Blue Solution: The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act and effective governance

MPA News

Editor’s note: The Blue Solutions initiative supports the exchange of successful approaches to marine and coastal conservation and development — sharing what worked where and why. Each case is authored by a practitioner and is published on the Marine and Coastal Solutions portal of the PANORAMA web platform. MPA News is drawing from these cases.

By Angelique M. Songco, Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (adapted by MPA News)

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP) Act showcases the successful management of a remote no-take reserve in the Philippines. The formulation of policies for TRNP involved multiple consultations with a cross-section of society, from village to national level. The consultative process ensured that the impacted communities and stakeholders were able to shape the contours of the law, thereby embedding fairness in rule-making and inspiring voluntary compliance.

The Tubbataha ecosystem serves as a source of larvae for coral and commercially valuable fish species that are harvested outside the park boundaries in the Sulu Sea. The park’s status as an important nursery site makes it imperative that its resources are sustained in as natural a state as possible.

Threats to the park include illegal fishing and damage to reefs by ship groundings. To protect the site, the TRNP Act features a penalty scheme that guides managers in assessing the cost of damages and applying a range of penalties.

An example of the scheme in practice: in January 2013, TRNP rangers discovered that the USS Guardian, a US Navy ship, had run aground on the reef. The 224-foot ship damaged an area of 2345 m2, and the vessel had to be removed from the reef in segments, an operation that took about 10 weeks. Based on a damage assessment conducted by the University of the Philippines, Tubbataha Management Office, and WWF-Philippines under the provisions of the TRNP Act, and applying the Act’s penalty scheme, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board issued a total fine to the US Government of 58 million Philippine Pesos (equal at the time to US$1.4 million). The violations included unauthorized entry, destruction of resources, non-payment of conservation fees for entering the park area, and obstruction of law enforcement officers.

Other Philippine provinces have since adopted the TRNP penalty scheme to charge ship owners for damaging reefs. The TRNP Act is a model for other MPAs in the Philippines on how legal instruments enable effective governance.

For more information on this case, please visit the PANORAMA web platform.