Tawi-tawi Island

Country/territory: Philippines

IBA criteria met: A1, A2 (2001)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 17,700 ha

Haribon Foundation

Site description (2001 baseline)
This IBA includes the island of Tawi-tawi (48,400 ha), the second largest in the Sulu archipelago, and many small associated islands including Tandungan, Tandubatu, Dundangan and Baliungan in the Tandubas group. Tawi-tawi is largely undeveloped, with some primary forest and large areas of secondary forest inland, as well as forested islets and rich reefs offshore, although much of the forest around the coastal fringe has been converted to coconut plantations. The largest remaining areas of forest on Tawi-tawi are on the central ridge, which rises to just over 500m, and in the eastern half of the island. Forest has been estimated to cover 250-350 km2 of the island in total, but recent observations (including from the air) suggest that most of it has been selectively logged and that little primary forest remains. There are also small remnants of closed-canopy forest close to Batu-Batu village, mostly on rocky outcrops or inaccessible areas, some logged forest extending across the island from Batu-Batu around Tarawaken, and in the Balimbing, Buan and Tataan areas. The eastern islands of Tandungan, Tandubatu, Dundangan and Baliungan are rather hilly and were until recently well forested, but the fringing mangroves have now mostly been cleared for firewood and large areas of forest inland have been logged. However, some areas of unlogged forest remain, at least on the higher parts of Baliungan. Some of the other small islands south of Tawi-tawi have areas of secondary forest or scrub, but many of them are extensively cultivated and none of them appear to have significant areas of primary forest. The main land-uses in this IBA are subsistence agriculture and the extraction of forest products. Tawi-tawi and its associated islands are of great scenic beauty, and have considerable potential for tourism, but this is not possible at present because of political instability.

Key biodiversity
Tawi-tawi is the most important island for the conservation of the threatened and restricted-range bird species of the Sulu archipelago Endemic Bird Area. All but one of these species has been recorded there, and Tawi-tawi retains more extensive forests than anywhere else in the EBA. It is the only place where Sulu Bleeding-heart has definitely been recorded, although there is remarkably little recent information on the status of this elusive species there, the only IBA with a population of Tawi-tawi Brown-dove, and the only IBA where Blue-winged Racquet-tail and Sulu Hornbill have recently been recorded. The relatively large population of Philippine Cockatoo on Tawi-tawi is also vital for the survival of this critically endangered species. The Sulu archipelago endemic Black-billed Hanging-parrot Loriculus (philippensis) bonapartei, which has recently been treated by some ornithologists as a full species, has its largest known population on Tawi-tawi. A reef between Tandubas and Sikubong that becomes very shallow at low tide appears to be important for herons and shorebirds.

Non-bird biodiversity: A small mammal that is endemic to Tawi-tawi, Rattus tawitawiensis, is listed as vulnerable by IUCN. Dugong Dugong dugon are occasionally recorded on Tawi-tawi, and it is a nesting area for Green Sea Turtle Chelonia mydas, Hawkesbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata and Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Tawi-tawi Island. Downloaded from on 27/02/2024.