Summary Field Report: Saving Philippine Reefs Coral Reef Monitoring Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Sulu Sea, Philippines. April 13-20, 2012
TitleSummary Field Report: Saving Philippine Reefs Coral Reef Monitoring Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Sulu Sea, Philippines. April 13-20, 2012
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsWhite A, Apistar D, Caballes C, Tesch S, Sabonsolin A, Martinez R, Porpetcho W, Delizo D, Lucas E
Date Published12/2012
CityCebu City
Keywordscoral reef, MPA, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

Encompassing 97,000 hectares, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is one of the greatest Philippine natural treasures. Its global ecological importance is recognized as studies show that it is a source of larvae for the fishing grounds and coral reefs around the Sulu Sea (U.P. Visayas 2010). The atoll reefs of Tubbataha are also home to thousands of marine species that attract scuba diving tourists and researchers from all over the world to revel in the underwater wonders that this unique marine park offers.

This report is an analysis of the condition of the Tubbataha Reefs, at seven selected and recognized dive sites within the protected area. Live hard coral ranged from fair to good. The highest percentage of live hard coral (LHC) was recorded at NR-2 (Ranger Station) in the deep portion of the reef with 55.9 ± 10.3%, which was followed by SR-4 (Black Rock Anchorage, 51.3 ± 10.7 Jessie Beazley was the lowest (49.8 ± 12.2%). Despite a Crown-of-Thorns breakout at NR-2 in 2009, LHC cover seems to have been maintained since 2008. The overall trend suggests that LHC has generally been improving over time since the 1998 ENSO bleaching episode as seen in significant and increasing trend of LHC cover from 2000 to the present.

The general declining pattern in fish densities and species diversity were most likely influenced by external factors, e.g., observer bias (less experienced fish visual census specialists) and variation in spatial distribution of fish communities throughout the expedition. Butterflyfish species seen totaled to 28. The study site with the highest fish density (3169 ± 1035.5 fish/500m2), highest species richness (41.8 ± 8.6 species/500m2) and highest target fish biomass (447.5 ± 438.6 kg/500m2) was SR1/Lighthouse. Throughout the expedition, it was observed by researchers that there was an increase in large marine life sightings – sharks, Napoleon wrasses, turtles, Bumphead parrotfish, rays, and even a Whaleshark – as compared to 2008.

With the recent addition of Jessie Beazley Reef to the marine park, and with its inclusion in regular patrolling, an improvement in this site is evident this year. LHC appears to be increasing, suggesting recovery, although not at significant levels. Recognized as a major source of fish and coral larva for fisheries, upon observation by researchers, the reef shows general recovery overall with high fish density (1427.2 ± 302.3 fish/500m2) and moderate fish species richness (27.2 ± 5.8 species/500m2).

In conclusion, one can only notice that Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park continues to be a proud legacy of the Tubbataha Management Office and its Park Rangers. As an important and rich marine resource, it continues to lend hope to the Philippines in sustaining food security and increasing eco-tourism. The Saving Philippine Reefs team is confident that the dedicated individuals behind the protection of TRNP will continue to stay inspired and motivated with these results. It is important to maintain and improve efforts in patrolling, education, and research to maintain the already resilient protected area to overcome future challenges.