|Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
Whitetip reef shark at Tubbataha
|Criteria||vii, ix, x|
|Designated:||November 12, 1999 |
|Inscription||1993 (17th Session)|
The Tubbataha Reef (Filipino: Bahurang Tubbataha) is an atoll coral reef and a Natural Marine Park in Sulu Sea, Philippines comprising two huge atolls (the North Atoll and South Atoll) and the smaller Jessie Beazley Reef. The park is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) located 150 kilometres (93 mi) southeast of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan according to the reefs' official website but according to United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the reefs are 181 kilometres (112 mi) southeast of Puerto Princesa City. The reefs are considered part of the island municipality of Cagayancillo, Palawan, which is located roughly 130 kilometres (81 mi) to the northeast of the reef. According to the official website of the Natural Marine Park, Tubbataha covers 97,030 hectares (239,800 acres; 374.6 sq mi) while UNESCO measures the reefs at 130,028 hectares (321,310 acres; 502.04 sq mi).
In December 1993, the UNESCO declared the Tubbataha Reefs National Park as a World Heritage Site under the protective management of the Philippines Department of National Defense (DND) and technical supervision of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR). In 1999, Ramsar listed Tubbataha as one of the Wetlands of International Importance. In 2008, the reef was nominated at the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
The national park considered to be the global center of marine biodiversity. Research of scientists visiting the reefs since the 1980s revealed that the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park contains no less than 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, and 100 bird species. The reefs also serve as a nesting ground for Hawksbill and Green sea turtles.
The word tubbataha is a combination of two Samal words: tubba and taha, which together means "a long reef exposed at low tide". Historically, Samal people who have a nomadic lifestlye, visit the reef from time to time. Although people from the islands of Cagayancillo are frequent visitors of the reef. They used the native vessel pangko to sail and fish on "Gusong", their local name for the Tubbataha.
The Tubbataha Reef is situated on the Cagayan Ridge, composing of extinct underwater volcanoes. Being a true atoll structure, it is believed that the atolls of Tubbataha were formed thousands of years ago as fringing reefs and volcanic islands. This is based on Charles Darwin's theory that atolls are formed when a volcano erupts and afterwards an island is born. When the volcanoes became extinct and the islands subsided over a long time, only the corals remain, growing towards the sunlight. The very big corals seen today surrounding the lagoons are originally the fringing reefs.
In the 1980s, instead of traditional sailboats, motorized bangkas operated by fishermen increased in numbers and reached Tubbataha. During those times, fish are declining in other areas because of overfishing and soon Tubbataha became a fishing destination because of the abundant marine life there. Many fishermen used cyanide and dynamite to maximize their catch. 
Scuba divers and environmentalists campaigned to make the reefs a national marine park. In August 11, 1988, the President Corazon Aquino declared the Tubbataha Reef as a national marine park with the endorsement of the Government of Palawan. This was the first time that the Philippines declared an area as a national marine park.
Declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in December 1993, it is under protective management by the Philippines Department of National Defense (DND). It is under technical supervision by the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). It is administered as part of Cagayancillo town on Palawan.
The Tubbataha National Marine Park became a marine sanctuary and when it was established in 1988, it had an area of 332 km² (82,000 acres). In 2006, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, through an Executive Order, increased the boundaries of the park by 200%. It is now 968.24 km² (239,000 acres) in size and is guarded by armed rangers 24 hours/7 days a week.
Ship grounding incidents
- See also: USS Guardian grounding
In 31 October 2005, the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior ran aground on Tubbataha Reef, damaging approximately 100 square meters (approx. 1000 square feet), for which they paid a fine of about $7000. GreenPeace blamed the accident on inaccurate charts provided by the Philippine government. The BBC quoted Greenpeace official Red Constantino as saying "The chart indicated we were a mile and a half" from the coral reef when the ship ran aground. Greenpeace paid the fine. 
On 17 January 2013, the US Navy minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground at Tubbataha Reef. Between 2011 and January 2013, before the grounding of the USS Guardian, there were eleven incidents involving ships, including two Philippine ships. The U.S. Navy concluded that towing the ship off the reef would cause more damage and decided to dismantle the ship in place. On Saturday, March 30, the last section of the ship was removed from the reef. There was no evidence that fuel oil had leaked from the grounded vessel. The cost of the removal was estimated at US$45 million. Original estimates were that 4,000 square meters of reef was damaged but a survey done after removal, by the World Wide Fund for Nature–Philippines and the Tubbataha Management Office, measured the damage area at 2,345.67 square meters. Under Philippine law, the U.S. Federal Government was assessed a fine of 24,000 Philippine pesos (about US$600) per square meter.  With additions for other violations, the total fine came to slightly less than 60 million pesos or about 1.4 million U.S. dollars. The U.S. Federal Government has apologized for the incident and have relieved from duty four officers, Lt. Cmdr. Mark A. Rice, his executive officer and navigator Lt. Daniel Tyler, the ship’s assistant navigator and the officer of the deck at the time of the mishap. “The initial investigation findings clearly indicate that (the four) at the time of the grounding did not adhere to standard US Navy navigation procedures,” the Manila Bulletin quoted the U.S. Navy as saying. The U.S. Government has blamed the grounding on a faulty map. On April 8, 2013 it was reported that the U.S. Navy had turned over digital navigation charts and other relevant documents and data of the Guardian to the Philippine Maritime Casualty Investigating Team (MCIT) and responded to various "technical and substantive" queries. The MCIT will conduct its own independent investigation and make recommendations about how to avoid such incidents in the future.
On 8 April 2013, a Chinese fishing vessel with hull number 63168 ran aground some 1.1 nautical miles east of the Tubbataha Reef ranger station. The fishing vessel had 12 crew members and are suspected of illegal fishing.
Geology and geography
Tubbataha is located in the Sulu Sea, 98 nautical miles (181 km) southeast of Puerto Princesa City in the Palawan Province according to its official website but it is 150 km southeast of Puerto Princesa City according to UNESCO. The reef is made up of two coral atolls divided by an eight-kilometer (5 miles) wide channel and the smaller Jessie Beazley Reef located about 20 kilometres north of the atolls. The South Atoll is five kilometers in length and three kilometers in width; while the North Atoll, the larger of the two is 16 kilometers (9.9 mi) long and five kilometers (3 miles) wide. Each reef has a single small islet that protrudes from the water. The atolls are separated by a deep channel 8 km (5.0 mi) wide.
Over 1000 species inhabit in the reef; many are already considered as endangered. Animal species found include manta rays, lionfish, sea turtles, clownfish, and sharks. Tubbataha has become a popular site for seasoned sports divers because of its coral "walls" where the shallow coral reef abruptly ends giving way to great depths. These "walls" are not only diving spots but they are also habitats for many colonies of fish. There are giant trevally (jacks), hammerhead sharks, barracudas, manta rays, palm-sized Moorish idols, napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, and moray eels living in the sanctuary. There also have been reported sightings of whale sharks and tiger sharks. Tubbataha is even home to the hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) which are endangered species.
Vivid corals cover more than two-thirds of the area and the waters around the reef are places of refuge for numerous marine lives. The seemingly diverse ecosystem of this sanctuary rivals the Great Barrier Reef – having 350 coral species and 500 fish species. In June 2009 an outbreak of the crown-of-thorns starfish was observed, possibly affecting the ecological functioning of this relatively pristine coral reef.
There are no settlements on the islets or reefs. Fishermen visit the area seasonally, establishing shelters on the islets. The park is visited by tourists, particularly divers. Trips to Tubbattaha from mid-March to mid-June are all vessel-based; the park is about ten hours by boat from Puerto Princesa City. Tubbataha is considered as one of the best dive sites in the world according to CNN Travel and during the "Tubbataha Season", ships dedicated for diving are usually booked years in advance especially during the Asian holidays of Easter and "Golden Week".
The Tubbataha National Marine Park is open to liveaboard diving excursions between the months of April to June. It is in this period where the waves are most calm. As of March 2011, the park entrance fee for individuals is pegged at USD $75.00 or PHP 3,000.00. In September 2010, Palawan governor Abraham Kahlil Mitra announced that local residents of Palawan province can enter the Tubbataha Reef without paying the conservation fee. It is advised that divers book their trips towards the middle or end of April as calm seas from April to June has a short window. Strong waves may cause problems for dive excursions and underwater visibility.
Although the sand bars around Tubbataha are considered off limits to human beings, tourists are allowed to set foot at the Ranger Station where they can purchase souvenirs and tour the facility.
In popular culture
Tubbataha reef is featured on the reverse side of the 2010 series of the Philippine one thousand peso bill.
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