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Tubbataha reefs draw enhanced protection


By Roy Mabasa

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, is now considered as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (TRNP-PSSA).

DFA logo and DFA building's facade (Manila Bulletin)

DFA logo and DFA building’s facade (Manila Bulletin)

This came after the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) finally approved the MEPC Resolution on the TRNP in the Sulu Sea PSSA.

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) sits in the center of the Sulu Sea, and is located within the Coral Triangle, an area of important biological and marine diversity. Covering almost 97,030 hectares, it serves as a sanctuary for over 350 species of corals, almost 500 species of fish, and stands out  as one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Committee at its 71st session adopted the resolution at its final plenary session last July 7 acting on the recommendation of the Technical Group on PSSAs.

The DFA said in adopting the resolution, MEPC 71 took note “of the ecological criteria, in particular the criteria relating to uniqueness or rarity, naturalness, diversity and fragility criteria, and the socio-economic and scientific criteria of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park as well as its vulnerability to damage by international shipping activities and the steps taken by the Philippines to address that vulnerability.”

In the resolution designating the region surrounding the TRNP as a PSSA, the MEPC invited IMO member governments to recognize the ecological, socioeconomic and scientific criteria of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park area as well as its vulnerability to damage by international shipping activities.

Earlier, MEPC 71 adopted the recommendation of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee approving the TRNP area  as an Area  To Be Avoided (ATBA) by all types of ships of 150 gross tonnage and upwards.

The DFA said the ATBA is aimed at minimizing  the risk of damage from ship groundings and pollution damage by international shipping activities and to protect the area’s unique and threatened species as well as to preserve as far as practicable its critical habitat and diversity.

The MEPC resolution stated that mariners should exercise extreme care when navigating in the area bounded by the geographical coordinates of the PSSA and adhere to the ATBA which will take effect on January 1, 2018.

In January, 2013, a United States Navy Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, USS Guardian, had just completed a port call in Subic Bay and was en route to its next port of call when it ran aground on the North side of the South Shoal of the Tubbataha Reefs The grounding caused heavy damage to the world-famous marine site and the US government had to pay P87 million ($1.97 million) as penalty.

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