Damage to Tubbataha Reef

Last January 17, 2013, news broke out that a US Navy minesweeper, a small naval warship designed to detect, destroy, remove and neutralize explosive marine mines got stuck at the Tubbataha Reef National Park. Because of this incident, about 10 meters of the corals had been damaged initially.

USS Guardian Stuck on Tubbataha Reef

The damages had worsened since then due to strong winds and waves as the ship remained stuck in the reef. In fact, recent reports had already assessed that approximately 1,000 square meters of corals (equivalent to 80 cars) had already been damaged. Vice Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the US Navy's 7th Fleet, in a statement from Japan already apologized and expressed regret over the incident.

The USS Guardian’s presence in the protected area, which was a clear violation of Philippine law, was blamed on the wrong map navigational data by the US. Both governments had been undertaking efforts on the best way on how to extract the vessel without causing any more damage.

This issue had raised a lot of concerns both nationally and internationally. After all, the Tubbataha Reef National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Situated on the Sulu Sea about 130 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Tubbataha Reef National Park is in the heart of the Coral Triangle, the global center of marine diversity. It contains 40% of the world’s fish and 75% of the world’s corals.

Discovered in the late 1970’s, the name Tubbataha means “long reef exposed at low tide”. The word was derived from the language of the Samals, a seafaring people from southern Philippines.

Tubbataha Reef Location Map

The Tubbataha Reef is considered as one of the most untouched coral reef formation that remains in the world today. It is composed of two huge coral atolls, or ring-like coral islands that enclose a lagoon – the north and south atoll. There is a smaller reef, only half a kilometer in diameter called Jessie Beazley Reef located 20 kilometers north of the atolls.

The 97,030-hectare park is also a global priority for conservation. It is home to about 600 species of fish (13 of which is in danger of extinction), 360 species of corals (comprising about half of all coral species in the world), 11 species of shark (7 are endangered), 13 species of dolphin and whales and 100 species of birds. It is also home to the critically endangered Hawsbkill and Green sea turtles and the last surviving colonies of breeding seabirds in Southeast Asia.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Aside from its importance in the world’s ecosystem, The World Bank 2005 reports that it also contributes to the Philippines’ local economy via tourism and fisheries which gives the country an annual income of $1 billion dollars.

As a world heritage site, the Tubbataha Reef has an outstanding universal value. This means that it does not belong to the Philippines alone. It is considered as a world treasure. Hopefully, a solution to the ship’s extraction must be made soon for no amount of monetary compensation can make up for the thousand years’ formation of the Tubbataha Reef.

To learn more about the Tubbataha Reef, watch this video by Living Asia channel.

Image Sources:

USS Guardian Stuck on the Tubbataha Reef
Tubbataha Reef Location Map
Hawksbill Sea Turtle


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