The field team is currently surveying sites within the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP), the largest coral reef atoll in the Philippines. The Park is home to an incredible variety of marine life, in fact it forms part of the 'Coral Triangle', a region that boasts the largest range of marine bio-diversity on the planet.
The TRNP is one of the best managed Marine Parks in the world and the team were lucky enough to be joined on survey by members of the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) who oversee the management and monitoring of coral reef health in the park.
In order to understand conditions in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP), we asked team leader Maria Retchie Pagliawan to give her impressions of conditions in the park.
I started to work for TMO as part of the information, education and communications team. Because of my interest in marine biology, I joined the research team, working on seabirds in Tubbataha. Now, I lead the TMO research team with two other researchers and the park rangers.
In a study conducted by Villanoy et al 2006 about larvae dispersal in the Sulu Sea, TRNP appears to be both a source and a sink of fish and coral larvae in the region. This tells us that TRNP contributes to the fisheries in the entire Sulu Sea area, and thus, reconfirms the positive management measures being done in TRNP.
Aside from the natural pressures that the park is subjected to, such as climate change, crown-of-thorns starfish infestation, and coral bleaching and other diseases, the park is also prone to a lot of anthropogenic pressures, considering its remoteness. Marine debris ends up inside the park boundaries, and is being used by seabirds as part of their nests, and accidentally mistaken by marine turtles as food; this is one of the main problems in the park. Also, marine traffic (ships passing outside the boundaries of the park) poses problems to the park. A Filipino law on designating archipelagic sea lanes which will pass through the buffer zone of the park also poses some problems.
The Catlin Seaview Survey is interesting for us, especially because of the new technology that this survey is using to assess and tell us the current situation of our oceans. Since the Philippines depends a lot on fisheries, the results of research like this will always be helpful in managing the remaining coral reefs we have.
The TNO team is hoping to integrate previous monitoring data with the new data collected by the Catlin Seaview Survey to add to the pool of knowledge of coral reef ecology and Marine Protected Area management.
I have not yet visited all of the dive sites in TRNP, but I like the Malayan wreck so far. I would also include Bird Island as one of my best places in TRNP, even though it is not a dive site, because of the amazing abundance and diversity of seabirds.
We would like to thank Maria and her team Francis James Corpuz and Rowell Alarcon for coming aboard our survey vessel, the Atlantis Azores, to help with our Shallow Reef Surveys of the TRNP. Having completed the first two transects today, it is very clear the management efforts within the TRNP are having an effect on the region, as we have seen fairly pristine reefs with relatively high coral cover.