Tubbataha is a reef ecosystem made up of two atolls located in the middle of the Sulu Sea. It is a sanctuary for marine life. The reefs lie on the Cagayan Ridge, a line of extinct underwater volcanoes which starts from the north at the Sultana Shoal and ends in the south at the San Miguel Islands. It is located 92 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan and 80 nautical miles southwest of Cagayancillo, the municipality that exercises political jurisdiction over it. It was proclaimed as a National Marine Park on August 11, 1988 and inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage in 1993, in recognition of its outstanding universal value in terms of marine life species diversity and richness.
The name Tubbataha comes from the dialect of the Samal, seafaring people of the Sulu region, and means ‘long reef exposed at low tide’. Tubbataha consists of two atolls made up of roughly 10,000 hectares of corals and many other forms of marine life. There is very little land in Tubbataha. Each atoll has just one islet, the highest of which is only two metres above sea level. The atolls have shallow lagoons and are surrounded by 200 to 500 metres of reef flat which ends in a steep drop off into deep water. The reef crests, which mark the atolls’ edges, are exposed above the water’s surface at low tide.
Tubbataha is well known among the fisher folk of the southern Philippines. It was called ‘Gusong’ by the islanders of Cagayancillo, literally meaning ‘coral reef.’ Until the late 1970s, Cagayanons were the primary users of Tubbataha’s resources. During the summer months, they would make month-long fishing trips in fleets of locally built wooden sailboats called pangko or balangay.
For most of its existence, Tubbataha’s remoteness has been its greatest protector against over exploitation. It is open to the shifting winds that affect the Philippines – the habagat, amihan and daplak which bring rough seas, fierce storms and brief periods of calm. The safest months for travel to Tubbataha are during the summer months, from March to May.
The first recorded visit to Tubbataha was made by naturalist Dean Worcester in 1911. He described the north islet – called Bird Island because of its role as a nesting ground for thousands of seabirds – as ‘a low, flat, sandy island…some 400 metres long and 75 metres wide.’ Seventy years later, when ornithologist Robert Kennedy visited the island, he noted that it had shrunk in size by almost 70 per cent. Today Bird Island is a mere 23 per cent of the area recorded in 1911, just one indicator of how dynamic the forces of nature are at Tubbataha.
Pia bats for Tubbataha Reefs in worldwide search for ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature’
Senator Pia S. Cayetano has joined the campaign to boost the chances of the famed Tubbataha Reefs of Palawan in the ongoing worldwide search for the “New Seven Wonders of Nature.”
Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, is urging all Filipinos to support the Tubbataha Reefs, the only Philippine natural wonder nominated to the worldwide on-line poll.
“This global search may not be as popular or glamorous as ‘American Idol’ where a Filipino-American candidate is deservingly making waves, but the lone Philippine entry to the ‘New Seven Wonders’ also deserves the support of all Filipinos here and abroad,” she said.
The lady senator first made the appeal in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan last week at the very first staging of “Bike for Nature” an advocacy bicycle ride for the environment organized by the Offices of Mayor Edward Hagedorn and Provincial Governor Joel Reyes, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)-Palawan Chapter, Palawan Mountain Bikers, Pilipinas Shell and Conservation International.
But Cayetano is pressing the alarm in light of the slipping position of Tubbataha in the search’s live rankings which can be viewed on-line at http://www.new7wonders.com/nature/en/liveranking/. As of March 1, Tubbataha ranked only 33rd among the Top 77 official candidates for the New Seven Wonders of Nature, slipping five rungs from its Top 28th ranking just last February 14th.
The list of nominees and the mechanics for voting are posted on the poll’s official website http://www.new7wonders.com. The search is organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the non-profit New Seven Wonders Foundation, which also undertook the “New Seven Wonders of the World” search that ended last year.
Filipinos can still vote for Tubbataha until December 31, 2008, after which the top 77 nominees will be submitted to a panel of experts that will put together a shortlist of 21 finalists by January 2009. A second round of popular voting for the 21 finalists will then ensue and last until the end of 2009–with the top 7 nominees being officially declared the “New Seven Wonders of the World” by the year 2010.
Other famous natural wonders nominated to the search are: Mt. Everest of Nepal, Amazon River and Amazon Forest of South America, Niagara Falls of North America, Grand Canyon of the United States, Galapagos Islands of Equador, Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Mt. Kilimanjaro of Tanzania, Mount Blanc (more popularly known as the “Alps”) of France and Italy, among others.
Aside from campaigning for the acclaimed heritage site, Cayetano is also pushing for the immediate approval of a law that will declare the Tubbataha Reefs National Park (TRNP) as a protected area.
Senate Bill (SB) No.1985, which Cayetano authored, seeks to create the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) which shall be the sole-policy making and permit granting body of the TRNP.
Under the bill, the Chairperson of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) and the Regional Executive Director of Region IV-B of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will serve as co-chairpersons of the TPAMB.
The measure also pushes for stiffer penalties for poachers caught within the park, which Cayetano said are meant to boost the government’s drive in prosecuting foreign poachers operating in Tubbataha. Under the bill, foreign poachers could be fined $100,000 and a prison term of 6 to 12 years, for the entry of fishing vessel in the TRMP. A hold departure order will also be issued as a condition for granting bail.
SBN 1985 is the product of a workshop conducted on Dec.12-13 last year with different stakeholders, including the Offices of the Provincial Governor and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, District Representatives Abraham Kahlil Mitra and Antonio Alvarez, PCSD secretariat, Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) and Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Philippine Navy and Coast Guard, World Wildlife Foundation and other non-government organizations.