A Scuba Diving Dream Finally Realized

Recently, Scuba Diver Magazine featured Tubbataha Reefs as a scuba diving dream come true. The article highlighted the park’s rich marine biodiversity. It also emphasized the importance of preserving and protecting this natural wonder, as well as the efforts being done by the park rangers and local communities to ensure its sustainability.

Visitors to Tubbataha Reefs can expect a one-of-a-kind diving experience, with clear waters and excellent visibility up to 45 meters. The park is only accessible by liveaboard boats, making it an exclusive destination for diving enthusiasts. The article also provided practical tips for visitors, such as the best time to visit and the necessary permits and fees.

Tubbataha Reefs is not only a scuba diving paradise but also a symbol of successful marine conservation. Its protected status has allowed it to thrive and attract visitors from around the world, providing sustainable livelihood opportunities for local communities. It serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting our natural resources and preserving them for future generations to enjoy.

Read more about this story here: https://www.scubadivermag.com/tubbataha-reefs-a-scuba-diving-dream-finally-realized/

Unified by tragedy

by Mama Ranger Angelique M. Songco

BRP Melchora Aquino arrives in Puerto Princesa City with the 28 survivors of MG/Y Dream Keeper

The tragic sinking of MG/Y Dream Keeper in Tubbataha in the early hours of 30 April 2023 was staggering news to us all. We all still need to recover from this heavy loss and the sense of foreboding that it left behind.

But a positive lesson may be gleaned from this accident. Discovery Fleet Corporation’s M/Y Discovery Palawan, first on the scene, undaunted by zero visibility, howling winds, a thunderstorm, and pouring rain deployed all its resources to save the passengers and crew of the Dream Keeper. The management of Discovery Palawan sheltered, clothed, and fed the survivors. In a few moments, M/Y Almaroon Intrepid, P/Y Atlantis Azores, M/V Dolphin, M/Y Monsy, M/Y Palau Sport, S/Y Philippine Siren, M/Y Resolute, M/V Seadoors, M/V Solitude One, M/V Stella Mariz, and M/Y Zamerdius were either on the scene or within radio contact, all their crews primed to assist in search and rescue (SAR) efforts. WWF-Philippines’ research vessel, M/Y Navorca, and the marine park rangers on board two patrol boats also conducted SAR.

The Philippine Coast Guard vessel BRP Melchora Aquino (MRRV-9702) arrived as promptly as possible, relieving M/Y Discovery Palawan of its additional passengers.  The Philippine Navy vessel, PC375, arrived shortly to conduct SAR.  The Western Command and Philippine Air Force provided critical support. The US Indo-Pacific Command was first to conduct airborne SAR starting in the afternoon of 30 April and well into the night. It was flying over Tubbataha till past 10 pm.

Various agencies and private individuals assisting the survivors at Palawan Uno Hotel

Meanwhile, in Puerto Princesa, the survivors were met by the Department of Tourism, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Provincial Governor’s Office, the Provincial Tourism Office, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, the Office of Civil Defense, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board through the TMO, the coordinators of M/Y Solitude One and M/Y Infinity, and the Chinese Embassy, a constellation of actors and agencies bound by a shared desire to ease the suffering of the survivors.

Surely, it was the mandate of these agencies to assist in these circumstances. But the instinctive and spontaneous response of numerous actors from different organizations was an inspiring testament to how organized our collective has become in terms of disaster response. 

Is it because the catastrophes and calamities that plague us give us a lot of practice? Or is it thanks to our increased funding for disaster relief?  I would like to believe it is because, above and beyond our differences and conflicts, we truly care for one another. Our shared empathy birthed a unified gathering of these kilometrically-named agencies and people who were merely doing their jobs—but also genuinely putting their hearts into saving others. 

Scientific advisory body, Fellowship of the Reefs, breathes new life into Tubbataha marine science research

Ecosystem research and monitoring is one of the main strategies in the management of Tubbataha.  Through research, park authorities determine ecosystem health, generate sound scientific information for decision-making, and measure biophysical indicators of management effectiveness.

To achieve these, Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) needs guidance from more experienced and specialized scientists.  Help is needed to develop in-house capability and raise the quality of scientific output on Tubbataha.  With this in mind, the Tubbataha management board established a scientific advisory body called the Fellowship of the Reefs.

The body consists of eight scientists from different disciplines and has accepted the responsibility of guiding, counseling, and furnishing technical advice to TMO for the next three years. They are:

1. Hazel O. Arceo, a Doctor of Science specializing in marine biodiversity, coral reef and fish ecology, and resource management. She is a faculty member of the Department of Biology and Environmental Science of the University of the Philippines-Cebu.  Dr. Arceo has been working with TMO since 2015, conducting reef fish monitoring and researching the soundscapes of Tubbataha through passive acoustics.

2. Ma. Theresa R. Aquino, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has served as a technical consultant of TMO since 2009. She conducted the first dedicated cetacean study of Tubbataha beginning in 2004 and participates in seabird and marine turtle monitoring. Dr. Aquino served as the deputy park manager and resident scientist of TMO from 2009 to 2011.

3. Roger G. Dolorosa has a Ph.D. Environmental Science and did the first dedicated study of gastropods and mollusks in Tubbataha. He is a Professor in the College of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences of the Western Philippines University-Puerto Princesa Campus. Dr. Dolorosa continues to provide scientific advice and guidance as a member of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Boards.

4. Arne Erik Jensen is an environmental scientist specializing in geography, biology, and natural resources management and monitoring. He has decades of experience working with international conservation organizations and is an expert on birds. He designed the seabird monitoring protocol for Tubbataha in 2004 and has since been involved in seabird study and conservation in Tubbataha.

5. Wilfredo Rhoehl Y. Licuanan has a Ph.D. in Biology, specializing in coral taxonomy, coral reef ecology, and monitoring.  He is a Full Professor of the Biology Department and a University Fellow at De La Salle University.  He led the nationwide reassessment of the status of Philippine coral reefs. Dr. Licuanan has been studying the reefs of Tubbataha since 2012.

6. Nicholas J. Pilcher, a Doctor in Philosophy whose research focused on the analysis of marine turtle nesting grounds and the environmental threats they face. He specializes in marine turtle ecology and biology and has been involved in marine turtle monitoring since 2010.  Dr. Pilcher designed the marine turtle monitoring protocol for Tubbataha.

7. Maricor N. Soriano has a Ph.D. in Physics and is a Professor at the National Institute of Physics at UP Diliman. Her research revolved around Color, Optics, Video, and Image Processing applied to Marine Science and Spectral and Medical Imaging, among others. She led the assessment of ship grounding impacts in 2013 and onwards.

8. Cesar L. Villanoy has a Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography. He is an Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) specializing in ocean modeling, habitat connectivity, and pollution. He has conducted oceanographic studies in Tubbataha since 2006.

Thank you for all your help in the past and for your selfless contributions in the coming years!

Novel bacteria with medical applications found in Tubbataha

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when disease-causing microbes change over time to become ‘superbugs’. They are harder to treat because they can resist the drug’s effects, thus increasing the risk of severe infection and death. It is projected that by 2050, drug-resistant microbes will cause ten million deaths every year if the problem is not solved. This “silent pandemic” must be addressed urgently, or the death toll could continue to rise. To help fight AMR, we have to discover and develop new antibiotics.

We have exhausted sources of novel drugs and medicines from land and we now turn to the ocean for sources of novel drugs.  Our exploration in Tubbataha led us to the discovery of a new bacteria dwelling on marine sediments, a.k.a. “Bacteria sa Buhangin”, which we propose to name Streptomyces tubbatahanensis sp. nov.  (tub.ba.ta.ha.nen’sis. N.L. masc. adj. tubbatahanensis pertaining to Tubbataha, where the type strain was isolated).

The bacterium produces many natural compounds that can be developed into an antibiotic that could one day address the problem of AMR. This finding is only the beginning of a process that could take years to produce the drug that will alleviate the suffering of humanity. Yet, this new scientific breakthrough demonstrates that Tubbataha is home to new and novel marine microorganisms that are potential sources of compounds with medical and pharmaceutical uses.

Doralyn S. Dalisay, Ph.D.

Director | Center for Chemical Biology and Biotechnology

Department of Science and Technology Balik Scientist Awardee

The full research paper can be accessed here: Streptomyces tubbatahanensis sp. nov., a Novel Actinomycete Isolated from Sulu Sea, Philippines







President Fidel Ramos established the Presidential Task Force on Tubbataha Reefs in 1995, putting government and local agencies, the private sector and civil society to work together to protect the park.  He would compare the work ahead of us to cooking the Filipino delicacy, Bibingka, which is cooked with fire on top and fire below. His marching orders to us in civil society was to work from the ground up and for the national agencies to work from the top to reach the bottom.  That group he started is the same group that manages Tubbataha today.

During our 25th anniversary in 2013, he was one of those we wanted to honor for his significant contribution in building the foundation for the management of Tubbataha.  He couldn’t make it to the event, but an opportunity to present him with this plaque arose during the launch of the coffee table book, Tubbataha: A National Treasure, four years later.  We brought the plaque with us from Puerto Princesa to the Manila event, but at the time it felt like a trifling act, an insignificant gesture made worse by bad timing.

And so, we hold on to this plaque today, regretting not having expressed our gratitude to this man of great foresight.  We will keep this to remind us never to miss another chance to honor those to whom honor is due. He teaches us another lesson in his passing.

We wish you fair winds, blue skies, and following seas, Mr. President, Sir!


Happy News! 🎉

We have a new Masked Booby Chick!

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  -Lao Tzu

Thus begins our journey towards the recovery of the Masked Booby Sula dactylatra population of Tubbataha, one chick at a time. In 2020, this couple managed to hatch an egg and rear the chick for five months.  We found the chick dead one day for no obvious reasons.

This chick was born three weeks ago. We are calling her Roxana, after our Mexican friend, Dr. Roxana Torres of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who gave us advise on what to do about the reproductive failure of this couple.  We pray this feathered Roxana will grow into full maturity and start a family of her own one day. She/he is seventh of a long line of eggs that did not hatch to see the light of day.  She will be the one to break that chain of miscarriages and failures.

Now we are sure which of these adult birds is Mama and Papa.  Masked booby 446 is Papa as identified by his dark yellow beak and high-pitched whistle.  Mama, MB 256, has a lighter yellow beak, is slightly larger, and makes a loud honking sound. (We captured their behavior through the 360fly camera donated to us by friends, Marissa Floirendo and Tet Lara, three years ago.)

We have been calling these Masked Boobies by the number on their ring band.  It is time to name them. Shall we give them Filipino names? Amihan, Diwa, Bighani, Hiyas, Caridad, Luningning, Makisig, Bayani, Alon, Kidlat, Bagwis, Buhawi? We’d like to hear from you.  Last time we asked for help naming them, we did not know male from female. Now we do. Thanks for your help!



Are the Masked Boobies Home For Good In Tubbataha? A rollercoaster ride on the wings of hope

Figure 1. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Flyway Network Site (EAAF 123)

We were resigned to the fact that the last of the Masked Boobies Sula dactylatra in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Flyway Network Site (EAAF 123) in the Philppines were gone.  Masked Boobies nest on oceanic islands and atolls close to deep water where they forage for food. The Bird Islet in the North Atoll of the Tubbataha Reefs was an ideal home for them.

Masked boobies are found mainly in the tropics.  They have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, most of which they spend foraging in the open ocean.   Sexual maturity is reached in 3 to 5 years.  Boobies have complex mating rituals; males strut around their prospective mate with stretched necks, bearing gifts of small stones and feathers – a lot of fanfare for 10 to 20 seconds of amorous congress.  Through a 360˚ video, we captured rare footage of these birds: the male whistled in high pitch, while the female made honking sounds.  (Hear the sounds –  male: https://bit.ly/2QpfI8E & female: https://bit.ly/31rKVyo)

In 1911, naturalist Dean Worcester observed a ‘large colony’ of Masked Boobies in Bird Islet.  Seventy years later, in 1981, ornithologist Kennedy observed about 150 adults.  Sadder still, the more or less 30 adults recorded in 1989 dwindled to a single individual photographed in Bird Islet in 1995. By 2016, it was believed that the Masked Booby was locally extinct in the Philippines.

Therefore, imagine our joy when our research team espied a lone masked booby in Bird Islet in May 2016!  Amidst our hugging, back-slapping, and jumping-up-and-down-for-joy, this ‘ghost’ surveyed its surroundings indifferently. We immediately determined that it was male from its bright yellow beak.


Figure 2. Masked booby couple claims the center of the brown booby (Sula leucogaster) colony in Bird Islet. ©Segundo Conales Jr./Tubbataha Management Office

Knowing that seabirds are social animals, we were burdened with concern for its social life or lack thereof.  But lo and behold, in October 2019 a second Masked Booby suddenly appeared!  Another round of hugging, back-slapping, and jumping-up-and-down-for-joy commenced.

But apprehension that the new arrival was also male dampened our hopes for the reestablishment of a colony in Tubbataha. Our fears were allayed when, after eight months, an egg appeared – and then a second – in the small hallow in the ground that was their nest. Another round of hugging… commenced.

One of the peculiarities in nature is that even when these birds laid two eggs, only one chick will be raised as the younger or weaker one is kicked out of the nest to die. This focuses the energy of the parents on one offspring, increasing the likelihood of survival.

After a few weeks the eggs were gone with no chick in sight! One egg vanished without a trace, while only the shells of the other remained.  Only a faint sliver of hope separated us from utter disappointment and discouragement. The mystery of the missing egg and chick is one of the mind-boggling riddles that confound us to this day.

But what joy it is to learn that another pair of eggs were again laid in mid-August this year! Another round of…

Seabirds are harder to monitor because they occupy isolated locations and harsh habitats.  Birdlife International posits that seabirds are ‘more threatened than all other groups of birds with similar nu

Figure 3. The 10-20 second mating ritual of Masked Boobies caught on camera. ©Segundo Conales Jr./Tubbataha Management Office

mbers of species’.  They suffer as bycatch in commercial fisheries, from loss of smaller fish due to overfishing, and from invasive species such as rats and cats.

Marine park rangers stationed in Tubbataha year-round conduct regular seabird surveys to monitor the efficacy of conservation strategies and actions. They also watch out for illegal fishing and other damaging activities, thereby providing a healthy ocean for the seabirds.

These masked boobies represent what we once lost – and what we hope to recover.  As the only breeding pair known in the Philippines today,  we are determined to provide them with a safe and nurturing space in which to start a family.

These last few years, this Masked Booby couple has kept us in alternating strings of joy and despair, hope and discouragement, resignation and expectation.  Are they home for good?

We would like to hear from you.  Would you help us solve the mysterious disappearance of the eggs?  Do you think the eggs they have now will be the start of a new Marked Booby family in Tubbataha? Could you help us learn more about these birds by passing on information about them?  Lastly, help us give them a name!

Email us at [email protected] or message us at our fb page: @OfficialTubbataha

Learn more about this site: https://www.eaaflyway.net/philippines/

Prepared by Angelique Songco, site manager of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Flyway Network Site


Reef Warden

For two months at a time, the marine park rangers (MPR) spend every hour in the heart of Sulu Sea, safeguarding one of nature’s masterpieces – the Tubbataha Reefs. Being a marine park ranger may be a dream job for many, but only a few know what it takes to be one.

All thanks to Reef Warden, developed to promote marine conservation and the challenges associated with it, we get a glimpse of what it really means to be a marine park ranger. It is a turn-based base-building and management game, where players are given the chance to develop their own ranger station to protect the neighboring reef, while also increasing the capabilities of the facility to manage tourists. The players will also have to conduct research to learn more about the reef and protect it.

Reef Warden is a game for Windows PCs that’s also playable in browsers based on the work of the rangers of Tubbataha: law enforcement, research, visitor management, and the like. It is an engaging and challenging game with a novel storyline, and it combines fun and the realities of safeguarding the ocean.

The game developers, Anton Valenzuela (left) and Rom Enriquez (right)

Anton Valenzuela and Rom Enriquez, students from the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science of the Ateneo de Manila University were inspired to develop a game about Tubbataha Reefs, particularly the about the lives of the marine park rangers, after one of their advisers, Mrs. Maria T. Rodrigo, PhD., suggested the concept.

It was Rom who thought of focusing the game on the rangers’ work of protecting the reef. To get an insight about where the concept would take them, they interviewed Protected Area Superintendent, Angelique Songco and two rangers, Mr. Segundo Conales, Jr. and Mr. Jeffrey David. After processing the interviews, the duo settled on the concept for the game.

The game may be found here: Reef Warden



Helping hands


Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park gets a leg up from the Jimenez Group of Companies to see it through the rough waters of 2021. The group is making a ₱500,000.00 donation to support law enforcement activities for the remainder of the year. The fund will pay for the cost of marine park ranger allowances, supplies, and accessories for a new patrol boat that will ensure continued oversight and protection over Tubbataha Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tourism is the main source of funds for managing Tubbataha.  Revenues have dried up since 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic, sparking concerns about sustaining conservation efforts in the country’s premier dive site.

A virtual signing agreement was held at 3 pm today between the Jimenez Group of Companies, the Tubbataha Management Office, and Saguda Palawan, Inc., which will manage the funds.

The Jimenez Group has interests in media, real estate, food, health care, and many other fields of business. Among them are, the top rating FM radio station, Monster Radio RX93.1, and Lifeline 16911, the leading emergency-response company in the country.

Benjamin Jimenez, an avid diver, leads this advocacy for the Jimenez group. “It is an honor and a privilege to help support Tubbataha and the rangers who protect it,” says Jimenez. ” Our reefs are a part of our identity as Filipinos, and as divers, it is not only our goal but our passion to help preserve Tubbataha and spread awareness of its beauty.” Jimenez shared that they plan to extend more support to Tubbataha in the years to come.

Ms. Katherine Custodio, Executive Director of WWF-Philippines and a member of the Tubbataha management board has this to say: “This partnership with the Jimenez Group could not have come at a better time. What drives people to work together for the environment really is a shared concern and hope for the future. I am very excited for what this partnership will bring. In addition to supporting the core mission of the Tubbataha, the Jimenez group has made possible the opportunity to engage many more Filipinos in securing our natural heritage, asset, the nursery of our fisheries, and a priceless treasure that is Tubbahata. We thank and commend the Jimenez group for its leadership and support.”



26 fishermen were apprehended in Tubbataha last October 1

1. Twenty-six (26) fishers aboard F/Bca Clinton 1 were arrested at Jessie Beazley Reef, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park on 1 October 2021

On the afternoon of October 1, 2021, marine park rangers of the Tubbataha Reefs arrested 26 fishers at the Jessie Beazley Reef in Tubbataha. Found in the fishing vessel were about five (5) tons of fish, including the internationally protected Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), and paraphernalia believed to be used for blast fishing.

While on patrol to the Jessie Beazley Reef, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, Cagayancillo Bantay Dagat, and Tubbataha Management Office enforcement officers sighted a fishing vessel near the reef. They approached the vessel and while attempting to evade arrest, fishers were throwing paraphernalia overboard to rid their boat of evidence of their crime.

The fishers are still at the ranger station in Tubbataha as of this writing. The BFAR vessel, MCS 3001, is underway to escort the fishers back to Puerto Princesa City for the filing of appropriate cases for violations of RA No. 10067, otherwise known as the Tubbataha Act of 2009.

2. Paraphernalia believed to be used for blast fishing were found onboard the vessel. One of the rangers, a former blast fisherman, identified the paraphernalia.


3. About five (5) tons of fish were found in the vessel including a 1.3-meter Napolean Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), an internationally protected and endangered species.