The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) launched its public outreach program and this year’s Young Guardian of the Sea Campaign. Every year Office brings this campaign to different schools and communities in Puerto Princesa and Palawan to increase the awareness of children and the youth on the importance of the marine environment.
Grades 3 to 6 pupils of the Don Ramon Roces Memorial and Bacungan Elementary Schools participated in the campaign, accepting the challenge to be the next Young Guardians of the Sea. In support of TMO’s advocacy against single-use plastics, the students brought their own containers for beverage and snacks.
This year’s campaign was led by five Tubbataha Youth Ambassadors, whose job is to learn as much as they can about marine conservation, be responsible conservation leaders in their communities, and communicate what they learned during their engagement with TMO.
The Tubbataha Youth Ambassador Program is fully funded by the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc., and has been running since 2013.
On 28 November 2018, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Marine Environmental Protection Unit conducted a dialogue with local scuba dive operators in a meeting organized by the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) to discuss the implementation of Memorandum Circular (MC 10-14), Prevention of Pollution from Sewage. PCG representatives stressed that the purpose of the circular is to provide implementing rules and regulations to prevent pollution by sewage from ships operating within the Philippine maritime jurisdiction.
Figure 1. Dive operators and TMO meet with representatives of the Marine Environment Protection Unit of the Philippine Coast Guard to discuss the provisions of Memorandum Circular 10-14.
During the meeting, clarifications were raised by the dive operators as to how the MC will impact 2019 scuba diving operations in Tubbataha. Subsequently, the group decided to come up with a position paper that will include their concerns and recommendations, seek the support of the TPAMB, and submit the same to the PCG for consideration. Attendees were representatives from Philippine Coast Guard- Marine Environmental Protection Unit (MEPU-Palawan), owners and captains of the vessels; M/B Dschubba, M/Y Narayana, M/Y Sakura and M/Y Zamerdius, and WWF- Philippines.
Figure 2. From left, back: Dino Pangione (MY Sakura), Let Angeles (MY Sakura), Rey Bonoan (MY Zamerdius), Mark Bratschi (MB Dschubba), Nazario Gabinete (MY Zamerdius), Kevin Rebner (MY Narayana), Lydia Kessner (MY Narayana), Emmalyn Tura (TMO) and Ruby Diana Bonbon (MY Narayana) From left, front: Ronald De Roa (WWF) Angelique Songco (TMO), Marivel Dygico (WWF)
PUERTO PRINCESA – In preparation for the scuba diving season, various agencies converged to discuss intensified security arrangements for the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, 09 February.
The group recognized that tourism is one of the main drivers of the Philippine economy and articulated the need to protect it at all cost. Commodore Allan Ferdinand Cusi of the Western Command presided over the meeting. Other participants were the 3rd Marine Brigade of Philippine Marines, the Naval Forces Northwest, the 570 Command Tactical Wing of the Philippine Airforce, the Philippine Coast Guard District-Palawan, the Provincial Government Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Office, scuba diving operators, and the Tubbataha Management Office.
Tubbataha Protected Area Superintendent Angelique Songco received the Hero for the Environment Award during the WWF-Philippines Partner’s Night held on 15 November in Makati City.
The award was given in recognition of PASu Songco’s remarkable work in turning Tubbataha into a model protected area. PASu Songco shares the award with the people and organisations who have been instrumental to the continued conservation of Tubbataha.
The event was also a celebration of the 20 years of WWF-Philippines conservation efforts in the country. WWF-Philippines is one of Tubbataha’s the strong allies in conservation.
‘Tubbataha: A National Treasure’, the very first photo book on the country’s common heritage was launched last 9 November at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City.
The book features stunning photographs of one of Tubbataha’s great fans., Tet Lara, and is produced by AOF Foundation. Learn more about the book here.
At the launch
From the right: Tubbataha Protected Area Superintendent Angelique Songco receives a copy of the book from Ms. Tet Lara and Ms. Marissa Floirendo of AOF Foundation.
From left: Alya Honasan, editor and writer, Angelique Songco, contributing editor and writer, Felix Mago Miguel, book designer and illustrator, Marissa Floirendo, publisher, and Tet Lara, photographer.
The event was graced by several personalities. In the photo (center) is former President Fidel V. Ramos, who institutionalized the engagement of multi-sectoral stakeholders for Tubbataha’s consistent protection; (fifth from the left) Ms. Yazmin Arquiza, the co-author of the ‘Tales from Tubbataha’, the only book published about the park; (first from the right) Ms. Cesar Romero, Country Chairman of Shell Companies in the Philippines.
AOF Foundation is donating all proceeds to Tubbataha. Shell Philippines through the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, one of Tubbataha’s partners in conservation, also supports this project.
Books are now available at the following locations:
NAUTILUS DIVE SHOP
235 Salcedo st. Unit 101 Cattleya Condominium,
Legaspi Village, Makati City
+632 817-7293, 0920 954-1477
SPLASH UNDERWATER IMAGING INC.
Level B, Store #2003, Shoppesville Arcade, Greenhills Shopping Center, San Juan City
308 Seaview St. cor P. Guevarra, Brgy. Sta Lucia, San Juan City
STRIDE and STROKE
Store # 1178, Alabang Town Center, Muntinlupa City
ACACIA RESORT AND DIVE CENTER
Bauan Mabini Circumferencial Road, Brgy. Ligaya,
Mabini, Batangas City
STRIDE and STROKE
Active Zone, Store # A320, Level 3 Ayala Center Cebu
+63 32 4155036
TUBBATAHA MANAGEMENT OFFICE
Manalo Ext., Bgy. Milagrosa
Puerto Princesa City 5300, Palawan
+63 48 434 5759
I don’t remember sleeping that night while the boat rocked back and forth,” writes Teresa “Tet” Lara, underwater photographer, of her unforgettable first visit in March 1996 to the Tubbataha Reefs, onboard what was then the Aquastar.
It was a rough start to what was to be a wonderful, 20-year love affair, as Tet and her dive buddy and friend, underwater cinematographer Marissa Floirendo, would return almost every year to the iconic marine park, the Philippines’ premier scuba-diving site and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Heritage Site, the only purely marine heritage site in Southeast Asia.
Thus did Tet accumulate several years’ worth of stunning photographs.
Last May, I received a call from Marissa: “I think it’s about time we put together a book on Tubbataha, but we don’t know how to write it. Will you help us?” Of course I would, I said—and of course I did.
“Tubbataha: A National Treasure,” featuring photographs by Tet Lara, text by yours truly, design by Felix Mago Miguel, and essays by some of the country’s leading scientists, will be launched on Nov. 9.
The hefty tome—268 pages, 231 pictures—published by the AOF Foundation, will contribute to the protection and preservation of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park—easily one of the most beloved places on the planet for many scuba divers, including Filipinos who have been visiting it for years.
Tet herself calls it “my special place,” the title of her essay at the end of the book. Her piece opens with the aforementioned account of her first voyage on a live-aboard dive boat—the only way to get to the reefs, via an overnight, 150-kilometer sail from Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Very first photo book
Although it is primarily a pictorial journey—incredibly, the very first photo book to be published on Tubbataha—we were in immediate agreement that it should also contain substantial information on the place. Thus, we came up with an outline covering a range of perspectives, from historical mentions of the place in British nautical records of the 18th century, to its importance as a rich spawning ground, feeding fisheries well beyond its borders.
We recognize its importance as a unique and critical ecosystem and as a dive tourism destination, and chronicle the milestones in its protection from the 1970s to the present, under the stewardship of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) and the dynamic Tubbataha Management Office (TMO).
Tubbataha’s maverick of a Protected Area superintendent, Angelique Songco, and her team of dedicated Marine Park Rangers get special mention. We relied heavily on information from the TMO, a case study on the reefs by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Philippines and, most significantly, on the only book ever published on the reefs: the 1994 book “Tales from Tubbataha” by journalist Yasmin Arquiza and marine biologist Alan White.
Although I wrote the matrix of the text, we also decided that we needed to hear from experts in various fields, all of whom rose to the occasion and wrote splendid essays on the Tubbataha they know.
Renowned coral experts and marine biologists Al Licuanan and Perry Aliño write on Tubbataha’s richness, resilience and uniqueness. Conservation and wildlife authority Dr. Teri Aquino touches on the web of biodiversity, while fisheries specialist Dr. Hazel Arceo expounds on its importance as a food source.
Ornithologist Arne Jensen discusses Tubbataha’s topside value as an important seabird rookery, Arquiza recalls the early days of reporting on the reefs, and Songco, who also served as editorial consultant, contributes her piece on managing a national heritage.
Tet and Marissa were particularly thrilled to have a foreword written by arguably the greatest living underwater photographer on the planet, National Geographic’s David Doubilet, whom the two met during their extensive travels, and who joined them on one memorable trip to Tubbataha.
“Tet Lara’s imagery is a body of work spanning two decades of devotion to this living jewel,” he writes. “Her pictures are intimate, poetic, and powerful.”
As for the reefs, he says succinctly, “I have seen nothing like it in five decades under the sea.”
In her publisher’s note, Marissa notes how we all share a passion for Tubbataha. Indeed, on my visit last May, I was genuinely thrilled to discover that the reefs, which had gone from gorgeous, to battered by destructive fishing and alien species infestation, are again very much alive and well, a true testament to nature’s power.
Divers are still talking about the phenomenal 2015 dive season, when whale sharks, formerly rarities in the area, had shown up on almost every single dive.
If you’re a Filipino scuba diver, it behooves you to make your own pilgrimage to this Holy Grail of Philippine diving before you even think of going elsewhere.
The trip is expensive, no doubt, but the reefs of Tubbataha are unparalleled in richness, diversity of marine life (read: sharks galore) and exciting currents.
[Related story: Going to Tubbataha? Here’s what you should know]
And the topography! There are mind-boggling walls, wild coral gardens, picturesque sandy areas and drop-offs that plummet down to untold depths. It’s not an easy place to dive, but when you’re ready and able, it’s the adventure of a lifetime. No wonder Marissa and Tet are incurably hooked.
Even if you don’t dive or will never make your way to Tubbataha, it is still good to know that a natural wonder of global importance and beauty exists right here in Philippine waters—a national treasure, indeed. Even vicarious enjoyment is possible as you gaze upon Tet’s incredible shots of schooling bumpheads, burping whale sharks, a family of marble rays huddled together, and Bird Island, gloriously packed with terns and boobies.
“Many people do not have a chance to visit Tubbataha,” notes Songco. “Marissa and Tet bring Tubbataha to them through this book. It shows how lucky we are as a nation to have been given this treasure, and how great is our responsibility to the world to care for it for the rest of humankind.”
18 August 2016 – The 1000th whale shark has been identified in Philippine waters, making the Philippines the third largest known aggregation of whale sharks in the world and the biggest in South East Asia, according to the online library Wildbook for whale sharks. Whale sharks are identified by their unique spot pattern, and scientists all over the world use this pattern on the left side of their body to distinguish between individuals. Researchers from the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE) and WWF-Philippines have been adopting this technique for a number of years and together with submissions from the public the Philippines reached 1000 identified individual whale sharks this week.
The 1000th whale shark is an incredibly important milestone for the country and one which every Filipino can be proud of. Once coined as the capital of whale shark hunting in South East Asia, the Philippines changed the fate of the species in 1998 when it became the third country in the world to protect whale sharks under Fisheries Administrative Order 193. Since then, the population is showing signs of slow recovery. Today this iconic species attracts thousands of tourists every year and even features on the 100 peso bill.
However, dangers lurk in the surrounding seas, meaning that it is now more important than ever to protect these animals. Recently the species was upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a consequence of the historical and ongoing threat of illegal fisheries, particularly in the South China Sea, and the fact that whale sharks are animals that make large scale movements across international borders. Researchers from LAMAVE and the Marine Megafauna Foundation have been investigating the movements of Philippine sharks using satellite tags to better understand the implications of these threats to whale sharks encountered in Philippine waters.
The 1000th shark, was spotted by Mr. Jon Jon Rufino whilst diving in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Jon Jon sent the video to LAMAVE and the Tubbataha Management Office, as part of a citizen science project which encourages visitors to the park to contribute photographs and videos of their shark encounters to assess the biodiversity of the park. Jon Jon’s footage revealed that the shark is a juvenile male, similar in size to the juvenile sharks we see closer to shore in Donsol and Southern Leyte. Jon Jon’s encounter is one of an increasing number of sightings in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the past few years. To date Tubbataha Reefs have contributed a total of 65 individuals to the national catalog of whale sharks, with additional individuals pending upload. These figures highlight the importance of the park for the largest fish in the sea.
To mark this milestone, the 1000th shark will be nicknamed “Pangga” (short for “Palangga,” which means beloved) to honor the Philippines’ relationship with this enormous shark, which we hope will continue to be an iconic species for the country long into the future.
A video illustrating the full story and featuring LAMAVE Executive Director Jessica Labaja is available here:
The 1000th whale shark on WildBook for whale sharks is available to view here:
For further information, please contact Sally Snow at: