The park contains roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef, lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle – the global centre of marine biodiversity.
Scientists have been visiting these reefs since the 1980s, and their research has shown that Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is home to no less than:
- 600 species of fish
- 360 species of corals (about half of all coral species in the world)
- 11 species of sharks
- 13 species of dolphins & whales
- 100 species of birds
- And also nesting Hawksbill & Green sea turtles.
Can corals recover from bleaching?
The colourful and diverse coral formations that we see underwater in Tubbataha are actually colonies of hundreds to thousands of individual but genetically identical polyps. Coral polyps are invertebrates, part of a large group of animals called Cnidaria, which also includes jellyfish and sea anemones.Although corals can use stinging cells on their tentacles to catch small fish or plankton, most get the bulk of their energy and nutrients from zooxanthellae, photosynthetic algae that live within the coral.Under stress, such as increased water temperatures and ocean acidification, corals may expel their zooxanthellae, which leads to a lighter or completely white appearance, termed ‘bleached’.Although it may appear so, when a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under stress and are at risk of dying.The Philippines experienced major bleaching events in 1998 and 2010, the latter affecting 95% of corals. Both were caused by an El Niño event that increased the temperatures in the Indian Ocean and waters off Southeast Asia.In comparison to other Philippine reefs, the corals of Tubbataha have recovered well from the bleaching events. Scientists suspect that this is due to the reefs protected status, they can recover from one stress because they do not have to deal with others, such as pollution and fishing.
Reef Manta Rays
Philippines’ first record of Manta alfredi
In 2012, using data collected by research volunteer consultant Dr Terry Aquino, marine scientist Dr Will White confirmed that the Manta Rays in Tubbataha are Manta alfredi, a reef based species, rather that Manta birostris, a pelagic species roaming the open seas.This is exciting, since there was previously no record of Manta alfredi in the Philippines.The Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi) is found in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. However, actual populations seem to be sparsely distributed.Manta alfredi is considered “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List Status and an average of 30% decline in its population is suspected. They have a low reproductive rate with females bearing a single pup only once in two to three years.Mantas are majestic creatures, loved by scuba divers. They are highly sensitive to marine conditions and are therefore an important indicator of the health of the ocean ecosystems.