s leadership and its crew neglected protocol, warning systems, and visual cues.  They were also unable to reconcile the differences between navigation maps, causing the ship to run aground on the South Atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea. The tragedy has consequently angered not only the Filipino people, but also the international communities.

Tubbataha 2

Philippine pride

The Tubbataha Reef, declared by former Philippine President Corazon Aquino as a national marine park, is abundant in marine life.  Positioned in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is isolated and far from habitable land; thus, preserving its marine resources from exploitation.

In December 1993, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Tubbataha a World Heritage Site.  It is now under the protective management of the Philippine Department of National Defense, with technical supervision from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Likewise, the Ramsar Convention acknowledged and listed the reef among the Wetlands of International Importance due to the presence of a wide range of marine life species as well as being an essential habitat for various animals.

Since its discovery by divers in the late 1970s, the Tubbataha Reef National Park has been listed among the remarkable must-visit diving destinations in the world.  In fact, CNN Travel ranks it eighth of the top 50 dive sites in the world.

Tubbataha was also featured on the reverse side of the 2010 series of the One Thousand peso bill.

Reef destruction due to human error

The USS Guardian is actually not the first ship to hit the Tubbataha Reefs.  It should be recalled that on October 31, 2005, the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, struck and destroyed around 100 square meters of the reef.

Greenpeace blamed the accident on the Philippine government for allegedly providing them with inaccurate chart. Nevertheless, the non-government environmental organization paid a fine of about $7,000 for the damage.

Likewise, on April 8, 2013, a Chinese fishing boat, F/V Min Long Yu, got stuck approximately 1.1 nautical miles to the east of the reef’s ranger station. The boat carried 12 crew members, believed to be engaged in illegal fishing.

Aside from ships running aground, marine resources in and around Tubbataha Reef are fast depleting due to destructive fishing, such as the use of dynamite and cyanide. Opportunism and carelessness of some visitors is another issue. Killing of marine turtles; illegal collection of turtle eggs, bird eggs, and shells, and; the irresponsible attitudes of tourists and businessmen towards the park still persist.

The future of Tubbataha Reef

Accidents do happen anytime anywhere no matter how we draw measures to prevent it. While government agencies and active non-government environmental groups implement rules and guidelines, the responsibility to protect our world heritage does not solely fall on them.  As individual citizens of the world, we can tremendously help safeguard Tubbataha Reef, in particular, as well as all other coral reefs, in general.

The USS Guardian tragedy has somehow initially opened the eyes of an increasing number of people, albeit painfully, about the value of coral reefs to economy and the environment.  It is important, then, that we sustain such awareness with active participation in the preservation of what is left of the reefs.

Diver

There are actually several ways to help protect our coral reefs.  But since the Tubbataha Reef is a wonderful diving spot, I’d like to list down some pointers on how divers, snorkelers, and tourists can help preserve our coral reefs.

  • Buoyancy control. Ensure that you are properly weighted, and observe buoyancy control to avoid damaging anything.
  • Keep a safe distance from the corals and other marine life.  Aside from getting a painful scratch from a coral, you might damage or kill fragile coral polyps.
  • Refrain from touching any marine creature and do not wear gloves.  Divers who wear gloves may tend to touch marine life.
  • Do not block the path, or chase after any free-swimming animal.
  • Restrain your urge to collect any item from the ocean or the beach.  Note that even dead corals and shells can be home to other marine organisms.
  • Do not disturb the sand.  Sand and sediment can get on the living corals and might smother it.
  • Dispose of your garbage properly and collect any litter you find in or out of the water.

Lazi Convent: a national landmark on Siquijor Island


Siquijor Island may be a tiny place, but it is rich in natural wonders as well as in structures of historical and architectural value.  For one, it is home to the largest and oldest convent in Asia.

Lazi Convent
Lazi Convent

The Lazi Convent on the southern edge of Siquijor island is recognized as one of the historical landmarks of the Philippines due to its religious, historical, and architectural importance.  Constructed in 1887 under the supervision of a member of the Augustinian Recollect clergy, Fray Toribio Sanchez,  the convent was built using indigenous coral stones and local hardwood.  It was completed in 1891 and known as the largest in the Asian region and the oldest in the Philippines.

The convent is a very spacious two-storey building, measuring 42 meters by 38 meters in an L-shape form with its façade facing the San Isidro Labrador (or St. Isidore Labradore) Church in the east. The lower part of the convent is made of square-cut coral stone masonry, while its upper part is made of wood. Its steep hipped roof is made of corrugated galvanized iron on timber framework.

San Isidro Labrador Church
San Isidro Labrador Church

Across the convent is the Baroque-style San Isidro Labrador Church, which was constructed in 1857.  Its walls, approximately one meter thick, are reinforced with log posts that are embedded against it. The church’s pediments are made of wooden panels, while its façade is veneered with coral stone.  Its wooden floors are designed in herringbone pattern.

the church's wooden floor
Look at the church’s wooden floor

The San Isidro Church is known for its two pulpits, hand-sculpted images of the Station of the Cross, and the lofty and intricate ceiling vaults.

Here's a closer look at the pulpit
Here’s a closer look of the pulpit

Both the convent and the San Isidro Labrador Church are living evidence of Spanish settlement in the province.  It was by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 260 dated August 1, 1973 as amended by Presidential Decree No. 375 dated January 14, 1974 and No. 1505 dated June 11, 1978 that Lazi Convent and San Isidro Labrador Church were declared national landmarks by the National Historical Institute.

Lazi, formerly known as Tigbawan, is one of the six municipalities of the province of Siquijor with a population of more than 20,000. It is 30 minutes away from the provincial capital.

Once in Lazi, you may also want to have a side trip to Cambugahay Falls, two kilometers north from the convent and church.  It’s a multi-tiered falls of fresh warm waters coming from natural springs.

Cambugahay Falls
Cambugahay Falls

Aside from these sights in Lazi, you may also want to visit the island’s pristine white sand beaches, Mt. Bandilaan National Park, caves, and other natural wonders of Siquijor.

To go to Siquijor island itself, you may take a fast craft or boat from Dumaguete City, Cebu City, or Bohol.  Or, if you prefer a guided tour around the island, you may contact your favorite travel agent or visit the local office of the Department of Tourism.

Map of Siquijor Island

Map of Siquijor 

The Wave: reminiscing the Jurassic Age


CATERS-Extraordinary-World-Phenomenons-10-jpg_155613
The Wave

This multi-coloured sandstone rock formation is a popular attraction and hiking destination on the Colorado Plateau, near the Utah and Arizona (USA) border. Believed to be approximately 190 million years old, this natural wonder is truly a gift of God to us.

The Wave has survived millions of weather, may it forever be preserved for our future generations to enjoy!

Eco-tourism on Siquijor Island


The tiny Siquijor Island has now become one of the new tourist and traveler destinations in Central Visayas, Philippines. Its pristine white sand beaches, waterfalls, caves, and other sites have attracted many people seeking for a tranquil respite.  And because it is sparsely populated, Siquijor is able to preserve its natural beauty – and the islanders continue to hope it will remain that way.

map 2

Mt. Bandilaan National Park

Situated at the boundary of Lazi and Siquijor towns, Mt. Bandilaan National Park may not be very high compared with other mountains in the region considering that it rises to only 557 feet at its peak.  But it’s comparable to the more popular Mt. Mayon in Albay, Bicol for its almost perfect cone shape.

Mt. BandilaanMt. Bandilaan is home to indigenous flora and fauna, including the Bandilaan Butterfly Range and Breeding Farm, and the site of several caves, five natural springs, a shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the Stations of the Cross.  You will also find there many of the endangered Philippine trees.

As you begin your trek up the park, you will be greeted by pristine streams at the foot of the mountain, which seem to invite you to take a dip in its cool waters. Its naturally aesthetic terrain eases your journey to the top, allowing you to appreciate Nature’s beauty along the way. While the more adventurous tourists may get excited and challenged by what could be inside the caves, the prudent ones may find delight in the panoramic view of the entire Siquijor island from the Metal Observatory Desk at the top of the mountain. Or, you may just want to enjoy the coolness of mountain breeze and the natural forest smell.

Mt. Bandilaan 2

The Park could also serve as a perfect place to meditate or have a quiet communion with nature, especially during low season. And if you are religious, you may even want to pray the Station of the Cross there.

Just a note of warning, though.  You must be careful when climbing up the stairs to the Observatory as there are already signs of wear and tear on some of the steps; although, the authorities governing the park are attending to this minor problem.

Bandilaan Butterfly Farm

Butterfly farm

Located within the Mt. Bandilaan National Park is the 1,460-square meter Bandilaan Butterfly Farm. It is home to 102 of both local and foreign species of butterflies and moths that feed from the huge botanical garden in the farm itself.  Among the species found here include:

  • Kalima, also called as the dead leaf butterfly
  • Snow Butterflies from the Swiss Alps
  • Birdwing Butterflies
  • Philatelic Butterflies (the ones you often see on postage stamps)
  • Moths of Two Continents
  • Philippine Moths
  • Attatus Atlas (this is known to be the biggest moth in the world)

Butterfly larvaeThere’s also an enclosure in the farm that holds the larvae until metamorphosis.

Since its inception, the Bandilaan Butterfly Farm has grown to become a world-class breeding facility for several butterfly species. It is even internationally-recognized for its success.

The farm is managed by competent staff who have been trained under the famous Cebuano lepidopterist, Professor Julian Jumalon.  It’s no wonder, then, that when you visit the Bandilaan Butterfly Farm, you don’t only get entertained by thousands of colorful butterflies, but you also get information about each specie from the staff.

Cantabon Cave

Among the more than 45 caves in Siquijor, the Cantabon Cave is most popular and offers the most wonderful sight. It was by happenstance that a group of foreign hunters discovered this island’s “hidden treasure” in 1985. Since then, the cave has drawn interest among geologists, spelunkers as well as travelers and tourists.  Fortunately, it has remained unspoiled despite the number of visitors who went into it.

Cantabon cave 3

Cantabon cave 2

Located in Barangay Cantabon, 9 kilometers west of Siquijor town, Cantabon Cave is approximately 300 meters long and 10 meters wide.  It is famed for its awesome jewel-like stalagmites and stalactites that glitter in the dark, and other natural rock formations. A small natural pool of crystal-clear water is also formed right in the middle of the cave, even as water cascades from hidden springs.

Cantabon cave 1

When you go explore Cantabon Cave, please make sure that you are equipped with durable shoes, protective gear, and flashlight.  It takes about 2 hours to explore the cave, or even longer depending on how much time you spend each area.

Cantabon Cave is well maintained by barangay residents.  There is even an ordinance that bans collection of stalagmites and stalactites, birds’ nests, and other natural properties inside and around the cave.  Violation of which entails monetary fines and court charges.

Tulapos Marine Sanctuary

Tulapos Marine

Located in the municipality of Enrique Villanueva, also called Talingting, the Tulapos Marine Sanctuary is noted for its underwater beauty.  It is home to a number of colorful marine species, including batfish, or barracuda, which sometimes accompany you as you snorkel around the area. The 14-hectare sanctuary is also famed for its coral reefs, mangroves, and white sand beaches, making it an ideal place for snorkeling.

Established in 1986, the sanctuary’s inhabitants have considerably grown from just a small number of fishes to thousands of living aquatic species, thanks to the vigilant residents and community officials who are bent in preserving these marine treasures.  See the wonders mangroves can do to nature!

Tulapos Mangrove tree house

If you want to get a panoramic view of the entire sanctuary and the vast sea, you may go up to the two-storey Mangrove Tree House.  The treehouse has rooms, a bathroom, kitchen, electric outlets, and a balcony that offers you a marvelous view.

But, just a word of caution. The mangrove tree house is vulnerable to the forces of nature, so you must be prudent if you wish to stay there for a night.  The local authorities, however, are seriously considering repair of the structure.

Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls is another natural beauty that has drawn several tourists recently. Located two kilometers north from the Lazi Convent, a national landmark on the island, Cambugahay Falls is a multi-layered falls of fresh, warm and clean waters coming from natural springs.

Cambugahay

Going to the falls, however, means trekking through 138 treacherous steps down a terrain that could be slippery during rainy season.  So, you have to be very careful.  And coming back up to the main road could also be arduous, especially if you are not used to climbing up a steep hill.  But generally, though, your effort is compensated with the cascading clean waterfalls, which seem to invite you to jump in.

Cambugahay 2

Surrounded by jungle greenery, the falls are in three levels, the lowest of which is the largest.  The upper levels are smaller with about one to three meters.

You can actually have the falls all to yourself during low season or when you go there very early in the morning before anyone does.  It’s the favorite bonding place of many local families and groups, where they spend time picnicking, swimming, or just catching up with one another.

Capilay Spring Park

Capilay Spring Park 2Nestled right in the middle of San Juan town plaza at the southwest coast of Siquijor island is the amazing Capilay Spring Park.  It’s a free-flowing spring, residents had to build a concrete barrier around it to contain the water in a swimming pool-like structure. Many even call it a lake because it looks like one.

Today, the spring is divided into three chambers or pools. The upper pool is where the springs are found, gushing forth cool and clean water into the swimming area, or the second pool.  The third section is called the laundry pool since it is here where local residents do their washing activities.  All the water from the spring drains out into the nearby ocean.

Capilay Spring Park 1Unlike other natural springs, the Capilay Spring Park is located along the highway, making it accessible to the public.  That’s why the place has become a favorite place for local residents to spend their early morning exercises, or late afternoon stroll.  Families even use the park for their weekend picnics because there is a huge space for children to play around.  Kiosks, benches, and tables are also available.

Many artists also come to the park to sketch and paint, allured by the picturesque view that Capilay Spring Park offers.

These natural wonders, however, may face the risk of exploitation when overcrowding and commercialization get in the way. To preserve these attractions, let us all uphold this slogan,

Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints; kill nothing but time

and if I may emphasize,

drop your litters in proper bins!

when you visit these places.

It is very important to minimize our impact on these eco-tourist destinations so that the generations who come after us may still enjoy its beauty.

When are we going to commute on an e-trike?


 

In a forum with the Department of Energy on June 30 this year, Puerto Princesa city mayor Edward Hagedorn announced that the local government has purchased one hundred units of the energy-efficient electric tricycles, or e-trikes, to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality in the city.  Hagedorn said that sixty of those units are set to be deployed to the Puerto Princesa City International Airport to serve as taxis; while the rest of the units were appropriated to tricycle operators and drivers association (TODA) for public transport.

e-trikes

This move is part of the local government’s plan to replace the more than 4,000 conventional petrol-powered public transport tricycles with the eco-friendly e-trikes to promote the city’s clean air program, even as it ultimately aims to make Puerto Princesa the first carbon-neutral city in the Philippines.

Using locally-manufactured fiberglass body, the e-trikes are put together by local assembler, Green Tech EcoCenter (GTE) in partnership with a motor vehicle parts manufacturers’ association.  Because of this, there is a potential for an increased in employment of local people.  Mayor Hagedorn explained that,

“Aside from helping protect our environment, this project will also transfer electric tricycle technology to our locals and enhance the skills of our local tinsmiths, welders, auto painters, auto mechanics, auto electricians, upholsterers, trimmers, assemblers, and fiberglass makers.”

e-trike3The e-trikes are charged by an electric motor powered by a lithium ion battery technology that can accommodate huge loads of luggage and six passengers comfortably seated without straining its motor. The vehicles come in three kWh and six kWh packs.  Those models with 3 kWh battery pack can run as far as 50 kilometers on a single charge, and can be recharged to 80 percent in less than 30 minutes at fast charging stations.  While those models that use 6 kWh battery pack runs up to a hundred kilometers on a single overnight charge.  The e-trikes will also be fitted with an internal cooling fan.

It has been months now since the announcement was made.  We hope that the e-trikes project finally becomes operational in full blast and start plying, not only in Puerto Princesa, but also throughout the entire Philippines.

CNN Travel picks Tubbataha Reefs as 8th best dive spot


CNN Travel names Tubbataha Reefs among the best dive destinations in the world, ranking it 8th of the top 50 underwater spots.  The reefs are home to several hundreds of coral and fish species, and protector of one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds.  

The top 50 dive spots

The complete list of the “Top 50 Best Dive Spots in the World” cited by CNN Travel includes:

  1. Barracuda Point, Sipadan Island, Malaysia
  2. Yongala, Queensland, Australia
  3. SS Thistlegorm, Red Sea, Egypt
  4. Blue Corner Wall, Palau, Micronesia
  5. Richelieu Rock, near the Surin Islands, Thailand
  6. Gordon Rocks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  7. Great Blue Hole, Belize
  8. Tubbataha, Palawan, Philippines
  9. Big Brother, Red Sea, Egypt
  10. Maaya Thila, Maldives
  11. Sistema Dos Ojos, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
  12. Tiputa Pass, Rangiroa, Polynesia
  13. Point Murat Navy Pier, Australia
  14. Shark and Yolanda Reef, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt
  15. Silfra, Þingvellir, Iceland
  16. Antons, Sodwana Bay, South Africa
  17. Kailua Kona, Hawaii, United States
  18. Middle Arch, Poor Knights Islands, New Zealand
  19. North Horn, Osprey Reef, Australia
  20. Elphinstone Reef, Red Sea, Egypt
  21. Liberty, Bali, Indonesia
  22. Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman, Cayman Islands
  23. Cod Hole, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  24. Manta Reef, Tofo, Mozambique
  25. Bajo Alcyone, Cocos Island, Costa Rica
  26. Sha’ab Rumi South, Sudan
  27. Batu Bolong, Komodo Island, Indonesia
  28. SS President Coolidge, Vanuatu
  29. Elephant Head Rock, Similans, Thailand
  30. Ulong Channel, Palau, Micronesia
  31. Layang Layang, near Borneo, Malaysia
  32. The Cathedral, Flic-en-Flac, Mauritius
  33. Great White Wall, Taveuni, Fiji
  34. Banua Wuhu, Mahengetang, Indonesia
  35. Manchones Reef, Cancun, Mexico
  36. Cocklebiddy Cave, Australia
  37. La Dania’s Leap to Karpata, Bonaire, Netherlands
  38. Scotts Head Pinnacle, Dominica
  39. Yonaguni Jima, Yaeyama Islands, Japan
  40. Raja Ampat, Irian Jaya, Indonesia
  41. Jackson Reef, Straits of Tiran, Red Sea, Egypt
  42. Perpendicular wall, Christmas Island, Australia
  43. Aliwal Shoal, Umkomaas, South Africa
  44. The Canyons, Puerto Galera, Philippines
  45. Japanese Gardens, Koh Tao, Thailand
  46. Grand Central Station, Gizo, Solomon Islands
  47. Aquarium, Mnemba Island, Tanzania
  48. Blue Hole, Gozo, Malta
  49. Burroo Ned, Isle of Man, United Kingdom
  50. Darwin’s Arch, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Aside from the Tubbataha Reefs, another Philippine dive site named in this CNN Travel list is The Canyons in Puerto Galera, at the 44th rank.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

 

Considered as one of the Philippines’ oldest ecosystems, the Tubbataha Reefs are Marine Protected Areas (MPA) situated within the Coral Triangle in the middle of Sulu Sea. Because of its distance to habitable land, the reefs become a convenient and safe refuge for several marine life species, and habitat for different kinds of animals.

Tubbataha map

Declared as a national marine park by former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, and acknowledged as a world heritage site by UNESCO, the whole area is now officially known as The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. The reefs sprawl across an area of 130,028 hectares, including the North and South Atolls which are separated by an 8-kilometer deep and wide channel.  Each of the atolls has a lagoon and small sandy islets.

The North Atoll is bigger with an area of 16 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide; while the South Atoll covers an area of only 5 kilometers long and 4 kilometers wide. There’s also a smaller reef, called Jessie Beazley Reef, approximately 20 kilometers north from these two atolls.

Ecology

Spectacular corals spread over two-thirds of the area and the water surrounding the reefs is home to an assortment of marine life, including:

  • 374 species of corals, or almost 90% of coral species found in the Philippines
  • 11 species of cetaceans
  • 11 species of sharks
  • approximately 500 species of fish, including the iconic and threatened Napoleon wrasse
  • the highest population densities of white tip sharks
  • pelagic species like manta rays, tuna, barracuda, jacks,  whale sharks, and other different species of sharks.

Tubbataha 4Also, the reefs and the sea serve as a nesting and resting ground for the endangered green and hawksbill turtles. The Bird Islet and the South Islet are favorite breeding places for the seven resident and endangered species of seabirds, and host to the critically endangered Christmas Island Frigatebird, which frequently visits the area.

The presence of top predator species, like the tiger and hammerhead sharks, offers an ecological balance in the marine park.

Eco-tourism

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is essentially protected by the Philippine National Protected Areas legislations and other environmental bills.  Tourism activities there requires careful planning and management to ensure the preservation of the entire natural system as well as the safety of visitors.

Up to the present, there is only one means to reach Tubbataha – and that is, by liveaboard. Since it is remotely located, going to the marine park requires significant logistical preparation, well-equipped people with operational boats, and sufficiently trained staff or tour guides to ensure a strong and responsive presence on the water.

The diving terrain at the marine park is characterized by extensive and continuous reef platforms, sandy lagoons, spectacularly perpendicular walls that drop to over 100 meters. It also has an enormous area of deep sea, the average depth of which is 750 meters. Currents along the North Rock are unpredictable.  But, the flow at the South Islet is quite predictable and friendlier, making it suitable for drift-diving.

Moreover, since The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park display a rich coral reef formation and support a significant number of marine species, it makes an ideal natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes.  It can also be a conducive demonstration site to study how the natural reef system respond to the impacts of climate change.

Threats

However, just like any other tourist spots, The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park faces a number of threats, like marine litter, over-fishing, shipping activities, marine pollution, and oil exploration.  In fact, there had been three cases where ships ran aground onto some parts of the reefs, causing considerable damage on the corals and other marine creatures.

Internationally-supported legislations should be enforced and effective buffer zone arrangements are required to protect the entire area from another shipping tragedy.  Also more stringent policies should apply against marine litter and fishing activities.

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