Tubbataha Research Season 2015 approaches tail end

With just days before the last research trip to Tubbataha Reefs this year, here are some details on the successful previous trips.

Tubbataha Coral Health Assessment – 23 to 29 April

For the first time since its establishment, the health of corals in the Tubbataha Reefs were assessed by none other than experts specializing in coral health. In partnership with the University of Guam (UG) and the Silliman University – Institute of Environmental and Marine Sciences (SU-IEMS), Dr. Alexander Kerr, Dr. Laurie Raymundo, and Dr. Aileen Maypa gave a closer look to the regular benthos monitoring sites used by the Tubbataha Management Office in their benthos surveys. The grounding sites of USS Guardian and M/Y Min Ping Yu were also examined in an attempt to make comparisons on disease prevalence between reefs which underwent stress (grounding sites) and remote healthy reef areas (benthos monitoring sites). Parameters considered were diseases, bleaching, predation, and physical damage.

The study was made possible through the support of Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc., a long-time partner of TMO in conserving the Tubbataha Reefs. M/V Discovery Palawan also contributed to the study through the provision of berths for the scientists at highly discounted rates. A detailed report is expected to come out in the following months.

Water Quality Sample Collection and Analysis – 15 to 19 April

The second edition of the new program was supported by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS). The needed expertise in collecting and analyzing the water samples were made available to the TMO through Ms. Marianne Faith Perez and Ms. Jenevieve Hara. This year’s results are expected to back-up the 2014 findings which led to some management actions and considerations such as conducting sample collection and analysis during tourism off season (December 2014 – February 2015).

The same expedition also served as a familiarization trip for two members of the new ranger station construction team from Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA). Mr. Domingo Sanchez and Mr. David John Pontiga both experienced snorkeling in the pristine waters of Tubbataha after doing their site visit on the proposed new ranger station area. A report on water quality will come out together with the TMO annual monitoring report.

Fish and Benthos Monitoring – 28 April to 05 May

Since 1998, monitoring of fish and coral communities has been part of the research program of TMO with the help of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). M/Y Navorca, WWF’s research vessel and a regular traveler in the Sulu Sea, housed researchers from TMO, De La Salle University (DLSU), University of the Philippines – Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI), and UP-Tacloban. Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan (DLSU) led the coral research team together with Retchie Pagliawan, Rowell Alarcon, Noel Bundal (TMO), Eznairah Jeung Narida, Regina Abesamis, and Regine Robles (DLSU).

The fish research team was headed by Prof. Jerome Cabansag (UP-Tacloban) with Segundo Conales Jr, Roy Magbanua, Jeffrey David, Jeric Dejucos (TMO) and Denmark Recamara (UP-MSI), . A change in the sampling area size was made in the fish research in accordance with new national standards. The said researches are focused on monitoring live coral cover, benthic composition, fish biomass, and fish density and abundance; in which the management success of TMO are based and measured. Reports will come out in the annual Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Report of TMO.

Seabirds Inventory Census – 07 to 12 May

The all-time high in terms of total count of seabirds was the highlight of this year’s census. Some ‘first time’ observations also made this year’s trip special – the hatching of Black and Brown Noddy eggs at the 2nd quarter of the year, and the unusual ground nesting of the Black Noddy which is a known tree nester. Mr. Arne Jensen, TMO’s long-time ornithologist consultant, once again led the team together with Dr. Teri Aquino.

Other ornithologists who volunteered their service were Juan Carlos Gonzales of University of the Philippines – Los Banos, Godfrey Jakosalem and Lisa Paguntalan of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation, Inc., Christian Perez of Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, and Rommel Cruz of Bird Watch Palawan. The TMO research team and some of the Marine Park Rangers also participated in the census. The seabird report will be part of the annual Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Report of TMO.

On 02 June 2015, the TMO research team will once again gear up for the last installment of the research season, the Turtle Tagging and Laparoscopy to be led by Dr. Nicholas Pilcher. This will conclude TMO’s research trips to Tubbataha this year.