The Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act ensures an effective management of the Tubbataha reefs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hotspot of coral reef biodiversity, by strengthening the legislative mandate of its managing bodies. It provides the legal arsenal to combat illegal fishing and poaching by foreign fleets and helps to safeguard a long-term food source for local communities.
- The Act is one of the world’s best practices in marine environment conservation and continues to showcase the successful management of a remote no-take reserve.
- Its adaptive management style directly involves resource users and other relevant stakeholders in the harmonisation and formulation of legislatively intended operating rules and regulations.
- The Act develops the necessary capacities and provides for the necessary equipment to enable the management body to carry out its duties.
Republic Act No. 10067 An Act Establishing the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in the Province of Palawan as a Protected Area under the NlPAS Act (R.A. 7586) and the Strategic Environmental Plan (SEP) for Palawan Act (R.A. 7611) [in English]
The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. [in English]
- Article 12 provides that the state shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and economic zone. It reserves the use and enjoyment of such marine resources exclusively to Filipino citizens.
- Article 13 stipulates that the state’s protection shall extend to offshore fishing grounds of subsistence fishermen against foreign intrusion.
Philippine Fisheries Code (Republic Act No. 8550): Poaching is punishable with a fine of $100,000 in addition to the confiscation of the fish catch, fishing equipment and fishing vessel, and an administrative fine ranging between $50,000 and $200,000. [in English]
- Section 97 of the Fisheries Code, the fishing or taking of rare, threatened and endangered species, is punishable by imprisonment of 12 to 20 years and/or a fine of P120,000 as well as the forfeiture of the catch, and the cancellation of the fishing permit.
- Fisheries Administrative Order 208, 2001, provides guidelines for the implementation of this provision and sets forth a list of rare, threatened and endangered species.
The Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act was granted the 2012 Silver Future Policy Award on the theme of oceans and coasts. The Act displays a number of future-just aspects and key policy features to highlight include:
- The participatory formulation and communication of policies, laws, rules and regulations with regards to public consultation and outreach.
- Local-based park management and law enforcement with a high representation of trained and equipped local community members.
- The sustainable and long-term protection, preservation and promotion of the area as ensured by partnerships with private sector and government institutions.
- Promotion of the area as tourist destination in order to create general awareness as well as income through entrance fees paid by tourists.
- Financial incentives to compensate local communities for their economic losses due to no-take policies.
- An effective monitoring system to determine the environmental and socio-economic situation in the park on a yearly basis.
Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.
- The monitoring of biophysical indicators in the no-take area of Tubbataha has shown that reef health and fish biomass and densities have improved or stabilised compared to other neighbouring offshore reefs.
- Small fisheries are the main beneficiaries of higher catch in adjacent fishing grounds.
- Membership in livelihood cooperatives provides additional sources of income – the loan that members obtain serves as capital for general merchandise stores.
- The precautionary approach is specifically mentioned by Section 13 – Powers and Functions of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board, (q), of the Act:
- “Determine, based on existing scientific evidence, laws, rules and regulations, international instruments, traditional resource utilization, management modalities in the area, carrying capacity, and observing precautionary principle, the modes of utilization of the TRNP and all the resources found therein. Permits shall only be issued for such modes of utilization and enjoyment as the TPAMB and this Act shall allow.”
- Article II, Section 5 of the Act dictates that “management of zones to be established within the TRNP shall be consultative and participatory” while Section 6 states that this should “involve the concerned stakeholders by undertaking such steps as dialogue, and community and resource-use mapping.”
- For example, workshops have been held where all stakeholders agreed on user fees for the park and a sharing scheme regulating the distribution of collected fees for the park between different interest groups.
- A Freedom of Information bill was granted approval by the Senate in March 2014. ‘Freedom of Information’ is mandated in the Constitution.
- Cagayancillo municipality has been described as a model in ‘bootstrap development’ where illegal fishing has mainly been contained by strong local leadership supported by an active citizenry.
- To address overlapping mandates, a common problem in the Philippines, there are inter-agency and co-management agreements between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development to enhance coordination and harmonise efforts in the implementation of the protected area. Technical support is shared between the two agencies.
- Before the 2010 law was passed, illegal fishing by foreign vessels was more difficult to address as it was a sensitive diplomatic issue. This has since changed and more prosecutions are seen.
- Environmental Impact Assessments for oil and gas prospecting in the nearby areas of the Sulu Sea have to adhere to international guidelines as seismic surveys can have negative impacts on marine mammals in particular.
- In the short-term, extractionists such as commercial fishing operators bore the cost of the marine park as they lost access rights and political jurisdiction.
- Compliance of stakeholders with the conservation strategies was achieved by balancing costs and benefits between the stakeholders in a way that all the stakeholders were willing to accept the no-take policy.
Tubbataha Reefs National Park is a World Heritage Site, located in the centre of the Sulu Sea which covers 96,828 hectares, and contains the Philippines’ largest coral reef. It is located in the global centre of coral diversity known as the ‘coral triangle.’ It is a critical habitat for over 600 species of fish and 374 species of corals, turtles and shark, many of which are globally threatened, as well as a source of larval fish for reefs and fisheries in the Sulu Sea and beyond.
Tubbataha Reef National Park comes under the jurisdiction of the island Municipality of Cagayancillo, approximately 130km north of the reefs, in Palawan Province. Due to its remote location, the reefs have remained relatively pristine. However, since the 1980’s, there has been increasing pressure from destructive fishing techniques such as the use of cyanide and dynamite, the large scale harvesting of rare turtle eggs and unregulated tourism.
The poorer condition and lower productivity of neighbouring reefs to Tubbataha demonstrate the effectiveness of the management measures that have been initiated with local stakeholders in Cagayancillo and other municipalities. Yet there was a gap in addressing illegal fishing by foreign vessels and a lack of permanency in the local management structures.
The Tubbataha Reef National Park Act therefore strengthens existing legislation and provides for better institutions, which will improve management of the reefs, and improve the food and economic security of local fishing populations.
Section 2. Declaration of Policy:
It shall be the declared policy of the State to ensure the protection and conservation of the globally significant economic, biological, socio-cultural, educational, and scientific values of the Tubbataha Reefs into perpetuity for the enjoyment of present and future generations. These shall be pursued through sustainable and participatory management, taking into consideration all applicable laws and international conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory.
Section 7. Zoning:
A Zoning Plan shall be established within the TRNP giving primary consideration to the protection and conservation of all life forms […].
Additional aims of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act include:
- Providing more permanent management structures, fiscal autonomy, and steeper penalties for violations of Park rules.
- Carrying out comprehensive and holistic promotion, training and information campaign programmes for the benefit of the general public.
- Encouraging the participation of the private sector and the local government units in the protection, reservation and promotion of the Tubbataha reefs.
The decentralised, multi-stakeholder management of the marine park, which involves municipal and Barangay government, NGOs and local management bodies, has been highly praised. The implementation method is highlighted in the Act, in Section 6:
The management and administration of the TRNP shall be vested with the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB), as herein provided. Management of zones to be established within the TRNP shall be consultative and participatory.
The success of the Act in rehabilitating the Tubbataha Reef led to an increase of sustainable tourism in the area. Tourism is important to help finance the Park but visiting is highly regulated to protect the reefs
As a result of the management of Tubbataha, socio-economic indicators such as lot and house ownership, quality of construction materials and household utilities, electricity access and toilet ownership, have all shown an increase in living standards.
Overall, the Tubbataha reefs are in a far better condition and more productive than reefs in the same sea, but outside, the National Park. The results of implementing the Act have shown positive improvements, thanks to the site being closed to fishing.
Recent developments include declaration of the Reef as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) by the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and as an area to be avoided (ATBA) by maritime traffic in 2017.
Furthermore, a study on the development of biodiversity of the Tubbataha reefs of elasmobranch species published in 2019 found that the number of species had increased in recent years and that the natural park is a global hotspot for reef sharks. The study underlines the importance the importance of large, well-managed MPAs such as the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park for the development and protection of marine biodiversity. For more information see: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2287884X18301596
- As Tubbataha Reef National Park is a UNESCO-World Heritage Site, this statute provides credence for other protected areas in other countries to use the Tubbataha Reef National Park Act as a reference in setting a standard or crafting a legal instrument for effective governance.
- Tubbataha offers such proof that systems can be set up in a way that is both feasible and practical for a particular protected area, regardless of location, budget, accessibility and available expertise. The Act proves that sustainable tourism is beneficial for protecting the natural beauty of the area and as a source of income to maintain it.
Tongson, Edgardo and Raoul Cola. 2007. Negotiating Stakeholder Agreements for Conservation: The Case of Tubbataha Reefs, Philippines. Science Diliman (January-June 2007) 19:1, 47-63.
Anda, R.D. and Dalabajan, D.A. (eds.). 2009. Against the Tide: Enforcement and Governance in the Sulu Sulawesi Seas. Puerto Princesa City. Environmental Legal Assistance Center, p.44.
Anna Oposa, WFC Councillor (Philippines)
"The ocean supports life on earth - it's the source of our seafood, of many jobs, and the oxygen that we breathe. The ocean needs to be protected with a sense of urgency because it makes sense to do so. There are already several outstanding initiatives all over the world, such as policies and conservation programs. These working models give us no excuse to continue with what I like to call global whining, which means complaining about circumstances around us without doing anything to be part of the solution."