FEATURE: THE MARINE PARK RANGERS – A BRIEF LOOK INTO THE LIVES OF TUBBATAHA’S GUARDIANS
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Known to many diving enthusiasts and conservation specialists the world over, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a rare marine treasure, a sanctuary to many forms of aquatic life. It is a painting of vibrant colors and exquisite beauty come to life in the heart of the Philippine archipelago. As a living embodiment of nature’s untainted splendor, it must be treated with the utmost care and protection. Achieving this is no mere feat – hence, several agencies that understand the need for such protection formed the composite law enforcement team – each member called a marine park ranger – to protect Tubbataha against the fate of most marine sites in the country.
More than two decades ago, Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos formed the Presidential Task Force on Tubbataha. The Task Force was composed of over 15 agencies and sectors and was tasked to conserve the park through collaboration and partnership. This was the forerunner of the current multi-sectoral Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board. The law enforcement team in the field is composed of members from the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, Local Government of Cagayancillo, and the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO). Each member of the team undergoes a training course to equip them with standardised knowledge on enforcement protocols, as well as ecology and management principles.
The Park Rangers keep watch from the Ranger Station, located in the southern part of the North Atoll in Tubbataha. Aside from housing the rangers, the station also stores equipment needed by the rangers in their day-to-day monitoring of the park. This includes a radar system and radio communication equipment which the rangers use in contacting nearby vessels and the TMO located in Puerto Princesa City.
Aside from patrolling Tubbataha, the marine park rangers also conduct scientific research, monitor park wildlife, manage tourism, and do surface and underwater clean-ups. They are also responsible for ensuring that vessels entering the Park have proper permits.
Dedicating oneself to this task requires a sacrifice of privileges. The rangers work bi-monthly shifts; they are only able to see their families and friends for two months at a time before heading back to their posts. Mobile signal is non-existent in Tubbataha. The costly satellite phone or the single side band radio are the only means of connecting to home or the office.
Despite the challenges of protecting a natural wonder such as Tubbataha, the rangers describe their work as fulfilling – the opportunity to protect and preserve the Park is in itself both an honor and a privilege. While not an easy mission, it is certainly one that serves to immortalize Tubbataha’s legacy for the years and the generations to come.