Coral Reef Monitoring Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Sulu Sea, Philippines
TitleCoral Reef Monitoring Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Sulu Sea, Philippines
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsWhite AT, Apistar D, Tesch S, Gulbranson J, White E, Delizo, Jr D, Martinez R
Pagination99
Keywordscoral reef, MPA, SPR
Abstract

Covering 97,000 hectares in the epicenter of global marine biodiversity, the Tubbataha Reefs
Natural Park and World Heritage Site is one of the greatest Philippine natural treasures. Its
global ecological importance is recognized as studies show that it is a source of larvae for the
fishing grounds and coral reefs in the Sulu Sea and in western Palawan Island. The atoll reefs
are also home to thousands of marine species that attract scuba diving tourists and researchers
from all over the world to enjoy the diversity of underwater life that Tubbataha offers.

This report is an analysis of the condition of the Tubbataha Reefs benthic and fish fauna, at
seven selected and recognized dive sites within the protected area. Live hard coral ranged from
fair to good. The highest percentage live hard coral (LHC) was recorded at SR-1 (53.63% ±
2.84) for the shallow reef and NR-2 (58.56% ± 4.59) for the deep reef. Despite a Crown-of-
thorns breakout at NR-2 in 2009 and the major 1998 ENSO bleaching episode, overall the
survey sites displayed stable or increasing trends in live hard coral cover.

For fish, the biomass per unit area increased in every site with the highest on Lighthouse Reef
(SR1) at 538.4 kg/500m2. In contrast, a general decline in fish densities (number per unit area)
was observed in most sites. Factors that contributed to this decline are likely to be: 1) variation
in spatial distribution of fish communities throughout the sites, and 2) an important newly
apparent phenomena of an increasing biomass of larger predator type of fish that are feeding on
smaller fish and thus reducing the total number of fish observed. Butterflyfish species seen
totaled 31 which is comparable with past years. Although there was a slight rise in number of
target fish/500m2 in all of the study sites of Tubbataha reefs since 2012, the general trend in the
mean fish density for all reef fish species was declining. However, fish species richness for
target fish species and all reef fish species have shown significant increases since 2012. For
very large marine life, there have been increases in the number of turtles, sharks, and
Humphead wrasse sightings over the past 10 years with 2014 being no exception.

With the 2007 addition of Jessie Beazley Reef to the marine park, and with its inclusion in
regular patrolling, an improvement in this site is evident in 2014. Since 2012, Jessie Beazley
had a small decrease of LHC (45.73% ± 4.12) in the shallow reef. Fish density of target species
(219 fish/500m2) increased significantly in 2014 and there was a small increase in all reef
species density of 1,565 fish/500m2 in 2014 compared to 1,529 fish/500m2 in 2012 (Table 22).

In conclusion, our research team agrees that Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park continues to be a
proud legacy of the Tubbataha Management Office and its Park Rangers. As an important and
rich marine resource, it continues to lend hope to the Philippines in sustaining food security and
increasing eco-tourism. It is evident from the surveys in April 2014 that the reef and fish
resources of Tubbataha continue to thrive as evidenced by increasing fish biomass in all survey
sites which indicates that the Park protection and patrol team of rangers continue to do an
excellent job despite the remote location of Tubbataha. Finally, it is important to maintain and
improve efforts in patrolling, education, and research to maintain the already resilient protected
area to overcome future challenges from increasing tourism, shipping in the Sulu Sea and other
possible threats.