1.         Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines) (N 653bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1993

Criteria  (vii)(ix)(x)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/653/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1996-2007)
Total amount approved: USD 118,304
For details, see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/653/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

December 2007: World Heritage Centre mission.

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

a) Over-exploitation of marine resources;

b) Illegal and destructive fishing;

c) Oil exploration

Illustrative material  see page http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/653/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2009

This state of conservation report was requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007) in relation to the above threats. The concerns of the World Heritage Committee related in particular to the management and protection of the property which was subject to insufficient funding for effective management and enforcement against illegal fishing. The World Heritage Committee also requested the State Party to submit a re-nomination to extend the property to include the expanded National Park. This re-nomination has been evaluated by IUCN and will be examined by the World Heritage Committee during its 33rd session in 2009 (see Document WHC-09/33.COM/8B).

 

On 9 February 2009, a report on the state of conservation of the existing, unextended property was submitted by the State Party. This describes the ongoing management operations and progress in implementing the recommendations of the World Heritage Committee. Ecological information was provided in the above-mentioned nomination dossier for extension of the property and in supplementary documentation provided by the State Party during the subsequent IUCN evaluation. Based on a review of this material and the IUCN evaluation mission, a number of key issues are identified.

 

a) Legal protection

The property is entirely a no-take fishing zone. The Tubbataha Protected areas Bill, which will delineate a buffer zone to the property, has received its second reading in Congress and the Tubbataha Management Office is working closely with partners to communicate its importance. The 10 nautical mile buffer zone proposed in the Bill will help to mitigate risks from any exploration or exploitation in the oil concession area adjacent to the property. A new map showing the boundaries of the oil concession area is expected from the Department of Energy.

 

Shipping vessel traffic is high around Tubbataha. There is a risk of shipping causing damage to the reefs through collision, pollution or introduction of marine invasive species. There are already several shipwrecks. Designation as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) would offer added protection and increased awareness of the vulnerability of the property to marine traffic. Discussions are underway with the Coastguard service to promote the Sulu Sea for designation as PSSA.

 

b) Illegal fishing

Illegal fishing continues to affect the property but there are signs of more effective management of this threat. In the period March 2006 to December 2008 the site management carried out 38 arrests involving 314 fishers. One of these incidents involving Chinese nationals has already been reported to the World Heritage Committee, although the court cases continue. Most illegal fishers are Philippine nationals and many target the top shell Trochus for the international market. Costs for enforcement increased from PHP80,000 (USD 1,660) in 2006 to PHP 500,000 (USD 10,300) in 2008. This increase in costs diverts funds away from other management and monitoring activities. There is a need to allocate more funding to education about benefits of the property and to raise awareness to prevent illegal fishing. Micro-credit activities are already underway in Caganyancillo, which has had the benefit that no illegal fishers have recently been apprehended from there. That the majority of illegal fishers are from Roxas suggests that targeting education and livelihood activities there could reduce illegal fishing overall in the property. Research by Conservation International - Philippines has identified the installation of fish aggregating devices outside but near to the boundary of the property. These devices can attract fish to leave the reserve where they can be caught, may disturb migratory species especially marine mammals and have been documented to lose their moorings and damage the reef inside the property. Preventing this could be a specific requirement of a buffer zone for the property.

 

The Palawan provincial government has concluded a memorandum of agreement with the management authority for the property and this guarantees that regular funding will be provided annually, which should help to reduce the difficulty in obtaining sufficient annual funds. Progress towards increasing an Endowment Fund is being made and will require more international assistance. WWF Philippines and Conservation International continue to help the property in terms of research and contributions, including most recently, the provision of more vessels to aid patrolling.

 

Funding and training for monitoring is limited and relies largely on partner organizations, particularly WWF Philippines and visiting researchers with help from volunteers. To date this research has identified on-going risks to the property from coral bleaching related to El Niño Southern Oscillation climatic phenomenon, physical damage from increased storm frequency, and crown-of-thorn starfish outbreaks. The most recent coral surveys for the property indicate hard coral cover ranging from 27% to 62% with the highest levels of cover in deeper reef areas. There has been a slight increase in cover between 2004 and 2008. Resilience to these threats would be enhanced if other stresses were reduced on the property, such as illegal fishing.

 

Initial seabird monitoring results based on minimum counts of breeding adult seabirds suggest declines in the period 1981-2006, including 83% for brown booby, 18% for great crested tern, 67% for sooty tern, 87% for brown noddy. In contrast, there have been significant increases in adult breeding counts of red-footed booby and black noddy. Rangers stationed in the property are conducting monthly bird monitoring and ad-hoc marine mammal recording. Observations suggest that the red-footed booby and black noddy may be out-competing other species. Erosion of Bird islet is also occurring, and further monitoring of sediment processes on the sand islets is recommended.

 

Total fish biomass indicates a statistically significant positive trend since 1998. Biomass of commercial fish species has also increased in the same period, however the April 2008 field study noted relatively few tuna and mackerel, which may be attributed to the impacts of fishing pressures in the wider region. Large marine species such as shark, turtle, napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish all suggest positive trends over time, indicating a healthy reef system.

 

Plastic debris is a source of concern and increasingly evident within the property. Lightweight plastics affect surface waters within the property, materials wash up on beaches are used by birds when nesting. Dead wildlife has been found with ingested plastic. Plastic materials also become caught on the reef itself. These materials are likely to be a combination of land-based pollutants washing off from land and also from the heavy vessel traffic passing through the Sulu Sea.

 

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that significant progress has been achieved by the State Party with its partners to implement the recommendations of the Committee and progress towards sustainable financing should continue. However illegal fishing continues to pose a threat to the integrity of the property and the oil exploration activities near to the property should also be closely monitored by the State Party. Continued collaboration with conservation organizations and research institutions to monitoring and better understand the role of Tubbataha in the Sulu Sea marine ecosystem is also important. The importance of marine conservation to food security and livelihoods should also be communicated to communities in the region by increasing understanding of the role of a no-take protected area in providing source of fish and decapods larvae to the eastern coast of Palawan, enriching fisheries in the area.

 

The World Heritage property of Tubbataha was mentioned within a petition drawing attention on the impact of black carbon on World Heritage properties around the world, which was addressed to the World Heritage Centre and IUCN in January 2009. This issue is addressed within the introduction of Document WHC-09/33.COM/7B. A letter was sent by the World Heritage Centre to the State Party in March 2009 to inform it of this petition.

 

The World Heritage Centre draws the attention of the World Heritage Committee and the State Party to the fact that, in the event that the extension of the nominated property is agreed by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session (see Document WHC-09/33.COM/8B), the Decision noted below (33 COM 7B.18) would be superseded by the extension of the property, and therefore would need to be read in conjunction with the Decision regarding the extension of the property (33 COM 8B.3).

 

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre and IUCN

N/A

Decision Adopted: 33 COM 7B.18

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-09/33.COM/7B,

2. Recalling Decision 31 COM 7B.20, adopted at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007),

3. Notes the efforts of the State Party for the management of the property and the strong commitment of NGOs to providing financial assistance, research and monitoring and capacity-building activities to support the property;

4. Welcomes the inter-agency cooperation at the provincial and national levels to support the property and encourages these stakeholders to continue this work particularly towards improving enforcement and halting illegal fishing activities, assessing relevance of designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) for the region surrounding the property, and ensuring sustainable financing;

5. Regrets that illegal fishing continues to affect the property, and urges the State Party to continue to seek ways to increase compliance, particularly among fishermen from Roxas;

6. Requests the State Party to put in place a programme of ecological monitoring of the property, particularly the effect of climatic events on sea surface temperature and coral bleaching, storm frequency and other factors that could be related to climate change;

7. Also requests the State Party to develop a tourism strategy in collaboration with stakeholders and the fishing community to ensure that increased tourism does not impact the Outstanding Universal Value of the property;

8. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2011, a report on the state of conservation of the property, including progress in reducing illegal fishing activities, provision of adequate funding for the management of the property and the other issues noted above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 35th session in 2011.

Decision Adopted: 33 COM 8B.3

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Documents WHC-09/33.COM/8B and WHC-09/33.COM/INF.8B2,

2. Approves the extension of the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, Philippines, inscribed under natural criteria (vii), (ix) and (x) and takes note of the consequent revised name of the extended property of Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park;

3. Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

Brief Synthesis

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park lies in a unique position in the centre of the Sulu Sea, and includes the Tubbataha and Jessie Beazley Reefs. It protects an area of almost 100,000 hectares of high quality marine habitats containing three atolls and a large area of deep sea. The property is home to a great diversity of marine life. Whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse are amongst the key species found here. The reef ecosystems support over 350 species of coral and almost 500 species of fish. The reserve also protects one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region.

Criterion (vii): Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park contains excellent examples of pristine reefs with a high diversity of marine life. The property includes extensive reef flats and perpendicular walls reaching over 100m depth, as well as large areas of deep sea. The remote and undisturbed character of the property and the continued presence of large marine fauna such as tiger sharks, cetaceans and turtles, and big schools of pelagic fishes such as barracuda and trevallies add to the aesthetic qualities of the property.

Criterion (ix): Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park lies in a unique position in the middle of the Sulu Sea and is one of the Philippines' oldest ecosystems. It plays a key role in the process of reproduction, dispersal and colonization by marine organisms in the whole Sulu Sea system, and helps support fisheries outside its boundaries. The property is a natural laboratory for the study of ecological and biological processes, displaying the ongoing process of coral reef formation, and supporting a large number of marine species dependant on reef ecosystems. The presence of top predator species, such as tiger and hammerhead sharks, are indicators of the ecological balance of the property. The property also offers a demonstration site to study the responses of a natural reef system in relation to the impacts of climate change.

Criterion (x): Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park provides an important habitat for internationally threatened and endangered marine species. The property is located within the Coral Triangle, a global focus for coral biological diversity. The reefs of the property support 374 species of corals, almost 90% of all coral species in the Philippines. The reefs and seas of the property also support eleven species of cetaceans, eleven species of sharks, and an estimated 479 species of fish, including the iconic and threatened Napoleon wrasse. The property supports the highest population densities known in the world for white tip reef sharks. Pelagic species such as jacks, tuna, barracuda, manta rays, whale sharks and different species of sharks also are common here and the property is a very important nesting, resting and juvenile development area for two species of endangered marine turtles: green turtles and hawksbill turtles. There are seven breeding species of seabirds and Bird Islet and South Islet are breeding grounds to seven resident and endangered breeding species of seabirds. The critically endangered Christmas Island Frigatebird is a regular visitor to the property.

Integrity

The property comprises two atolls (North and South Atoll) and an emergent coral cay, Jessie Beazley Reef. It includes open sea with an average depth of 750 m and still displays a well preserved marine ecosystem with top predators, and a large number and diversity of coral reef and pelagic species. The property also hosts an important population of resident, nesting and feeding seabirds. The area is free of human habitation and activities and is of a sufficient size to maintain associated biological and ecological processes. The property is of an adequate size to ensure the complete representation of the key features and processes of the reef systems within it, although the maintenance of these values also requires measures to be taken outside the boundaries of the property in relation to some migratory species and the buffering of the property from threats to the marine environment that could occur in the wider area. A key aspect of the integrity of the property is the low level of fishing pressure, due to the no-take policies which are in place throughout its area.

Management and protection requirements

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is legally protected through national protected areas legislation and a range of other environmental legislation which enable action to be taken against a wide range of threats. The implementation of the legislation is assisted by clear delegation to the management authority for the property. This is a remote property and its management is therefore a significant logistical challenge, requiring a well-equipped team with operational boats, well trained and well equipped staff and a sufficient operating budget for fuel, maintenance and accommodation to ensure a strong and responsive presence on the water. Tourism visitation requires careful planning and management to ensure the values of the property are maintained, and to respect the capacity of the property, as well as visitor safety and to ensure income is returned to both site management and local communities. There are threats to the property from shipping, marine litter, fishing, marine pollution and oil exploration. Thus effective buffer zone arrangements are needed, and internationally supported legislation to protect the property from shipping threats, and greater enforcement of marine litter regulation on the High Seas by the appropriate international organisations would be a significant benefit to the property.

4. Appreciates the State Party's efforts for acting on the Committee's 1993 recommendation that the area of the property be extended, and for the action in response to the Committee's previous consideration of state of conservation issues affecting the existing property;

5. Commends the State Party and specifically the Province of Palawan and the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board for the progress in managing the property, and the allocation of increased budgets and equipment to the property, and also acknowledges the important technical and financial support provided by the Non Governmental Organisation partners;

6. Welcomes the inter-agency cooperation at the Provincial and National levels to support the extended property; and encourages these stakeholders to continue this work particularly towards improving enforcement and halting illegal fishing activities, assessing the relevance of designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas for the region surrounding the property, and ensuring the sustainable financing of the management of the property;

7. Also welcomes the boundary changes to oil concession areas near to the extended property which will reduce their potential impacts, and encourages the State Party to ensure that concession holders respect the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property; noting in particular the sensitivity of marine mammals to acoustic research methods and the potential risk to the values and integrity of the property from pollution;

8. Regrets that illegal fishing continues to affect the existing and extended property, and urges the State Party to continue to seek ways to increase compliance with the no-take policies within the extended property;

9. Requests the State Party to put in place a programme of ecological monitoring of the extended property, particularly the effect of climatic events on sea surface temperature and coral bleaching, storm frequency and other factors that could be related to climate change;

10. Also requests the State Party to develop a sustainable tourism strategy in collaboration with stakeholders and fishing community to ensure that increased tourism does not impact the Outstanding Universal Value or integrity of the property;

11. Further requests the State Party to provide to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2011 a report on the state of conservation of the property, including progress in establishing a buffer zone, reducing illegal fishing activities, continued provision of adequate funding for the management of the property and the other issues noted above, for examination by the Committee at its 35th session in 2011.