Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP; formerly Tubbataha National Marine Park) includes two uninhabited coral reef atolls that contain more than 10,000 hectares of reef within its boundaries in the Sulu Sea. This biodiverse reef system is a World Heritage Site of global ecological importance. Tubbataha is known for its large marine life not found in most areas in the Philippines and is an outstanding and popular dive site.
This project assessed the condition of the coral reefs in TRNP (at selected sites and updated information from surveys in 1984, 1989, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. In 2008, live hard coral (LHC) for all seven sites is fair to good (27.1 ± 2.9% to 62.4 ± 3.7%). Comparison between sites in the shallows gave a highly variable result. In the deeper zone, NR2 had the highest percent LHC, and NR2, the lowest. Slight increases in LHC were observed from 2004 to 2008. A total of 285 fish species in 43 families were listed in 2008. Butterflyfish counted were slightly lower at 30 species than in past years.
It appears that the El Niňo Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been and is a major factor in shaping the trajectory of Tubbataha reefs and is most likely compounded by management effects. Trends in percent LHC and fish densities vary from site to site. In all sites, significant LHC recovery is absent in both deep and shallow areas except the shallow zone of SR3. Increases in target fish density were found in two sites. For target fish biomass between sites in 2008, all sites had significantly higher values (median: 89.6 ± 51.8 to 325.7 ± 162.8 kg/500m2) compared to Jessie Beazley (median: 19.1 ± 3.3 kg/500m2) and SR3 (median: 45.7 ± 122.9 kg/500m2). We may attribute the former’s low biomass to short time of protection while the latter to high variation between replicate samples. The maintenance of strict enforcement in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is seen as essential to maintain and build resilience and recovery from earlier ENSO impacts.
Information on other substratum, invertebrates, causes of coral damage over time, patterns, and trends in reef health per site were also collected. Recommendations on how to improve the management status of Tubbataha Reefs include: meeting the logistical needs for the rangers; increasing information dissemination to stakeholders; continued monitoring and research; and more education for all visitors, divers and boat operators on the natural history of the area as well as on dive and boating regulations. Finally, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board and its partners are congratulated for a job well done in protecting and managing the Tubbataha Reefs.
After 20 years of implementation, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) has come a long way. Over the years, management efforts have considerably reduced illegal fishing activities and have helped the park revert back to its natural ecology. Large marine life is gradually returning, as well as the resident and migratory birds of Tubbataha. For this same reason, Tubbataha continuously attracts local and foreign tourists, particularly diving enthusiasts.
However, there is still the challenge that lies in sustaining efforts to enforce the law and manage the growing volume of tourism and the threat of illegal and commercial fishing. Continuing to strengthen the protection of Tubbataha through an integrated management approach that is consistent with the preservation of biodiversity is vital for Tubbataha’s sustainable and equitable use of resources.
With the current findings in this report for 2008, there are indicators that while fishing inside of the Park boundaries is not great, there may be some amount of fishing on parts of the reefs. Certainly, there is fishing still occurring on the Jessie Beazley reef, the newest addition to the Park. The following are recommendations to further enhance conservation of TRNP:
Crown-of-Thorns clean-up needed near Ranger Station sites.
- Additional boats are needed for use in patrolling;
- Improved management of tourism to Tubbataha;
- More diver, boat operator, and visitor education is needed;
- Monitoring and evaluation information needs to be shared among all stakeholders;
- Continued monitoring for sustained management.
- More research to be conducted for the benefit of reef management; and
- Crown-of-Thorns clean-up needed near Ranger Station sites.