The State of Conservation report submitted by the State Party (23 March 2006) provides a detailed account of the progress made by the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) since the last report in 2004.
In respond to problems associated to illegal fishing in the property the State Party has developed an integrated management strategy based on four management programmes:
Conservation Management Programme:
This programme is under implementation aiming to enhance law enforcement capability, expansion of partnerships in supporting management actions and the development of sustainable financing strategies. While noting that sustainable financing remains the major constraint faced by the management authority, the State Party has been able to secure an additional USD 118,000, which is to be used as seed funding for developing an Endowment Fund in support of the conservation of the property. In kind resources to enhance the work of rangers (fuel, patrol and field equipments, medicines and communications equipments) have been provided by a number of partners (Conservation International, and a number of national NGOs). In addition the capacity of rangers has been strengthened through a number of training activities in 2005 and a comprehensive training seminar implemented in March 2006.
The Park’s boundaries are constantly monitored using a radar unit that allows for targeted patrols. However, this important equipment, which was provided to the property in 2000, is beginning to show signs of deterioration and may require additional investments.
Control of tourism and diving operations have been enhanced and all dive and tourism boats are now boarded by Park’s staff to validate permits and ensure adherence to Park’s regulations. This has been proved to be a good opportunity to interact with the private sector and serves to discuss recommendations from the industry on the conservation of the property. This cooperation is also supporting monitoring activities of the park as divers are providing valuable information on the sightings of megafauna and the state of coral reefs. These reports indicate an increase in the sightings of fishes, different species of sharks, marine turtles and cetaceans.
The State Party has also re-filed the Tubbataha Protected Areas Bill to the Philippine’s Congress, which, once enacted, will considerably expand the Park’s boundaries, authorize the establishment of a Trust Fund for the property and strengthen enforcement mechanisms.
Finally, under the Conservation Management Programme, the Park’s authority, based on the IUCN/WCPA Best Practice Guideline How is your MPA doing?, has completed in 2005 the assessment of management effectiveness of the Park for a seven year management cycle (1998-2005). This is the first national park in the country completing such exercise, which has provided valuable recommendations for adaptive management.
Conservation Awareness Programme:
Over 2,000 brochures for visitors were produced in 2005, and a video on the property, its values and conservation needs was produced and distributed to all dive operators. A number of outreach and awareness raising activities have also been implemented with the diving community, local governments and local communities.
Ecosystem Research and Monitoring Programme:
The Park can now build on 10 years of continued monitoring and research, which started in 1997 using permanent transect sites and standard methods for assessing bottom cover and fish biomass. These activities have been supported by a number of partners (Conservation International, WWF-Philippines, Earthwatch, the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation and the Coastal Resource Management Project of USAID). Results show healthy populations of the different bird species identified in the Park and new records for 9 migratory bird species. In addition, coral cover has continued to recover since the bleaching event of 1998, although it has not yet reached the same level as when it was first monitored in 1984. Total fish biomass has also increased and is at the highest level since 1997.
Sustainable Resource Use Programme:
A number of socio-economic studies have been conducted in the Municipality of Cagayancillo, to whose political jurisdiction the property belongs, and show a positive trend in livelihoods and living standards of local communities. However, these positive results raise the question of whether this trend can be sustained. It is important to note that, as a result of an active awareness programme, the number of fishery law violations by local communities decreased from 10 incidents in 2000 to only one in 2005.
In addition to these positive achievements, the State Party report notes several areas of concern related to the future management of the World Heritage property. These include: delayed prosecution and minimal fines for offenders apprehended by the dedicated park management staff and Philippine Navy/Coast Guard; outdated equipment; absence of a modern mooring buoy system; and a need to continue enhancing the conservation awareness programme.
Additional information received by IUCN from different sources indicates that the primary threats to the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park continue to be from various forms of illegal fishing, particularly from fishermen coming from the wider region as illegal activities by local fishermen have significantly decreased. Whilst the efforts of the State Party are reducing illegal fisheries within the property, information received by IUCN indicates that there has been a corresponding increase in illegal fishing from within the wider Sulu Sea region. This trend may in the long-term also affect the biological recruitment capacity of the property and the conservation of megafauna, particularly sharks that use large marine areas for their needs, potentially taking them out of the World Heritage property.
A revised International Assistance Request to hold a “National Forum on the Conservation of the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park and the Greater Sulu Sea” has been submitted by the State Party (March 2006). The Forum is due to take place in October 2006 and will bring together all sectors and stakeholders. The aims of the Forum are to generate action-oriented political support for and commitment to law enforcement; enhance cooperation among national and local governments; develop an action agenda to deal with the property’s major management issues; and formulate policy recommendations to strengthen MPA management and fishery laws.
However, given the recent trends in the Sulu Sea noted above, such events should be complemented by a regional forum addressing the issue of illegal fisheries in the wider Sulu Sea region. The State Party may consider calling upon the relevant regional or international organisations to provide assistance for developing this proposed regional forum. Support from the World Heritage Fund to implement such a regional initiative can also be considered as suggested in previous Committee decisions.