Lying at the heart of the Asia-Pacific region is the Coral Triangle, a spectacular underwater world brimming with wealth of unparalleled proportions. The Coral Triangle is the planet’s richest center of marine life, the nursery of the seas.
Few reefs within the Coral Triangle can rival the productivity of the Philippines’ own Tubbataha Reefs, located in the Central Sulu Sea in Palawan. Tubbataha, touted as the crown jewel of the Coral Triangle, is a project site of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This April, WWF-Philippines national ambassadors Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez went on a five-day diving expedition to do hands-on conservation work at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park. Onboard WWF-Philippines’ research vessel M/Y Navorca, Marc and Rovilson stood at the front lines to ensure that the reefs remain pristine for generations to come.
“I'm an avid scuba diver and Tubbataha has some of the best diving in the world. Being able to see sharks and turtles on every dive and even running into a whale shark underwater is proof positive that WWF's conservation efforts in the area is a success,” says Marc.
Since Marc and Rovilson were named WWF-Philippines national ambassadors in October 2010, the dynamic duo has led a slew of activities to create more awareness about the Philippine environment’s immense biodiversity. These activities include WWF environmental education sessions to help empower thousands of public school students to become young stewards of nature.
THE TUBBATAHA EXPERIENCE. The twin atolls of the Tubbataha Reefs lie in the middle of the Sulu Sea, approximately 160 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. The reefs are only reachable by boat, a journey which takes 10 to 12 hours and is only attempted from mid-March to mid-June. Entry to the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park without proper clearance is strictly prohibited.
Tubbataha spans more than 97,000 hectares and hosts approximately 600 species of fish; 360 species of corals (approximately half of all coral species in the world); 14 species of sharks including the ferocious tiger shark; 12 species of dolphins and whales; a nesting population of endangered hawksbill and green sea turtles; and over 100 species of birds, including rare migratory birds.
“During our trip, we saw spinner dolphins, black and white tip reef sharks, stingrays, manta and eagle rays and a whale shark, which is rarely seen in Tubbataha. Such sightings manifest the excellent health of these waters,” says Rovilson.
“Best dive ever!” exclaimed Marc after seeing the four-meter juvenile whale shark. Marc has been diving since he was 11 and has had hundreds of diving trips around the world.
Marc and Rovilson likewise interacted with rangers from the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park, the best-managed offshore marine protected area in the country. The ranger station stands on a sandbar in Tubbataha’s north atoll.
The rangers ensure that Tubbataha’s waters are protected from illegal fishing and poachers. “They also maintain a steady watch on the licensed dive boats in the area and are trained to come to their aid in any emergency situation,” adds Marc.
ENSURING FOOD SECURITY. But the Tubbataha Reefs go beyond being a Mecca of Philippine diving. The reefs’ rich marine biodiversity also ensures an ample food supply for over 20 million Filipinos, who depend on fish as a source of protein.
The Tubbataha Reefs’ twin atolls produce fish biomass of at least 200-tons per square kilometer. This is five times greater than the productivity of a healthy reef.
“Tubbataha is the seeding and growth area of the fish stocks for Palawan and the Visayas. Without this protected area, fish would not have the opportunity to grow to maturity and repopulate other areas,” says Marc.
Adds Rovilson, “With a burgeoning Philippine population, escalating food prices, and unmonitored unsustainable fishing practices, it is only imperative that we protect the Tubbataha Reefs. As ambassadors of WWF-Philippines, we want to raise more awareness about Tubbataha so we can better safeguard this cradle of marine life.”
Home from their trip, Marc and Rovilson are more determined than ever to protect the Tubbataha Reefs plus other critical ecosystems in the Philippines.
“We are privileged and proud to represent WWF, the world’s largest independent conservation organization. At the same time, Marc and I also carry the responsibility to communicate the need to protect the Philippine environment’s fragile beauty,” says Rovilson.