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Tubbataha Reefs

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The name ‘Tubbataha’ is a Samal word for “long reef exposed at low tide”. Samals are seafaring people of the Sulu Sea. Cagayanen people who are more geographically associated with Tubbataha Reefs referred the Park as ‘gusong’. Location

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) lies in the middle of the Sulu Sea and falls under the political jurisdiction of Cagayancillo, an island municipality situated 130km to the north. The park is around 150km southeast of Puerto Princesa City – capital of the Province of Palawan – the usual jump-off point for visitors and dive boats going to Tubbataha. It is composed of the North and South atolls and the Jessie Beazley Reef. Formation

The coral atolls of Tubbataha and Jessie Beazley began to form thousands of years ago as fringing reefs of volcanic islands along the Cagayan Ridge. Over millennia – as the volcanoes became extinct and the islands sunk into the ocean depths – only the corals remained and they continued to grow upwards towards the sunlight. History

Tubbataha is well known to fishermen of the southern Philippines but until the late 1970s, Cagayanons were the primary users of the reefs’ resources. During the summer, they would make fishing trips to Tubbataha in fleets of traditional wooden sailboats. Tubbataha’s isolation and its susceptibility to harsh weather once protected it from over-exploitation. But by the 1980s, fishermen from other parts of the Philippines started exploiting Tubbataha in motorized boats, many using destructive fishing techniques to maximize their catch. In 1988 – in response to a vigorous campaign by Philippine scuba divers and environmentalists alike – President Corazon Aquino declared Tubbataha a National Marine Park. Biodiversity

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is home to no less than:
* 573 species of fish
* 379 species of corals (about half of all coral species in the world)
* 11 species of sharks
* 12 species of dolphins & whales
* Nesting Hawksbill & Green sea turtles
* Over 100 species of birds
The park contains roughly 10,000 hectares of coral reef, lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle – the centre of global marine biodiversity.

Larvael Dispersal
In 2007, the University of the Philippines in the Visayas conducted a study on the distribution and dispersal of fish larvae in the Sulu Sea. The study reveals that Jessie Beazley and Tubbataha Reefs are sources of coral and fish larvae, seeding the greater Sulu Sea. This is of huge significance, since the Philippines – the second largest archipelago in the world – relies heavily on its marine resources for livelihood and food. Management

The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) is the multi-sector body that formulates policies for Tubbataha. Established in 1999, it is made up of a wide range of stakeholders from the public and private sector. The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) – based in Puerto Princesa City – serves as its TPAMB’s executive arm, carrying out day-to-day park management. In the Management Plan formulated by the TPAMB, the following programs and strategies where identified to effectively conserve and protect the Park: Conservation Management.

* Conserving and protecting the park requires prudent use of human and other resources to maximize scarce financial assets by a competent organization that practices the principles of adaptive management. Activities such as law enforcement and tourism fall under this program. Conservation Awareness.

* This program aims to promote awareness, generate support and achieve voluntary compliance with regulations. It seeks to foster a holistic view of the park ecosystem as an interrelated and interdependent system, thus engender a sense of stewardship towards the marine environment Ecosystem Research and Monitoring.

* A regular, uninterrupted monitoring regime and dependable scientific assessments provide inputs for anticipating potential problems and serve as basis for decision-making. Sustainable Resource Management.

* This strategy is being implemented in the island municipality of Cagayancillo in order to conserve biodiversity and maintain marine resource productivity to enhance living standards in the locality and serve as a disincentive to fishing within TRNP. These Two Management Bodies Protect Tubbataha in a Number of Ways * Law enforcement

* Conservation management
* Regular ecosystem research and monitoring
* Information & education programs on local, national and international levels * Supporting the municipality of Cagayancillo – which has political jurisdiction over Tubbataha – in their coastal resource management

I. Issue:

US lawmakers express regret over Tubbataha Reef incident


* The US Navy, carried by the USS Guarduan warship vessel who grounded the Tubbataha Reef which led to its damage.

* The Filipinos led by The Bangsa Moro Group demanding on US’ responsibility on damaging The Philippines’ Wonder – TUBBATAHA REEF, Sulu

MANILA, Philippines – Several American lawmakers yesterday expressed regret over the incident involving the grounding of a US Navy warship in Tubbataha Reef. The trade delegation from the US Congress led by Representatives Ed Royce of California, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Vernon Buchanan of Florida, Matt Salmon of Arizona and Eliot Engel of the 16th District of New York met with President Aquino at Malacañang yesterday. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said there was not much discussion on the Tubbataha Reef incident since the lawmakers came to visit as a trade delegation. Lacierda said the US lawmakers did not in any way intervene for the crew of the USS Guardian. “There was no appeal of that sort. It was just a discussion of a number of things, among which is the expression of regret over what happened in Tubbataha Reef,” Lacierda said. The USS Guardian, which is based in Japan, crashed into Tubbataha Reef before dawn on Jan. 17 while on its way to Indonesia after making a rest and refueling stop in Subic Bay. Most of its 79 officers and crew were transferred to two other US vessels the following day for safety reasons as the 68-meter long, 1,300-ton minesweeper was unable to maneuver on its own as it was buffeted by strong winds and waves.

The ship is aground about 30 meters from the edge of the reef, a marine sanctuary that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There had been plans to lift the warship off the reef to prevent further damage. However, the Guardian had incurred major damage on its wooden hull and runs the risk of disintegrating once it is lifted from its present location. Major cracks were also seen inside the warship. “The salvage plan to remove USS Guardian is heading that way,” officials said, citing the initial proposals by their US counterparts to lift the ship off the reef. Officials pointed out the proposal to lift the ship still needs approval from the Joint Task Force Tubbataha, headed by Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Undersecretary and former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Eduardo Oban Jr. The Guardian was already stripped of its ordinance and weapons systems. Defueling was also conducted to prevent an oil spill and to lessen possible damage to the country’s protected marine park once actual salvage operations commence.

“The dismembering plan being proposed by the US Navy needs further study and approval of the Joint Task Force Tubbataha,” said sources privy to the latest US Navy proposal. Earlier, three options were considered to safely remove the USS Guardian from its location sitting parallel of the South Atoll. These options are to pull, to lift or simply dismember the warship, which as of yesterday has been assessed to be beyond economic repair. Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said the US Navy is expected to submit its plan on how to remove the ship from the reef. While it was initially announced that the US Navy would be using cranes to extract the ship, Balilo said there could still be changes in the salvaging plan. Balilo noted reports that the US Navy is now considering chopping the ship into pieces. “It seems that there may have been changes (in the salvaging plans) based on their assessment. We could just not confirm as of this moment what these changes are, but we could still use the cranes,” he said. Balilo said Coast Guard commandant Rear Adm.

Rodolfo Isorena would be meeting with Rear Admiral Thomas Carney, commander of the US Navy’s Logistics Group in the Western Pacific, on the final salvaging plans for the ship. Once the US Navy submits the salvage plan, the Tubbataha Reef Task Force would decide if the action would be feasible, Balilo said. Balilo said whatever salvage plans would be employed, “the primary consideration would be that the reef would not be further damaged.”

Militant groups continued to slam the US on its inability to remove the ship. A group of students from the University of the Philippines called on the government to make the US Navy accountable for the damage to Tubbataha and assert the country’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty. The group UP alliance to Save the Tubbataha, Junk VFA also called for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, which they claimed had practically violated the country’s territorial sovereignty, highlighted by the Tubbataha incident. The PambansangLakasngKilusangMamamalakayangPilipinas (Pamalakaya) also said the officers and crew of USS Guardian violated national sovereignty and environmental laws. Pamalakaya said the Tubbataha incident merits the abrogation of the VFA and the Mutual Defense Treaty with the US government.


A. Muslim bloc demands payment for US warship damage on reef

COTABATO CITY: The Bangsa Moro Party on Friday demanded compensation for Sulu province over the damage inflicted on Tubbataha Reef by minesweeper USS Guardian.

Dr. Firdausi Abbas in a statement sent to The Manila Times said that the reef is in Sulu Sea, hence, the province should be compensated.

However, Abbas emphasized the incident is not simply a question of how much damage the minesweeper caused to the reefs, which is a Unesco World Heritage site but why was the minesweeper in the area?

He argued that the statement of the US Naval authority that the vessel went off course is not credible—the vessel has sophisticated equipment to chart its direction and the depth of the sea.

“Was this vessel there for military purposes, for espionage on the Moro rebels?” Abbas asked.

“This is clearly an intrusion by the US on what is now purely a domestic affair and even on Philippine sovereignty,” Abbas explained.

The Moro lawyer in presenting his legal point of view said that presence of nuclear submarine such as the USS Cheyenne, a nuclear attack submarine is a violation of the Constitutional declaration that the Philippines is a nuclear-free zone.

But he surmised that it may be part of an agreement with the Philippine authorities to have the ship here to lend teeth vis-à-vis the Kalayaan (Spratlys) Group of Islands claim.

“If this the case, then is an act, which is counterproductive and highly provocative because China is aware that the US does not have a naval or military base in the Philippines anymore and will merely worsen the situation and relations between the Philippines and China,” Abbas added.

As far as compensation is concerned, Sulu is entitled to it and its claim is primary, which the Philippine government must acknowledge, he stressed

B. US sub to dock in Subic

While its minesweeper USS Guardian remained grounded on Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea, another US Navy submarine is due for a port call today on Subic Bay, Zambales.

In a statement, the US Embassy yesterday announced that the USS Cheyenne, a Los Angeles-class submarine, will be arriving for a routine port visit.

“This stop in Subic will permit the Cheyenne to replenish supplies as well as offer its crew an opportunity for rest and relaxation,” the embassy said.

The Cheyenne, named after the town of Cheyenne, Wyoming, is assigned to the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet. Home-ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, it was commissioned in 1996. It was the last Los Angeles-class submarine to be built by the United States.

Unlike previous visits of US vessels, no media availability is planned during the Cheyenne’s brief visit to Subic Bay.

The port call of the US submarine came amid the efforts to extricate the Guardian due to supposed faulty digital map.

Both US and Philippine authorities are still mapping out plans for extricating the ship from the reef, which is listed among the United Nations World Heritage Sites. There were reports that US authorities were considering dismembering the minesweeper to extricate it from the marine sanctuary.

Initial baseline assessment planned to lift the ill-fated vessel to a larger ship to salvage it from Tubbataha Reef. However, such a plan was apparently shelved.

The Guardian had just made a port call also in Subic when it ran aground en route to Indonesia after supposedly cancelling a visit to Palawan.

C. Navy: USS Guardian to be dismantled after running aground on Philippines’ Tubbataha Reef

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The U.S. Navy said Wednesday that it would dismantle a minesweeper that ran aground on a coral reef in the Philippines after carefully studying all options on how to remove the damaged ship.

Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. James Stockman said dismantling the USS Guardian was determined to be the solution that would involve the least damage to the Tubbataha Reef, a protected marine sanctuary where the ship got stuck Jan. 17. He said the Philippine coast guard was reviewing the plan, but gave no other details. The Navy had said previously that the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard, but apparently the damage was too extensive and it will have to be cut up and removed in pieces. Stockman gave no time frame for the operation. The grounding caused no casualties to the ship’s 79 crew and officers, who were taken off the vessel after it crashed into the reef in shallow waters. The ship began listing and taking on water through holes in the wooden hull. The Navy’s support vessels siphoned off remaining fuel and salvage teams removed heavy equipment and hazardous material.

The Navy is investigating the incident, which caused Philippine government agencies and environmentalists to express concern about the extent of damage to the coral reef. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said last week that the U.S. Navy must explain how the ship got off course. He said the Navy would face fines for damaging the environment. Rear Adm. Thomas Carney, commander of the Navy’s Logistics Group in the Western Pacific, told reporters last week that the investigation would look into all the factors that may have led to the grounding, including a reported faulty digital chart, sea conditions, weather and the state of the ship’s navigational equipment. The Navy and the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Harry K. Thomas, have apologized for the grounding and promised to cooperate with its close ally. © 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

D. US to compensate PH for damage to Tubbataha Reefs

PROTEST AT US EMBASSY Activists protest the destruction of Tubbataha Reefs as a result of a US Navy minesweeper getting stuck at the World Heritage Site. NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

The US government has apologized and pledged to provide “appropriate compensation” to the Philippines for the damage caused by the grounding of a US warship at the protected Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea.

The US compensation will come in a package that includes a joint scientific assessment of the reefs for rehabilitation, a P4.1 million ($100,000) grant for coral restoration on the reefs, and funding for improvements in the communications system within and around the natural park.

In a statement released by the US Embassy in Manila on Sunday, the US government said it had been committed over the past decade to help the Philippines protect its marine ecosystems, including coral reefs.

“In view of the damage caused by the USS Guardian accident at Tubbataha Reefs, the US has expressed it regrets and is prepared to provide appropriate compensation to the Republic of the Philippines. In addition to compensation, the US government is planning a number of other activities which will underscore its commitment to Tubbataha’s recovery and the protection of the marine resources of the Philippines,” the statement said. No comment was immediately available on Monday from the Tubbataha Protected Area Management, which had been talking about going after the US Navy for the damage caused to the reefs by the Guardian.

Keep quiet
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had cautioned the Tubbataha gatekeeper against making too much noise about Philippine environmental laws and penalties lest it antagonize the United States, which could opt to play hardball and not pay compensation at all.

In a meeting with Tubbataha, Navy, Coast Guard, Palawan local government and environmental officials on Jan. 31, Assistant Foreign Secretary for American Affairs Carlos D. Sorreta said the Americans were to announce payment of compensation for the damage to the reef.

“But if they hear many things like threats, their lawyers will advise them not to commit to do anything that may be construed as an admission of guilt,” Sorreta said. “That hardens them and pushes them to the extreme of hiding behind immunity. We want a win-win situation.”

Sorreta said the DFA was not advising caution to side with the Americans. “[R]ather it is protecting our own self-interest. The compensation that we will ask for will cost more than the fines,” he said.

The grounding of the Guardian on the reef on Jan. 17 has caused damage to 4,000 square meters of coral on the reefs.

The Philippines imposes a fine of $300 for every square meter of damaged coral.

Sue them
Left-leaning groups on Monday asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to bring criminal charges against the officials and crew of the Guardian for damage to Tubbataha, a Unesco-World Heritage Site area that the Philippines considers a national treasure.

Famous around the world for its breathtaking corals and unique marine life, Tubbataha rivals Australia’s Great Barrier Reef as a tourist attraction.

Leaders of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and the Anakpawis party-list group handed a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday, asking De Lima to take legal action not only against US officials but also against Philippine officials who had not done anything about making the United States accountable for damage to Tubbataha and allowed the officers and crew of the Guardian to leave the Philippines.

The two groups said the damage to the reefs would affect the livelihood of 100,000 fishermen and workers on commercial fishing vessels in the West Palawan Sea and Sulu-Celebes Sea and nearby fishing grounds in the Visayas and Mindanao.

They said the damage to the reefs merited the DOJ endorsement of their demand for the abrogation of the Philippines’ Mutual Defense Treaty and Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States.

De Lima had no immediate comment on Monday about the two groups’ request.

Damage review
In the US Embassy statement, the US government said it was now forming a US interdisciplinary scientific team that would “initiate discussions with Manila to review coral reef rehabilitation options in Tubbataha, based on assessments by Philippine-based marine scientists.”

The team will help assess damage and remediation options in coordination with the Tubbataha Management Office, appropriate Philippine government entities, nongovernmental organizations and scientific experts from Philippine universities.

“The US government will offer to fund a site survey for proposed improvements in the existing ranger station in Tubbataha Reef,” it said, adding the proposals could include the installation of radar and communications equipment that could help park rangers and the Philippine Coast Guard avoid collisions and monitor marine poachers.

In the next weeks, the US Embassy will “organize a roundtable with local coral reef conservation experts to listen to concerns and discuss options for conservation and restoration of the Tubbataha Reefs.”

Those who will be invited to the discussion include the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, concerned government agencies and the Tubbataha Management Office.

Coral restoration
“Through USAID’s Coral Triangle Support Partnership, P4.1 million, or US$100,000, will be granted to a Philippine university to support coral restoration research at Tubbataha Reef,” the embassy said.

The US government said it would also share hydrographic survey data with the Philippine National Mapping and Resource Information Authority in a bid to improve cartographic information available on the Tubbataha protected area and its environs.

“The Tubbataha Reef accident focuses renewed attention on this goal and offers opportunities for future bilateral cooperation in science and technology that reflect our longstanding shared commitment to the protection of the marine resources of the Philippines,” the embassy said.

US support
It said the US government had invested more than P1.9 billion, or $46.5 million, to support marine biodiversity conservation programs in the Philippines over the past decade.

The investment includes the USAID’s Philippines Coral Triangle Support Partnership Program, which since 2007 has contributed P254.2 million, or $7.2 million, to protect coral reef ecosystems in the Philippines, including Tubbataha Reefs. The 63-meter-long, 1,300-ton Guardian remains stuck on the southern atoll of Tubbataha, waiting to be broken apart and removed piece by piece to avoid further damage to the reefs. The US Navy has presented to the Philippine Coast Guard a “dismantling plan” using floating cranes to remove the Guardian from the reef.

Lt. Commander Armand Balilio, spokesman for the Coast Guard, told the Inquirer on Monday that the plan must be approved by the Philippine government before the removal of the vessel could begin.

Balilo said the SMIT Borneo of SMIT Singapore Pte. Ltd., the floating crane contracted by the US Navy to break the Guardian apart, arrived in Puerto Princesa City in Palawan last week.

Further reef damage
He said the task force headed by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) was amenable to the US Navy’s decision to break the ship apart, but was concerned about further damage the removal of vessel could cause to the reefs.

Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, the Coast Guard commandant, is flying to Puerto Princesa Tuesday to attend a meeting of the task force, Balilo said.

“The task force will take up the issue. Its decision needs the final approval of the DOTC,” he said.

The Coast Guard is a member of the task force. The other members are the private Tubbataha Reef Foundation and provincial and local government representatives from Palawan.

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