August 10, 2022
PHILIPPINES (AUGUST 11TH, 2022)
International marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue recognizes Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park as a Hope Spot, with Katherine “Trin” Custodio, Executive Director of WWF-Philippines and Angelique Songco, Protected Area Superintendent of Tubbataha Management Office as the Hope Spot Champions.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue says, “I salute Trin Custodio, Angelique Songco and their partners for doing what is in their power to push for increased protection for the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Thank you for giving a voice to the hundreds of fish species, the coral, the whales, the sea turtles and many more who call these waters home.”
Tubbataha Reefs is the only exclusively marine World Heritage site in Southeast Asia and for more than two decades has shown resilience against wide-scale coral bleaching events and damage from destructive fishing practices. The Natural Park is vital to the food security of the Philippines, as waters outside of the MPA benefit from a spillover effect of increased fish populations (Campos et al., 2008). “Its value is in supporting human life in the Philippines,” describes Custodio. “Our survival quite literally depends on the well-supported management of the Tubbataha Reefs.”
The continuance of the Natural Park relies on the work of a handful of park rangers. Unfortunately, the rangers are under-resourced; the station in which they live for months at a time while working to maintain the MPA is in poor condition. Currently, the foundation of the new ranger and research station has been built, but funds are inadequate to complete the station. The Hope Spot Champions urge more resources to complete construction.
Marine park rangers come from four agencies: the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine Navy, the Municipality of Cagayancillo, and the Tubbataha Management Office. They are assigned to the park on two-month rotations year-round. Their main functions are enforcement, research, and information and education for tourists.
Custodio explains, “Resources are never enough for Tubbataha’s protection and for carrying out important research that will inform policymakers in the Philippines and beyond.” She continues, “There are good laws and mechanisms to manage Tubbataha properly, but the people who protect Tubbataha – most especially the marine park rangers – need vital support. They need safe and appropriate facilities to serve as their base out in the middle of the ocean where they stay two months at a time.” Songco adds, “Our rangers work tirelessly to protect our natural marine environment – shouldn’t they be taken good care of, too?”
Custodio describes her hope for the future of the Natural Park and stronger support for its maintenance. “I have full faith that Tubbataha’s designation as a Hope Spot will bring a wider audience of support for the marine park. We remain courageous and ever-committed knowing that many more people will join us as stewards of Tubbataha. I am very grateful to the Mission Blue organization and our fellow Hope Spots!”
Only accessible by sea for a few months each year, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is composed of two uninhabited atolls and a reef with reef platforms that are mostly submerged. Animals like whales, dolphins and sea turtles are found in these waters among more than 360 identified species of coral. As the largest MPA in the Philippines under a strict no-take policy, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park provides a relatively controlled environment for research on the biophysical elements of the marine ecosystem.
The Tubbataha Reefs once used to be a traditional fishing ground of the people of Cagayancillo, mostly belonging to the ethnolinguistic group called Kagayanen. Back in the 1970s to early 1980s they used locally crafted sail boats and sailed in groups for months to spend time collecting fish in Tubbataha. The seabirds were also a part of stories guiding fishers back to land when they got lost at sea. Songco explains, “Giving up this area to become a no-take zone gives the people a sense of pride as contributors to marine conservation and honor this place as a part of their history.” The Natural Park is depicted on the Philippines’ largest paper bill; the Philippine one thousand-peso note.
Over the years, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park has been successful in preventing illegal and destructive human activities within its boundaries. However, Songco and Custodio have identified the more pressing challenges the Park faces, which arise from climate change and include the continued warming of sea surface temperature causing coral bleaching and the increasing frequency and intensity of storms. These events result in various changes to the islets and reefs, the wildlife composition, and their behavior that can be explained only by expeditious and targeted studies.
Studies to identify early warning signs of phase shifts, wave, and tidally-driven flow dynamics, research on soundscapes through passive acoustics and an examination of the impacts of possible eutrophication on the reefs have either been initiated or are in the offing. These studies will help generate a greater understanding of the Reefs and how the ecosystem and the various organisms within respond to climate change.
“With more resources to support the maintenance of the Natural Park, we can continue to carry out much-needed conservation activities as well as research – research that will be necessary to advise conservation policy and allow us to build models for other marine areas to adopt”, explains Custodio. “This is in line with the 30×30 goal that calls for the protection of 30% of the world’s most biodiverse land and oceans by 2030”, she concludes.
Established in 2009 through Republic Act 10067, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA) in Palawan, the westernmost Philippine province. It is located 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa City, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, the global centre of marine biodiversity.
WWF-Philippines’ mission is to stop and eventually reverse the accelerating degradation of the Philippine environment – to build a future where Filipinos live in harmony with nature. #ChangeTheEnding
Campos, W. L., Beldia II, P. D., Villanoy, C. L. and Aliño, P. M. 2008. Using ichthyoplankton distribution in selecting sites for an MPA network in the Sulu Sea, Philippines. Proceedings of the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, 7-11 July 2008