PH057
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park


Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
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.



Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Although Tubbataha has remained relatively pristine due to its inaccessibility and its isolation from population centres, it has begun to experience increasing disturbance from fishermen, who collect eggs on a large scale and hunt sea turtles, and make illegal use of dynamite for blast fishing, and cyanide. Spearfishing and aquarium fish collecting may also be problems, and it has been reported that over 20 tons of tridacnid clams have been gathered during a three months summer period.

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
The Marine Parks Survey Team completed surveys in 1982 with researchers from NRMC, BFAR and UPMSC, and surveys of the breeding seabirds in 1981 and 1991. The National Marine Park was originally administered by the DENR, but in 1990 a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the DENR and the Tubbataha Foundation, an NGO of concerned citizens, handing over management to the foundation. It has been recommended that the Coast Guard and the Tubbataha Foundation establish a more efficient patrolling system, and the presence of man on the islets should be avoided as far as possible. A long-term study and monitoring of the seabird populations is further recommended. All of Palawan and associated islands are included in a Biosphere reserve, declared in 1990. An integrated management plan has been prepared for the whole Palawan Biosphere Reserve (ECAN), to zone the island, which incorporates Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park and other protected areas.

Protected areas
Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park was declared by Proc. No. 306 on 11 August 1988. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in early 1994. This is a Ramsar site.

Habitat and land use
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.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/05/2019.