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Tubbataha Reef



  • Tubbataha Reef is located in the middle of the Central Sulu Sea, 181 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan Province, in the Municipality of Cagayancillo. Covering 33,200 hectares the park comprises two atolls, North and South Reef, separated by an eight kilometer channel. The North Reef is a large oblong-shaped continuous reef platform 2 km wide and completely enclosing a sandy lagoon some 24 meters deep. The most prominent feature is the North Islet which serves as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles. Steep and often perpendicular walls extending to a depth of 40-50m are characterize the seaward face of the reef. A very high diversity of fish has been recorded with 379 species in at least 40 families. There is a diverse coral assemblage, with species representing 46 genera. The South Reef is a small triangular shaped reef about I to 2 kms wide. Like the North Reef, it consists of a shallow platform enclosing a sandy lagoon. South Islet is a coralline sand cay of approximately 800 sq.m, and is also used as a nesting site. Bird species include brown boobies, and red-footed boobies, sooty tern and crested tern. Marine turtles nest on some of the beaches, including threatened hawksbill and green turtle
  • Tubbataha Reef is exposed to both the south-west and north-east monsoons. Rough seas are
    experienced from July to October and from November to March in the north-east monsoon. Four species of tree and four species of grass are found on both islands. Ten species of macroalgae are found and extensive seagrass beds grow on the shallower parts of the reef and lagoon. There are no permanent inhabitants on the reefs, other than during the fishing season, when fishermen from Cagayancillo and other parts of the country establish temporary shelters. Tubbataha has remained relatively pristine due to its inaccessibility and its isolation from population centers. However, there have been increasing disturbances from blast fishing, large scale collection of sea bird and marine turtle eggs, giant clams and other marine resources, spear fishing, collection of aquarium fish and disturbances to wildlife. Most of these activities are illegal. A proposal by a commercial operation to establish an extensive seaweed farming operation with up to 24,000 people located on the islands has been averted. The reefs have benefited from two years of protective management, with improved cover and richness of indicator species.
  • JUSTIFICATION FOR INCLUSION ON THE WORLD HERITAGE LIST
  • The Tubbataha National Marine Park nomination, as presented by the Government of the Philippines provides the following justification for designation as a World Heritage property, although the precise criteria are not specified. Natural property
  • (iii) Contain unique, rare or superlative natural phenomena, formations or features or areas of exceptional beauty. Tubbataha represents a unique example of pristine atoll reef, with a very high diversity of marine species. The reef components include a 100 m perpendicular wall; an almost pristine reef crest and reef edge; extensive reef flat; extensive deep lagoon with coral beds and giant clams; shallow lagoon with seagrass beds, important for threatened marine turtle species; and emergent islands used by both birds and turtles.
  • Virtually the entire coastlines of the Philippines' 7,000 islands are dotted with coral reefs. Reefs cover 27,000 sq km of the country with the largest concentration and most diverse reefs near Palawan and its satellite islands where Tubbataha is found. However, with the dependence of millions of Filipinos on reef ecosystems, there is much pressure on all reefs. A decade ago a survey indicated less than one-third of survey reefs in the country were in good condition and there has been even greater declines since then.
  • Various Presidential Decrees and Proclamations have been issued to establish marine parks and reserves but few of these have had much meaning as there has been no action to follow them up. In addition to Tubbataha the important marine reserves in the country are found at Hundred Islands, Santa Cruz Islands, Sumilan, Turtle Island, and El Nido. All of these, despite being marine reserves have suffered from illegal fishing, the use of dynamite and cyanide, collection of corals and shells and siltation. Because of its remoteness and due to management activities carried out through the Debt for Nature Swap Program by the Tubbataha Foundation, Tubbataha is considered the most intact and diverse of all the marine reserves in the Philippines.
  • Regionally, it has been claimed by one independent marine scientist that Tubbataha is the best example of a diversetoral atoli system in southeast Asia ( White, 1991 ). It certainly may be the best documented example as many other reefs in the region are poorly known and there may be' others that eventually prove as important ( e.g. those found around the Spratly Islands ). Marine parks with equal diversity and abundance of fishes are found at Bunaken Marine Park in northern Indonesia, possibly,Cenderwasih in lrian Jaya and certainly the Pulau Seribu marine park off Java. Another strong World Heritage marine park prospect in the region is Palau's Ngerukewid Islands Wildlife Preserve. Comparing Tubbataha reefs with those of French Polynesia, the former has 46 genera of hard corals in 332 sq km of ocean while the latter have 51 genera in 2.5 million sq km of ocean. Tubbataha thus has a very concentrated diversity indeed!
  • It is, of course, unfair and impossible to compare any coral reef to that of the existing World Heritage site at the Great Barrier Reef. In this case the entire coastal region multiple use area of 3.5 million sq km as inscribed in 1981 is larger than all other Heritage sites combined. One scientist from the Great Barrier Reef Authority, however, did note that the condition of the reefs at Tubbataha is comparable.
  • In conclusion, given the extent of reef degradation in the Philippines and generally throughout the Asian region, the reefs at Tubbataha stand out as one of the best intact marine sites and thus their presence is of particular importance. This conclusion is reflected in the attraction that the area has become for Scuba divers who rate the reefs at Tubbataha Reef as one of the world's top diving destinations.  
  • Although not elucidated in the nomination, Tubbataha Reef meets 3 criteria for natural properties. ,First, the site is an excellent example of a near pristine coral reef with a-spectacular 100 m perpendicular wall, an almost undisturbed reef crest and reef edge, extensive lagoons with sea grass beds and coral beds, and 2 coral islands (criterion (iii)).
  • Secondly, the importance of Tubbataha Ref for science and conservation is related to its unique position in the middle of the Sulu Sea where reefs contribute larvae to the whole Sulu Sea system. The opportunity to study this system of larvae dissemination and fisheries recruitment and to better understand marine processes is justification for criterion (ii).
  • Thirdly, the diversity of corals and fish, particularly pelagic species such as jacks, tuna, barracuda and sharks is exceptional. Added to this are the large numbers of manta rays and moray eels found here. The importance of the atolls for seabirds and turtles is less clear but it too will likely prove significant.
  • PHYSICAL FEATURES Comprises the only two atolls in the Philippine archepelago, North and South Reef, separated by an 8km wide channel. North Reef is a large, oblong, continuous reef platform some 16km long and 4.5km wide, completely enclosing a sandy lagoon some 24m deep. The reef flat is shallow and emergent in some places at extreme low tide. The most prominent subarea1 feature is the North Islet which is a coralline sand cay (0.3ha), which serves as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles. Steep and often perpendicular walls extending to a depth of 40-50m are characterise the seaward face of the reef. South Reef, a small, triangular-shaped reef about l-2km wide, consisting, like the North Reef, of a shallow platform enclosing a sandy lagoon. South Islet, a coralline-sand cay of approximately 800 sq.m, is located on the southern tip of the reef, and is also used as a nesting site.
  • Tubbataha Reef is exposed to both the south-west and north-east monsoons. Rough seas are experienced from July to October and from November to March during the north-east monsoon. Four species of tree occur: Terminalia catappa, Leucaena leucocephala, Pisonia qrandis and Arqusia arsentia. Two stands of coconut Cocos nucifera exist. Four species of grass, Melapodium divaricatum, Portulaca oleracea, Chloris inflata and Setasaria qeniculata are found on both islands. In contrast, there is considerably more diversity in the marine flora, with 45 species of benthic macroalgae and extensive seagrass beds on the shallower parts of the reef and lagoon. The four dominant species are Thalassia hemprichii, Halophilia ovalis, Halodule uninervis and H. pinifolia. FAUNA Forty six bird species have been recorded from the si. North Islet has a colony of brown boobies Sula leucosaster and some red-footed boobies S. sula. South Islet has a variety of birds including brown boobies, red-footed boobies, common noddy Anous stolidus, sooty tern Sterna fuscata and crested tern S. bersii. Marine turtles nest on some of the beaches, including hawksbill turtle Eretmochevls imbricata (E) and green turtle Chelonia mydas. A very high diversity of fish has been recorded with 379 species in at least 40 families. Sightings of black-tip shark Carcharinus melanopterus, white-tip shark Triaenovon abesus, manta rays Mobula dibolus and eagle rays are common. Tridacnid calms such as crocus calm Tridacna crosea, giant clam T. gisas (VI, scaly calm T. squamosa (I) and horse's hoof clam Hipopus hippopus (I) are found in some parts of the lagoon. A general checklist of fish species and macroinvertebrates is given in DENR (1992). Several distinct physiographic zones may be discerned on the reefs. Forty six coral general were recorded from the area in 1983. The deeper stretches of the steep drop off show foliose or plate like forms of Pachyseris, Leptoseris and Montipora at 20 to 30 m depth. At 12 to 20 m depth, massive Diploastrea, Platvgvra and Porites are found. The reef edge is an Acropora zone with branching Montipora, Pocillopora, Porites and some faviids, and extends to a reef slope of similar composition. The reef flats consist mainly of A. hyacinthus, Pocillopora, Millepora and some faviids. Porites 'micro atolls' and branched Porites characterise the back-reef areas. 
  • There are no permanent inhabitants on the reefs, other than during the fishing season, when fishermen from Cagayancillo and other parts of the country establish temporary shelters. A wide range of fishing activities are carried out in the Sula Sea surrounding the park, including traditional line fishing, commercial tuna trawling, spear fishing, offshore long lines and reef gleaning.
  • Tubbataha Reef, considered to be one of the top scuba destinations in the country, is visited by approximately 1500 national and international divers between March and June.


Philippines National Parks

    * Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary
    * Angono Triglyphs
    * Apo Reef Natural Park
    * Batanes
    * Butuan Archeological Sites
    * Chocolate Hills Bohol
    * Coron Island Natural Biotic Area
    * El Nido Taytay
    * Ligawasan Marsh
    * Mt. Apo National Park
    * Mt. Iglit Baco Mindanao
    * Mt. Malindang Range
    * Mt. Matutum  
    * Mt. Pulag National Park
    * Neolithic Shell Midden Sites
    * Northern Sierra Madre
    * Cagayan Paleolithic Sites
    * Panglao Island, Bohol
    * Petroglyphs and Petrographs
    * Taal Volcano   Batangas
    * The Tabon Cave Complex
    * Turtle Islands Sanctuary