United Nations Awarded Philippines for Tubbataha Reef conservation effort

Whitetip reef shark at Tubbataha Reef. Photo credit: Wikimedia

The Philippines received international praise this week for its coral reef conservation in Tubbataha Reef, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday.

A DFA news release said the World Future Council conferred on the Philippines a Silver Future Policy Award for its 2010 Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act.

"With the Future Policy Award we want to cast a spotlight on policies that lead by example. The aim of the World Future Council is to raise awareness for exemplary policies and speed up policy action towards just, sustainable and peaceful societies," the DFA quoted Alexandra Wandel, Director of the World Future Council, as saying ( http://www.dfa.gov.ph/main/index.php/newsroom/dfa-releases/6440-ph-recognized-for-conservation-effort-in-tubbataha-reefs ).

It also feted the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act as an exemplary policy that has "contributed most effectively to the sustainable management of the world's oceans and coasts for the benefit of current and future generations."

The DFA said the award was announced last Wednesday during a press conference at the UN Headquarters in New York, coinciding with the UN General Assembly.

An awards ceremony is scheduled on Oct. 16 at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, India.

Other awards recognized the efforts of Palau, Namibia, South Africa, and California. Thirty-one policies from 22 countries were nominated for awards.

Nominations were assessed by an international jury of experts from the academe, politics, international bodies, civil society and indigenous groups from five continents.

World Future Council is an international policy research organization that aims "to safeguard the rights of future generations" through advocacies on environment, sustainable development and social justice.

Its 2012 Future Policy Award highlights the challenges faced by the world's oceans as well as exemplary solutions to protect them.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act ensures the effective management of the Tubbataha Reefs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hotspot of coral reef biodiversity.

Local authorities and non-government organizations engaged in protecting Tubbataha have received praise because of the excellent condition of the reefs, the DFA said.

"Tubbataha's example has also shown that carefully planned management can result in benefits for local communities since Tubbataha is a nursery site for fish supporting local artisanal fisheries," it added.

Similar legislation has been enacted for neighboring Apo Reef, it noted.

Meanwhile, Dr. Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the Future Policy Award provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue and increase practical action.

"The ocean world is in all our daily lives. Even for the many millions of people who may not think that they have a strong reliance on oceans, marine ecosystems and wildlife provide all kinds of benefits. The Future Policy Award provides the opportunity to raise awareness of the issue and increase practical action," he said.

"National policies have to consider the needs of local communities and incorporate their traditional knowledge of the ecosystems and the natural resources these communities depend on - to ensure the sustainable use and management thereof," added jury member Pauline Tangiora.

In the Know

Tubbataha Reef is an atoll coral reef located in the Sulu Sea of the Philippines. It is a marine sanctuary protected as Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park. It is nominated at the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

The word tubbataha is a combination of two Samal words: tubba and taha, which together means "a long reef exposed at low tide"

Tubbataha is located in the Sulu Sea, 98 nautical miles (181 km) southeast of Puerto Princesa City in the Palawan Province. The reef is made up of two coral atolls divided by an eight-kilometer (5 miles) wide channel. The South Atoll, the smaller of the two is five kilometers in length and three kilometers in width; while the North Atoll, the larger of the two is 16 kilometers (9.9 mi) long and five kilometers (3 miles) wide.(Knipp 22) Each reef has a single small islet that protrudes from the water. The atolls are separated by a deep channel 8 km (5.0 mi) wide.

There are no permanent inhabitants of the islets or reefs. Fishermen visit the area seasonally, establishing shelters on the islets. The park is visited by tourists, particularly divers. Trips to Tubbattaha from mid-March to mid-June are all vessel-based; the park is about twelve hours by boat from Puerto Princesa City. Tubbataha is considered as the best dive site in the Philippines and the diving dedicated ships that operate during the "Tubbataha Season" are usually booked years in advance especially during the Asian holidays of Easter and "Golden Week".

Tubbataha has become a popular site for seasoned sports divers because of its coral "walls" where the shallow coral reef abruptly ends giving way to great depths. These "walls" are not only wonderful diving spots but they are also wonderful habitats for many colonies of fish. There are giant trevally (jacks), hammerhead sharks, barracudas, manta rays, palm-sized Moorish idols, napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, and moray eels living in the sanctuary. There also have been reported sightings of whale sharks and tiger sharks. Tubbataha is even home to the hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) which are endangered species. (Knipp 24)

Over 1000 species inhabit in the reef; many are already considered as endangered. Animal species found include manta rays, lionfish, sea turtles, clownfish, and sharks.

Vivid corals cover more than two-thirds of the area and the waters around the reef are places of refuge for numerous marine lives. The seemingly diverse ecosystem of this sanctuary rivals the Great Barrier Reef – having 350 coral species and 500 fish species. (Knipp 22, 24) In June 2009 an outbreak of the crown-of-thorns starfish was observed, possibly affecting the ecological functioning of this relatively pristine coral reef.

Aside from being a marine sanctuary, Tubbataha is also renowned for being a bird sanctuary. A lighthouse islet, at the southern tip of the South Atoll, supports a large number of seabirds which nest there. Around the Tubbataha, there are tens of thousands of masked red-foot boobies, terns, and frigate birds resting during their annual migrations. To minimize any external intrusions, the Philippine Coast Guard maintains a small monitoring station on one of the many permanent sand bars.(Knipp 24)

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