Summary Field Report: Coral Reef Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Sulu Sea, Philippines, March 26 – April 1, 2008
TitleSummary Field Report: Coral Reef Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Sulu Sea, Philippines, March 26 – April 1, 2008
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsWhite A, Maypa A, Tesch S, Diaz R, Martinez R, White E
InstitutionCoastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Inc.
CityCebu City
Report Number1-2008

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP; formerly Tubbataha National Marine Park) includes two uninhabited coral reef atolls that contain more than 10,000 hectares of reef within its boundaries in the Sulu Sea. This biodiverse reef system is a World Heritage Site of global ecological importance. Tubbataha is known for its large marine life not found in most areas in the Philippines and is an outstanding and popular dive site.

This project assessed the condition of the coral reefs in TRNP (at selected sites and updated information from surveys in 1984, 1989, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. In 2008, live hard coral (LHC) for all seven sites is fair to good (27.1 ± 2.9% to 62.4 ± 3.7%).

Comparison between sites in the shallows gave a highly variable result. In the deeper zone, NR2 had the highest percent LHC, and NR2, the lowest. Slight increases in LHC were observed from 2004 to 2008. A total of 285 fish species in 43 families were listed in 2008. Butterflyfish counted were slightly lower at 30 species than in past years.

It appears that the El Niňo Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has been and is a major factor in shaping the trajectory of Tubbataha reefs and is most likely compounded by management effects. Trends in percent LHC and fish densities vary from site to site. In all sites, significant LHC recovery is absent in both deep and shallow areas except the shallow zone of SR3. Increases in target fish density were found in two sites. For target fish biomass between sites in 2008, all sites had significantly higher values (median: 89.6 ± 51.8 to 325.7 ± 162.8 kg/500m2) compared to Jessie Beazley (median: 19.1 ± 3.3 kg/500m2) and SR3 (median: 45.7 ± 122.9 kg/500m2). We may attribute the former’s low biomass to short time of protection while the latter to high variation between replicate samples. The maintenance of strict enforcement in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is seen as essential to maintain and build resilience and recovery from earlier ENSO impacts.

Information on other substratum, invertebrates, causes of coral damage over time, patterns, and trends in reef health per site were also collected. Recommendations on how to improve the management status of Tubbataha Reefs include: meeting the logistical needs for the rangers; increasing information dissemination to stakeholders; continued monitoring and research; and more education for all visitors, divers and boat operators on the natural history of the area as well as on dive and boating regulations.

Finally, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board and its partners are congratulated for a job well done in protecting and managing the Tubbataha Reefs.