Washington, DC, January 24, 2013 -- On January 17, a US Navy minesweeping vessel became grounded on Tubbataha Reefs Natural Marine Park – a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best proteced Marine Protected Areas in the world.
Tubbataha plays host to about 600 species of fish, 360 species of corals, 14 species of sharks, 12 species of dolphins and whales plus nesting populations of seabirds and marine turtles. It is a food factory for the Sulu Sea -- continuously seeding the rich waters of Palawan and the West Visayan isles with fish and invertebrate spawn. For these reasons, Tubbataha is a priority conservation area of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and is one of the Coral Triangle region’s most important marine areas.
While no oil has yet been spilled, that threat remains and large areas of pristine coral reefs have been destroyed while monsoon winds have aggravated efforts to dislodge the ship. The wood-hulled vessel remains stuck and is taking on water, posing immense hazards to the area’s fragile undersea ecosystems.
WWF calls on the US Navy to coordinate closely with the Philippine government's Tubbataha Management Office on the extrication of the ship. The extent of damage to the reef must also be determined. Furthermore, the swift, safe and proper removal of the vessel should cause no further damage to the Park.
Following the removal of the vessel, the US Navy, in partnership other US government agencies, should work with Philippine authorities to undertake a rapid damage assessment, as well as an economic valuation and then help restore the damaged parts of the reef.
Throughout its 25-year conservation history, Tubbataha has been resilient to many challenges: invasive species outbreaks, illegal fishing and seaweed farming operations, marine pollution, plus the widespread coral bleaching due to the 1998 El Niño phenomenon. This resilience gives us hope that with the proper response to this incident, Tubbataha – the crown jewel of Philippine seas – will ride out the challenge it is facing today.
For the long term, we ask the US Government to re-commit its efforts to protect this crown jewel of the Coral Triangle, which the US government has supported for many years with financial and technical assistance.