The Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), during its 4th Session held on 6-10 March 2017, approved the ‘establishment of a new area to be avoided (ATBA) as an associated protective measure for the “Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) in the Sulu Sea” (the Philippines)’.  Having acquired NCSR support, it is expected that the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC), which meets on 3-7 July 2017, will approve the application of the Philippines for PSSA.

The PSSA application for Tubbataha was first discussed in 2002, when the UNESCO World Heritage Centre (WHC) funded multi-sectoral meeting where PSSA establishment was considered as a solution the potential negative impacts of international shipping.  The Centre provided funding to pursue the application in 2012 enabling TMO to consult with the University of the Philippines-Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea (UP-IMLOS) for technical assistance. Several multi-stakeholder meetings were held

The Philippine Coast Guard, the Department of Foreign Affairs, specifically the Embassy in London, the Tubbataha Management Office and UP-IMLOS spearheaded the application process.  MEPC organized the first ever regional meeting of the IMO in Manila in 2014.  The Department of Environment and Natural Resources was also involved in earlier efforts.  When finally established as a PSSA, Tubbataha will be the first in Southeast Asia, a tribute to the numerous agencies, local and international, that are committed to protect this marine jewel from harm.