Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, Philippines

September 20, 2010, 3:59 pm


Tubbataha Reef Marine Park (8° 45'-9° 00'N, 119° 45'-120° 04'E) is a World Heritage Site located in the Philippines.

Geographical Location

Located in the middle of the Central Sulu Sea, 181 kilometers (km) southeast of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan Province, in the Municipality of Cagayancillo. 8° 45'-9° 00'N, 119° 45'-120° 04'E

Date and History of Establishment

11 August 1988. Established under Proclamation No. 306; also protected under Presidential Decree No. 705 (Forestry Reform Code). Tubbataha Reef Marine Park forms part of the Palawan Biosphere Reserve, which was internationally recognized under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1990. Tubbataha Reef Marine Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993.


caption Philippines location. (Source: WCPA/WWF)

Tubbataha Reef Marine Park comprises 33,200 hectares (ha), and the Palawan Biosphere Reserve, 1,150,000 ha.

Land Tenure



Approximately two meters (m) to 100 m below sea level.

Physical Features

Comprises the only two atolls in the Philippine archipelago, North and South Reef, separated by an 8 km wide channel. North Reef is a large, oblong, continuous reef platform some 16 km long and 4.5 km wide, completely enclosing a sandy lagoon some 24 m deep. The reef flat is shallow and emergent in some places at extreme low tide. The most prominent subareal feature is the North Islet which is a coralline sand cay (0.3 ha), which serves as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles. Steep and often perpendicular walls extending to a depth of 40-50 m characterize the seaward face of the reef.

South Reef, a small, triangular-shaped reef about 1-2 km wide, consisting, like the North Reef, of a shallow platform enclosing a sandy lagoon. South Islet, a coralline-sand cay of approximately 800 square meters (m2), is located on the southern tip of the reef, and is also used as a nesting site.


Tubbataha is exposed to both the south-west and north-east monsoons. Rough seas are experienced from July to October and from November to March during the north-east monsoon.


Four species of tree occur: Terminalia catappa, Leucaena leucocephala, Pisonia grandis and Argusia argentia. Two stands of coconut Cocos nucifera exist. Four species of grass, Melapodium divaricatum, Portulaca oleracea, Chloris inflata and Setagaria geniculata are found on both islands. In contrast, there is considerably more diversity in the marine flora, with 45 species of benthic macroalgae and extensive seagrass beds on the shallower parts of the reef and lagoon. The four dominant species are Thalassia hemprichii, Halophilia ovalis, Halodule uninervis and H. pinifolia.


caption Coral and crayfish at Tubbataha Reef. (Source: Yale University)

Forty six bird species have been recorded from the site. North Islet has a colony of brown boobies Sula leucogaster and some red-footed boobies S. sula. South Islet has a variety of birds including brown boobies, red-footed boobies, common noddy Anous stolidus, sooty tern Sterna fuscata and crested tern S. bergii. Marine turtles nest on some of the beaches, including hawksbill turtle Eretmocheyls imbricata (CR) and green turtle Chelonia mydas (EN).

A very high diversity of fish has been recorded with 379 species in at least 40 families. Sightings of black-tip shark Carcharinus melanopterus, white-tip shark Triaenovon abesus, manta rays Mobula dibolus and eagle rays are common. Tridacnid calms such as crocus calm Tridacna crosea, giant clam T. gigas (VU), scaly calm T. squamosa (LR) and horse's hoof (Bear paw) clam Hippopus hippopus (LR) are found in some parts of the lagoon. A general checklist of fish species and macroinvertebrates is given in DENR (The Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources).

Several distinct physiographic zones may be discerned on the reefs. Forty-six coral general were recorded from the area in 1983. The deeper stretches of the steep drop-off show foliose or plate-like forms of Pachyseris, Leptoseris and Montipora at 20-30 m depth. At 12-20 m depth, massive Diploastrea, Platygyra and Porites are found. The reef edge is an Acropora zone with branching Montipora, Pocillopora, Porites and some faviids, and extends to a reef slope of similar composition. The reef flats consist mainly of A. hyacinthus, Pocillopora, Millepora and some faviids. Porites 'micro atolls' and branched Porites characterise the back-reef areas. A species list is given in Pichon.

Cultural Heritage

No information.

Local Human Population

There are no permanent inhabitants on the reefs, other than during the fishing season, when fishermen from Cagayancillo and other parts of the country establish temporary shelters. A wide range of fishing activities are carried out in the Sula Sea surrounding the park, including traditional line fishing, commercial tuna trawling, spear fishing, offshore long lines and reef gleaning.

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

Tubbataha, considered to be one of the top SCUBA destinations in the country, is visited by approximately 1,500 national and international divers between March and June.

Scientific Research and Facilities

Extensive surveys were carried out in 1982 to assess the suitability of the site as a marine reserve. White studied five sites on Tubbataha in 1984; data given by Palaganas and White indicate a reduction in coral cover (mean 24% decline) and chaetotondid diversity (mean 28% decline) in the same five sites. However, recent surveys have been conducted to determine reef quality, substrate cover, fish diversity and abundance, presence of large marine fauna, and to recommend management activities. In general, these surveys revealed that the reefs have benefited from two years of protective management, with improved cover and richness of indicator species. Nevertheless, management is not preventing all destructive fishing. A general account is given in UNEP/IUCN and a bibliography is given in Palaganas and White.

Conservation Value

Tubbataha comprises a near pristine coral reef with a 100 m perpendicular wall, an almost undisturbed reef crest and reef edge, extensive lagoons with seagrass beds and coral beds, and two coral islands. It is the most biologically diverse coral reef system in the Philippines, and is of great importance for the sustenance of fisheries.

Conservation Management

A draft master plan and management program for the park was drafted in 1991, the final version being approved in June 1992. The finalized Master Plan for Tubbataha Reefs is scheduled for 31 March 1997. The principal goals for long term management are resource protection and management, survey and investigation and community development and management focusing on the municipality of Cagayancillo. Patrolling and surveillance is undertaken by the Tubbataha Foundation (TF), a non-governmental consortium. Commercial fishing, spear fishing and coral gathering is illegal under the provisions of Proclamation No. 306. Much of the damage to Tubbataha stems from the migration of subsistence fishermen from Cagayancillo, where stocks have been overexploited, as well as foreign fishing operations and large number of diving tours. According to UNESCO, individuals from the Marine Sciences Research Institute of the Philippines, the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department for the Environment and Natural Resources, and the UNESCO National Commission are implementing a project called Protection and Information and Education Campaign for the Conservation of Tubbataha Reef Marine Park. This aims to train local people to enhance their participation in active conservation of the reef, and to explore possibilities for developing community based tourism ventures under alternative livelihood ventures.

Management Constraints

Tubbataha has remained relatively pristine due to its inaccessibility and its isolation from population centers. However, up to 1991 there have been increasing disturbances from blast fishing, large scale collection of sea bird and marine turtle eggs, giant clams and other marine resources, spear fishing, collection of aquarium fish and disturbances to wildlife. This has now largely been stopped. A commercial operation to establish an extensive seaweed farming operation with up to 24,000 people located on the islands has been dismantled after being in illegal operation for six months. The protection of the reefs directly affects people from the Cagayancillo Municipality, and UNESCO reports that in the past there has been resentment amongst local people for not being included in conservation initiatives.


Two Coast Guard personnel, and a lighthouse keeper, are occasionally stationed at the lighthouse on South Islet. The park is regularly patrolled by the TF boat.


Debt swap provided US$ 25,000 in 1992, spent by TF in operation and maintenance. No funds for operation of the park have ever been allocated by the Government. Tourism generates approximately US$1,000,000 annually.

IUCN Management Category

  • II (National Park)
  • Biosphere Reserve
  • Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iii, iv

Further Reading

  • Anon (1991). Master Plan and Management Program for Tubbataha Reef Marine National Park. 18pp.
  • Arquiza, Y.D. (1990). Toll on the atoll. Far Eastern Economic Review. 15 March. Pp 32-43.
  • DENR (1992). Nomination Dossier for Tubbataha National Marine Park. Man and the Biosphere: Philippines. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Quezon City. 6pp + appendices
  • NRMC (1982) Tubbataha Reefs: a synoptic report, Natural Resources Management Center, Manila. (Unseen)
  • Palaganas, V.P. and White A.T. (1989). Philippine Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park: status, management issues and proposed plan. Unpublished report. 23pp.
  • PAWB (1991). Master Plan and Management Program for Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park. October. Draft. 18pp.
  • PAWB (1992) Profile of National parks in the Philippines. Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Quezon City. 174 pp.
  • Pichon, M. (1977). Recent studies on the reef corals of the Philippine Islands and their zoogeography. Proceedings of the Third International Coral Reef Symposium. Pp 149-154. (Unseen).
  • UNEP/IUCN (1988). Coral reefs of the world. Volume 2: Indian Ocean, Red Sea and Gulf. UNEP Regional Seas Directories and Bibliographies. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK/UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya. 389 pp.
  • UNESCO (1997) Reports on the state of conservation of properties inscribed on the wrld Heritage List. Report prepared for the Bureau of the World Heritage Committee, 21st session, Paris, 23-28 June, 1997. 30pp.
  • Wells, S. and Hanna, N. (1992). The Greenpeace Book of Coral Reefs. Cassell plc, London. Pp. 160. ISBN: 0806987952
  • White, A. (1984) Marine parks and reserves: management for Philippines, Indonesian and Malaysian coastal reef environments. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Hawai'i. Unseen.
  • White, A. and Calumpong, H. (1992). Summary field report: saving Tubbataha Reef. Earthwatch Expedition, Philippines, April-May, 1992. Unpublished. 24pp.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2010). Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156725


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