Modern ranger station to be built with new P40M grant

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY -- In two years, the remote Tubbataha Reefs in Palawan is expected to have a new state-of-the-art ranger station after the government's Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) provided a P40-million grant for the project Sunday.

During the celebration marking the marine park's 25th anniversary, TIEZA chief Mark Lapid signed the grant agreement and handed over a symbolic check to the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board and WWF-Philippines head Lory Tan, one of the TPAMB members.

The new station, which will commence construction in October, will greatly increase the capacity of the rangers to protect Tubbataha, a World Heritage Site in the middle of the Sulu Sea that has suffered significant destruction from two grounding incidents this year.

The most controversial damage came from a US Navy minesweeper that had to be dismantled on site after it rammed into the reef last January.

Designed by WWF-Philippines consultant Dylan James Melgazo, the new station is envisioned to have three interconnected structures: the command center that will house the rangers, a research building, and a helipad.

Tan said they have raised the project cost of P50 million for the project, which will replace the aging, rickety shelter that the park's rangers have been using year-round to protect Tubbataha from intruders.

He said they expect the new ranger station to start operations in 2015.

"We have been asked by the Coast Guard if they can use the same design and we said, yes please do," said Tan, adding that it may also be freely utilized in other tourist attractions in the country.

The proposed design for the new ranger station for Tubbataha Reef National Park is the result of a collaboration between Dylan Melgazo and Emerging Architects Studio. WWF/EASt

The hexagon-shaped main center features a glass dome that will provide the rangers with a 360-degree view of the park, and overhanging troughs to collect rainwater. It will also house a visitor center, a mini-museum, and stepladder planters for growing vegetables.

Solar panels and micro wind turbines will be used to generate renewable energy for the station, which is located 150 kilometers from Palawan's capital city of Puerto Princesa, the nearest urban center. Meanwhile, the TIEZA chief pledged to provide more funds for the station if needed. He added that the agency will also assist infrastructure development in other tourism attractions in the province, such as the Long Beach in San Vicente town facing the West Philippine Sea.

"We will support Palawan, not only Tubbataha but the whole of Palawan," Lapid said.

(L-R) Lory Tan of WWF-Philippines, DENR Region IV-B Executive Director Edgardo Galeon, Palawan 1st District Rep. Franz Josep George Alvarez, and TIEZA's Mark Lapid. Photo courtesy of Tubbataha Management Office

TIEZA, the repository of travel taxes collected from Filipino tourists traveling abroad, is mandated to use the funds for tourism infrastructure projects in the country.

Celebrating 25 Years of Conservation

On 11 August 2013, the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) celebrated 25 years of marine conservation for Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. With support from Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc., several events took place to celebrate the conservation of Tubbataha Reefs and to inspire the public to support the continued protection of Tubbataha, our common heritage:

Tubbataha 25: Photo Exhibit

The celebration began with the opening of a photo exhibition about Tubbataha, held on 5 August at Robinsons Place, Palawan. Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez, both World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) - Philippines National Ambassadors, shared their personal experiences of Tubbataha and encouraged the public to continue the protection of what they call “the pride of Palawenos”. The exhibition features 32 winning images of Tubbataha from the photographic contest held in December 2012. The exhibition runs until 12 August.

Ocean Art Trash Competition

A 3D mixed media art competition called “Ocean Trash Art” took place from 3 to 9 August 2013.

The artwork called “Earth Without Mother” by Artistiko topped the other eight entries and bagged the PhP20, 000.00 cash prize. Two artworks from the Palawan National School, the “Pawikan” and “Kabayong-Dagat” won the second and third place, and took home PhP15,000 and PhP10,000 respectively.

The competition aimed to bring public attention to the proliferation of marine debris and its devastating effects on the ocean, especially on our dwindling wildlife population.

Riding the waves of change: Youth Congress

On 11 August, the youth leaders from all over Palawan and the secondary school students in Puerto Princesa City gathered in a youth congress held at the Cory Aquino Park Square in the Capitol Grounds.

The youth congress, titled “Riding the Waves of Change”, aimed to inspire young people to take action to protect the marine environment by sharing the Tubbataha conservation story and to bring awareness and encourage debate over marine environmental issues.

Tubbataha Management Office WWF-Philippines President Lory Tan and ABS-CBN reporter Atom Araullo gave talks on the current state of our oceans and the role of the youth ocean conservation, respectively. Mr. Araullo also focused on the outstanding natural value of Tubbataha. Mr. Paolo Gavino, Communications Manager of the Shell Philippines Exploration, delivered a keynote speech.

Tubbataha 25: A Tribute

A tribute night followed the youth congress at the same venue to celebrate the dedication and commitment of the people who pioneered the cause of Tubbataha and those who safeguard it for us today. Eight individuals and four agencies were awarded a plaque of appreciation by the TPAMB Co-Chairs Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, represented by First District Congressman Franz Josep George Alvarez, and the Regional Executive Director Edgardo Galeon of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region IV-B.

Another highlight of the night was the expression of support from the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprises Authority Zone (TIEZA), a government corporation whose mandate is to develop, manage, and supervise tourism infrastructure projects in the country. Mr. Mark Lapid, TIEZA’s Chief Operating Officer awarded a PhP40 million peso grant for the construction of a new Ranger Station in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.

Tubbataha was declared as a national marine park on 11 August 1988 and this year marks the 25th year of its establishment by President Corazon Aquino. In 2012, Tubbataha was ranked among the world’s best dive sites by CNN’s travel website and was also recognized by international marine scientists as a model for conservation in the Coral Triangle Region.

GMA News Online managing editor receives award as champion of Tubbataha

GMA News Online's managing editor Yasmin Arquiza received on Sunday an award as one of the champions of Tubbataha Reef for being among the first journalists to write about the problems facing the now-famous marine park.

In the 1990s, when Arquiza began reporting on Tubbataha, it was known mostly to divers and scientists who recognized its natural beauty and ecological value to global fisheries.

Arquiza was then a former reporter with the Associated Press who had relocated to Palawan to focus on environmental journalism.

In a series of investigative reports for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Arquiza exposed the controversy involving a large-scale seaweed project in the park. Her reports led to the dismantling of the structures being constructed on the reef.

She and several others were recognized during the 25th anniversary celebration of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

The anniversary marks the establishment of the Tubbataha as a national marine park by President Corazon Aquino in August 1988.

The 25th anniversary of the marine park comes at a trying time for the reef. The Tubbataha Reef Natural Park lost 6,247 square meters of reef from back-to-back groundings by a United States warship and a Chinese fishing vessel in January and April this year, respectively.

In 1994, Arquiza collaborated with marine scientist Alan White and published the first edition of the book “Tales from Tubbataha, Natural history, Resource Use and Conservation of the Tubbataha Reefs, Palawan, Philippines.”

From 1999 to 2006, Arquiza served as an executive committee member representing the Palawan-based environmental group Saguda on the Protected Area Management Board for Tubbataha.

She also ran the Bandillo ng Palawan community newspaper, which published numerous stories about Tubbataha and other environmental issues in the province, from 1993 to 2006. The paper, which was based in Puerto Princesa City, is a Hall of Fame awardee for science and environmental reporting in the Philippine Press Institute's annual Community Press awards.

In her acceptance speech on Sunday, Arquiza commended the staff of the Tubbataha Management Office and the park rangers who have been "fighting so many threats, from illegal fishers to foreign poachers and even the mighty US Navy, just to protect Tubbataha."

She also paid tribute to courageous Palawan broadcasters Dong Batul and Gerry Ortega, who were murdered in recent years because of their advocacy against corruption and environmental destruction.

"Like them, let us continue to fight apathy with awareness. Let us fight ignorance with education. Let us fight greed with good governance," Arquiza said.

(L-R) Environmentalist Bebot Santa Cruz, a representative for ex-Gov. Salvador Socrates' son Dennis Socrates, author Yasmin Arquiza, Tubbataha park superintendent Angelique Songco, ex-board member Sammy Umandap, and ex-Vice Gov. Arthur Ventura. Photo courtesy of Tubbataha Management Office

Among the other honorees during Sunday's program were diver and environmentalist Ernesto "Bebot" Santa Cruz, who was acknowledged as the "Father of Tubbataha." His letter of concern to government officials about illegal fishing and other threats in Tubbataha had prompted then-President Corazon Aquino to declare the remote coral atolls in the Sulu Sea as a national marine park.

Also recognized as a Tubbataha champion was former Palawan vice governor Arthur Ventura, who made use of the letter from Santa Cruz as the basis of a provincial board resolution requesting the national government to declare Tubbataha as a marine park. In his speech, Ventura recalled that Mrs. Aquino's son, now President Benigno Aquino III, was at his resort in 1988 and he had asked him to submit the resolution to President Cory.

Former Palawan provincial board member Sammy Umandap was also recognized for initiating an investigation into the railroading of the local government permit that allowed a potentially destructive seaweed farm to operate in the park in the early 1990s.

Former Palawan Governor Salvador Socrates, who was killed in a plane crash in Cagayancillo in 2000, was given a posthumous award for supporting the creation of the Tubbataha PAMB, which crafts park policies until today. The award was given to his son, newly elected Vice Gov. Dennis Socrates.

The Tubbataha management also gave plaques of appreciation to the Naval Forces West, the Coast Guard, and long-time park rangers for taking turns in protecting the park since then-President Fidel Ramos established a permanent station on the reefs in the mid-1990s.

Aside from the awarding of Tubbataha's champions, a youth congress on reef conservation was also held at the Cory Aquino Park Square to commemorate the anniversary.

Tubbataha 25: Photo Exhibit

Rovilson Fernandez (left) and Marc Nelson, both WWF-Philippines National Ambassadors, are assisted by Tubbataha Superintendent, Angelique Songco and Pilipinas Shell Foundation Program Manager, Marvi Trudeau in ribbon cutting during the 5 August 2013 exhibit at the Robinson’s Place, Puerto Princesa. (Photo by Giga Songco)

A photo exhibition to commemorate the 25th year of the establishment of Tubbataha as a marine protected area was held at the Robinson’s Place Activity Center yesterday. WWF-Philippines, a long-standing partner in the conservation of Tubbataha sponsored the event. The exhibit will remain at the Activity Center until 9 August 2013, after which it will be relocated to the Robinsons’ expansion area where it will stay until 12 August. The exhibition is composed 32 images of Tubbataha depicting the various wildlife that inhabit the marine park. These were captured by various photographers who won a contest sponsored by WWF-Philippines in December 2012 and will be used for future educational activities of the Tubbataha Management Office. Gracing the occasion were Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez, both national ambassadors of WWF-Philippines, who talked about their experience diving in Tubbataha and of the importance of protecting what they say should be ‘the pride of every Palaweño.’ Mr. Gregg Yan, communications officer of WWF-Philippines showed a snippet of the life of marine park rangers in Tubbataha and explained why it is necessary to construct a new station.

Five architect’s rendition of the planned ranger station is included in the exhibit. The futuristic ranger station was ‘imagineered’ by Dylan Melgazo and associates and is a great improvement from the current ranger station that now houses the different law enforcement teams for two months year-round. The new station will include a research hub and a helicopter pad.

Tubbataha was declared as a national marine park on 11 August 1988 and this year marks the 25th year of its establishment by President Corazon Aquino. A youth congress, aimed at preparing the youth to carry the torch of marine conservation into the future, will be held at 2pm on 11 August at the Cory Aquino Park Square of the Provincial Capitol. A Tribute to the architects of Tubbataha’s protection will be held on the night of 11 August at the same venue, followed by a concert by Brian Termulo. Both events are sponsored by Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. The invitation is open to all.