- The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) lies in the middle of the Sulu Sea, some 80 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. It is politically part of the municipality of Cagayancillo, Palawan.
- The park is composed of over 10,000 hectares of coral reef and more than 86,000 hectares of surrounding waters.
- Total area of 97,030 hectares core zone, 10-nautical mile perimeter buffer zone.
- TRNP is composed of two atolls and a reef with bustling reef platforms.
- Most parts of the park are submerged except for the vast reef flats during low tide and the two islets, the North and the South islets while Jessie Beazley Reef, which lies about 13 nm from the atolls, has an area of 45 hectares with a small islet made of marl that exposed during low tide.
- The Park harbors at least 360 species of corals, 6000 species of fish, 7 species of sea grass, 66 species of algae, 2 species of marine turtles (green, Chelonia mydas, and hawskbill, Eretmochelys imbricata), 12 species of sharks and 13 species of cetaceans.
- Rays, skates and schools of pelagic species such as tuna, mackerel, jacks and barracudas are also regularly cited within the park.
- The islets are also home to various bird species including the endemic subspecies of Black Noddy (Anous minutus worcestri), and the critically endangered CHristmas Island frigatebird, Frigata andrewsi. Sea grass beds occupy about 1.25 km2 of the reef.
- 10-year management plan formulated and adopted through Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) early in 2011. Priorities include: conservation management, public awareness, ecosystem research and monitoring and sustainable resource management.
- Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009 (R.A. 10067) was enacted for the establishmnet of 10-nm buffer zone from the park’s boundaries.
- Important larval source thereby contributing to the sustainability of biodiversity and fissheries in the Coral triangle, particularly within the Sulu Sea biogeography region.
- The islets serve as rookery and breeding ground of various endemic and migratory bird species.
- Important habitat and nesting ground for marin turtles.
- Accessibility. Tubbataha’s remote location poses a logistical challenge to its effective management.
- Illegal Use. Fishers from the coastal communities of Palawan and from the Visayan Islands enter the Park to harvest protected species, like the Trochus niloticus, and to fish in the reefs.
- Stakeholder Ownership. There is scarce opportunity to enable local stakeholders to experience TRNP as a result of seasonal access, isolation and high cost of travel, limiting appreciation and sense of ownership and stewardship by the populace.
- Financing and other challenges. Conservation fees collected form dive tourists remains the main source of revenues for the park.
- Marine debris. The increasing volume of marin debris that are brought by tidal currents and wind from outside Park boundaries jeopardize the health of the birds and other marine life.
- Energy Exploration. Energy exploration around TRNP has been sanctioned by the Department of Energy. Although no exploration in the proximity of the park is being undertaken at the moment, these activities could pose a threat to marine mammals and other species if pursued.
Future Directions, Gaps and Recommendations
- Park personnel have no security of tenure. Several staff members have been working for TRNP for over a decade but are provided only with annual contracts as contractual workers. Institutional mechanisms are being explored that would ensure responsive and effective management while providing staff with secure tenures.
- An ever widening circle of partners is being sought to fill gaps in financing and technical knowhow. Networking has resulted int he achievement of conservatino objectives, with support intermittently received form various quarters, Volunteers are employed for research and awareness initiatives.
Financial sustainability is a major issue. TMO has always relied on outside grants to cover capital outlays. Although
isinclied to conduct marketing and promotions activities in the past, TMO is now seeking to capacitate its staff in this field in order to increase visitations to the park and thereby revenues for conservation. Another strategy being put in place is the establishment of an endowment fund substantial enough to yield interests that would contribute to the management of the park.