Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park

Country/territory: Philippines

IBA criteria met: A1, A4i, A4ii (2001)
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Area: 33,200 ha

Haribon Foundation
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) Threat (pressure) Condition (state) Action (response)
2001 high not assessed not assessed
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Site description (baseline)
Tubbataha Reef is located in the middle of the Central Sulu Sea, c. 98 nautical miles south-east of Puerto Princesa. It is composed of two large shallow reef platforms enclosing a sandy lagoon. On the seaward portions of the reef platform are steep, often perpendicular reef walls extending to c. 50 feet. Most of park area is submerged, with only a few permanent emergent sandy islands. The two atolls are named the North and South Reefs or Islets. The former is a large, oblong-shaped continuous reef platform about 4-5 km wide and completely encloses a sandy lagoon. The reef flat is shallow and emergent in some places at extreme low tide. The most prominent feature in this reef is the North Islet or North Rock, which is a 1.5-2.0 ha wide flat coraline-sand cay which serves as the nesting site of seabirds and marine turtles. Steep and often perpendicular walls extending to a depth of c. 40 m characterise the seaward face of the reef. The South Reef is a small triangular-shaped reef about 1-2 km wide. Like North Reef it consists of a shallow platform enclosing a sandy lagoon. On the southern tip of this reef is a 2-3 ha coraline-sand island, the South Islet, which has a lighthouse. This islet is a rookery site for birds and turtles. There are no permanent inhabitants except during fishing seasons, when fishermen from other parts of the Philippines establish temporary shelters in the area. Activities include traditional hook and line, commercial trawling for tuna, spearfishing, offshore long lines, aquarium fish collection and general reef gleaning near-shore. This is one of the top Scuba diving destinations in the country, visited by many local and foreign divers. Snorkelling is possible in shallow portions of the reef, and it is fast becoming a popular sport fishing area.

Key biodiversity
The North Islet and South Islet have mixed colonies of boobies and terns. A survey in 1991 indicated that a major decline in numbers of most of the breeding species has occurred since a survey in 1981, probably as a result of disturbance by fishermen. Small numbers of the threatened Chinese Egret have been recorded on passage.

Non-bird biodiversity: The threatened sperm whale Physeter catodon has been seen off Tubbataha Reef.. Marine Turtles, including Green Sea-turtle Chelonia mydas and Hawksbill Turtle Erethmochelys imbricata, nest on many beaches on North and South Islets. There is a diverse coral assemblage with c.46 coral genera in the area. A very high diversity of fish has been recorded, including at least 40 families.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park. Downloaded from on 29/05/2023.