On 18 September 2019, Ms Angelique Songco, Superintendent of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park World Heritage area was honored with the esteemed 2019 KfW-Bernhard-Grzimek-Preis for her outstanding leadership in conserving the World Heritage marine site.
The award is a tribute to individuals and organizations for their commitment to the preservation of the world’s most precious biodiversity and related environmental processes. This biannual award comes with a prize of 50,000 Euros. In 2017, the prize was awarded to Mr. Andrew Zaloumis, then CEO of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage site.
Located in the Sulu Sea, Philippines, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park hosts one of the world’s most exceptional coral atolls and is home to the Napoleon wrasse or Cheilinus undulates, one of the most iconic internationally threatened and endangered marine species. Its well-managed reef ecosystems contain over 90% of all coral species in the Philippines, providing a critical habitat for nearly 500 species of fish, 7 of seabirds, 8 cetaceans and some larger predatory species such as hammerhead sharks.
Although the site lies in a remote location and received World Heritage status in 1993, it is not free from threats such as climate change, plastics and pollution from shipping. “Due to the site’s remote location, its management requires sophisticated legislation implemented by a well-equipped team that is often away from home for long periods of time,” says Songco. Being part of the World Heritage managers network under the auspices of the World Heritage Centre’s Marine Programme has helped her connect to and learn from other managers around the world, she added.
Angelique Songco succeeded in preserving one of the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth by developing an awareness-raising strategy, mainly focused on education. Her work gained increasing respect among local communities as it became better understood that regulated tourism and sustainable fisheries can be a main source of income. In her ambition to strike a balance between effective conservation and sustainable socio-economic development, she effectively became known among locals as Mama Ranger.
In 2016, the International Maritime Organization granted the World Heritage area special protection status to prevent ship pollution and future ship groundings. The measures represented a major breakthrough due to the location of the site in the Sulu Sea, one of the densest international shipping routes for transportation of goods within Southeast Asia.