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Damage to the fragile corals of the section of the Tubbataha Reef where the United States Navy minesweeper USS Guardian ran aground Thursday has worsened with two-thirds of the 68-meter long ship sitting on the protected marine area, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said late Friday.
“Kahapon 10 meters lang ng barko ang nakasadsad sa reef. Ngayon, about two-thirds of the boat ang nakasadsad sa reef...As the weather changes, the condition of the boat was also changing,” WWF Philippines president Lory Tan told GMA News Online Friday night.
Tan also said that another US Navy ship that came to the aid of the USS Guardian by offloading nearly all of the crew went in and out of the Tubbataha Protected Area without park clearance.
“What were they doing in the Sulu Sea? This is a national park. Bawal pumasok doon ng walang clearance. Hindi sila nag-apply,” he said.
WWF Philippines is a member of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB).
Tan said he learned that two more US Navy ships are on their way and that these two vessels also have no park clearance to enter the protected area as of 6:00 p.m. Friday. Protected area, heritage site
“Spanning 97,000 hectares in the central Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is one of the most biologically diverse and productive areas in the Coral Triangle, the world’s cradle of marine life,” WWF Philippines said in an article on its website.
WWF Philippines has called on the US Navy, through the US Embassy, “to coordinate directly with the government’s Tubbataha Management Office.
“The extent of damage to the reef must be determined. Furthermore, the swift, safe, and proper extrication of the vessel, should cause no further damage to the Park. This must be done without delay,” the WWF Philippines also said.
Tan did note that the Joint US Military Advisory Group had contacted Tubbataha Management Office but could not provide any answers to why the USS Guardian was at the reef.
“Neither could he explain why prior park clearance was not obtained,” Tan said.
“It will be important to improve coordination, communication with TMO and decide on the removal of all fuel, oil, hazmat and toxics very soon. The situation is evolving quickly,” Tan added.
DENR to fine US Navy for reef damage
The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) under the Environment Department on Friday said that the United States may be fined for reef damage after its Navy minesweeper, USS Guardian, ran aground in Tubbataha Reef in Palawan.
But WWF's Tan said that no amount of monetary compensation can bring the corals back as “corals take time to grow.”
In an interview with GMA News Online, PAWB director Theresa Mundita Lim said: “Depende dun sa area ng damage [kung mataas ang] concentration [ng corals] sa area. As of now, ang na-peg na value sa losses… [is] P12,000 per square meter.”
She noted that the local office of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) will have to assess the final valuation of the fines. Since a US ship was involved in the incident, the Foreign Affairs Department may also be involved in the negotiations, she added.
“As of now, bale nasa technical muna tayo bago tayo magproceed [sa fines],” she noted.
“Ang maganda dyan, may baseline information tayo sa Tubbataha so ibig sabihin mas madaling malaman kung ano talaga ‘yung nadamage,” the director said.
The Tubbataha Reef is considered as one of the best dives sites in the world having two coral atolls that harbor a wide range of marine species including 600 species of fish, 360 species of corals, 11 species of sharks, 13 species of dolphins and whales, 100 species of birds and sea turtles.
Apart from coral reef damage, the PAWB is also looking at the impact on fisheries production.
Tan said in his interview with GMA News Online that fishermen from the Negros, Palawan and Tawi-Tawi rely on the Tubbataha for the livelihood and sustenance. — Earl Victor Rosero, GMA News