Scuba diving operators, dive professionals, and representatives of relevant government agencies met in Puerto Princesa to discuss how to improve the management of Tubbataha.

The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) held the annual Dive Operators’ Consultation on 21 February 2020 at the Best Western Plus The Ivywall Hotel, Puerto Princesa City. In attendance were scuba diving professionals operating in Tubbataha, representatives of the Western Command, Naval Forces West, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving, and the Provincial Government. Colonel Sharon G Gernale PAF (GSC), Deputy Commander of the Western Command, gave a brief welcome address at the event.

TMO reported that the number of visitors last year was the highest on record at 3,475. Tourism projections for 2020 indicate a twelve percent (12%) increase in the number of visitors. However, the coronavirus epidemic is expected to affect visitor numbers.

Citizen science results showed that the dive sites Black Rock and Delsan Wreck were the ‘happening’ places of 2019. Recognized for their support to citizen science were the operators of M/Y Palausport, M/V Seadoors, and M/V Discovery Palawan.

TMO researchers also reported that coral cover decreased somewhat but fish populations remain healthy. Seabird communities are decreasing due to the loss of vegetation. Shark research by LAMAVE revealed that Tubbataha has the highest recorded density of white tip and grey reef sharks in the world. The Park is also found to harbor 17 to 38 times more reef sharks compared to non-protected areas.

Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office staff presented an overview of the Contingency Plan for Tubbataha, highlighting the duties and responsibilities of the dive operators and TMO based on hazards identified. The Western Command provided a security briefing. Reminders on the rules and regulations and issues that emerged from the 2019 season were also discussed.

The annual consultation aims to gather the private sector partners of TMO and other relevant agencies, provide updates on the management of the Park, and create a venue in which the various sectors converge to discuss how to better manage the Tubbataha Reefs.

The event was funded by Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc., a partner in the conservation of Tubbataha since 2007.