The Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a spectacular reef system in the famed Coral Triangle. The park encompasses 970 km² of coral atolls and deep seas 92 nautical miles from the nearest inhabited island.
Managing this vast and remote area requires a focused management plan, and the Marine World Heritage Programme recently connected Site Manager Angelique Songco with Jon Day, previously of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, to strengthen the site’s planning and evaluation tools.
The beauty of the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is surpassed only by its productivity. Its pristine waters support sharks, whales, turtles, seabirds, and a dizzying array of coral and fish. The two reefs were protected in 1988 as the Philippines’ first marine national park, and inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993. In 2009, Jessie Beazley Reef, some 12 nautical miles to the north, was annexed to the Park. While the Tubbataha Reefs are remote, they nonetheless play a vital role in the nations’ food security. The protected waters serve as breeding and feeding grounds for fish and shellfish that local communities rely on for protein.
“Having experienced site managers like Jon share their knowledge and tools saves newer sites money, time and mistakes.”
The isolation that has preserved the reefs’ remarkable diversity requires good coordination and clear priorities. The challenges facing Tubbataha are the same confronted by many other Marine World Heritage sites: the need for vigilance to deter illegal fishing, a growing problem with marine debris, increased shipping activity, and the need to make difficult choices on how to allocate limited resources. Site manager Angelique Songco recently worked with Jon Day, formerly one of the Directors of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, to ensure the site’s management plan reflects its Outstanding Universal Value, and develop a new framework for assessing management effectiveness. Every World Heritage site has been deemed of “Outstanding Universal Value”. The values for which it was inscribed—for example, beauty, unique geological features, or biodiversity—are characteristics managers must preserve to retain World Heritage Status.
“This approach helps managers to identify and prioritize all the values for which a World Heritage site has been listed, and assists them to focus on the key ones.”
The management and evaluation framework used at the Great Barrier Reef has a strong focus upon the site’s Outstanding Universal Value. Jon helped Angelique adopt a similar approach for Tubbataha, and is also assisting the Wadden Sea to undertake a similar process. For Tubbataha, the near-term outcomes included a greater focus on tourism management in the site’s annual plans, and more emphasis on collecting socio-economic data to identify conservation projects that maximize community benefits.
The new management plan can be downloaded here. This exchange of information received support from the Pacific Fund (the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development), as part of a larger project to increase the capacity of marine World Heritage site managers in the Pacific Ocean.