|Title||2018 Saving Philippine Reefs: A Coral Reef Monitoring Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines April 21-27, 2018|
|Year of Publication||2019|
|Authors||White A, Stockwell B, Tesch S, White E, Apurado J|
|Institution||Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Inc.|
|Abstract||The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a World Heritage Site that the Philippines considers one of its greatest protected treasures. The area covers 97,000 hectares in the epicenter of global marine diversity, the Coral Triangle. Research shows that it is an important source of larvae for many fishing grounds in the Philippines and primarily in the Sulu Sea. The area is a dive and tourist destination visited by people from all over the world to enjoy its underwater beauty and diversity. The “Saving Philippine Reefs” research team made a comprehensive coral reef survey in Tubbataha on April 21-27, 2018, the results of which are summarized in this report. The surveys covered seven selected coral reef sites in the Tubbataha Park that have been visited and revisited for data collection for three decades.
The generally healthy reefs were observed to have living hard coral substrate on the shallow reef (2-3m depth) that ranged from Fair (25-50%) to Good (51-75%) overall. One site, Malayan Wreck, was slightly lower than 25% live coral mostly due to reef flats without much natural coral growth. In contrast, Jessie Beazley, the newest and most remote protected site has shown a marked increase in live hard coral in the shallow reef reflecting the positive impacts of protection and recovery. On the deeper reefs (7-10m), the trend in all sites show increasing trends in the Fair and Good categories except for 2 sites (Black Rock and Bird Islet) which appear to be due to natural variation.
Fish densities for All Reef Fish Species have generally increased in all of the sites, however, only slight increases in fish density of Target Species were recorded in 2018 for some sites, in general they stayed the same. Nevertheless, target species fish tend to be larger and thus biomass of target species has increased in all sites except one. A glitch in fish counter protocol in the 2018 survey was that 2 fish visual census researchers only collected target species data and the 2 other FVC researchers collected all species. This has been accounted for in the analysis but affected the sample size for all reef species data which showed a decline in all species numbers compared to years past due to this error.
For large marine life, the area continues to support more sightings of large marine animals such as sharks, turtles, Humphead wrasses, tuna, and Bumphead parrotfish. However, there have been fewer sightings of rays over the last 10 years which is similar to a trend outside of Tubbataha also and because most rays are probably not resident in Tubbataha.
Overall, the data in this report shows that Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park continues to be well protected from poaching and other human caused destruction due to its vigilant Rangers and the capable Tubbataha Management Office staff who oversee Park management. This important marine biodiversity area contributes to education through eco-tourism and supports food security through its input to surrounding fisheries. Assuming that the Tubbataha Reef continues to be protected from fishing and other destructive impacts, its main threat is from warming of the oceans from climate change. Coral bleaching was severe in 1998 in Tubbataha but the reefs recovered fully in about 6 years. Thus, having well managed and resilient reefs is essential to resist warming oceans and thus it is very important that management efforts continue with local and international support to maintain and inspire the managers and Rangers to fend off any challenges so that the healthy reefs will continue to thrive.