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In order to better manage and protect the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP), a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the heart of Sulu Sea, a study on its “carrying capacity” will be conducted in May this year.
“[Buwan ng] May namin isasagawa…. ‘Yung study, darating ‘yung mga scientist from University of Guam and University of Florida, tapos [De] La Salle [Univeristy]. Tatlong doktor sila, mga marine scientists,” Park Superintendent Angelique Songco said in an exclusive interview with Palawan Daily News (PDN) last Feb. 6.
She happily shared the information that the marine scientists will do this for free.
Songco further said that local divers will be helping also in the conduct of the study, thus, approximately, 15 people will get involve in the project.
“Kailangan nilang tingnan ‘yung mga lugar na palaging dina-dive at ang mga lugar na hindi laging dina-dive. And then they have to determine, ilang breakage ng mga corals diyan, ilan ang damaged na corals, at ng lugar na ‘to, ilan din. Makikita nila [kung] ano ang deperensiya ng hindi dina-dive at ng mga dina-dive [na area],” Songco explained.
The study will last only for one week and the team will write the result of their research and publish it also this year.
“And then, tuturuan nila kami para sa susunod na mga taon, ‘yung mga tao na lang natin [sa TMO] ang gagawa, tayo-tayo na lang dito; hindi na natin kailangan ang external help. It’s really hard when you rely on external help kasi kahit na free sila, babayaran natin [halimbawa] ang pamasahe [nila], mayroon pa ring cost,” she added.
The Park Superintendent told PDN that as early as 2001, they were already talking about the carrying capacity study “but the expertise and the funds are hard to find” until the said international universities volunteered to do the research with a Filipino university counterpart.
“Sa buong mundo, naging problema na ang over tourism—whether in Spain, sa South America, sa Asia, problema na ‘yun,” Songco said.
In connection with the negative impacts ascribed to tourism, she shared her personal experience when she, together with the other staff and rangers of Tubbataha Management Office visited the Halong Bay in Vietnam, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature just like the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP).
“Ang daming tao! Unbelievable! So, ang ganda-ganda niya, pero sa dami ng tao hindi na rin [ma-enjoy ng mga bisita]. Dati nga raw, ‘pag full talaga, isang oras ang pila mo ru’n bago ka [makapapasok sa kweba],” she said.
Songco categorically said that they do not want that scenario to happen in Tubbataha and even though the Marine Park is so vast that it covers around 97,030 hectares of “No Take Area” and surrounded by a buffer zone, she assured the public that only “30 percent” has been used for tourism.
“Tapos, pagdating mo sa dive site, ang nakikita mo, puro taong divers din, di ba [nakakainis ‘yun]? So, ayaw natin ‘yun,” TMO chief said as an example of a possible scenario of overtourism in Tubbataha.
And because “Not everything is about money,” the TMO is hoping for the success of the next endeavor so that, thru science, they could appropriately balance the tourism activities and the necessary protection for Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, the so-called “Jewel of the Sulu sea”— a very crucial area of the world for it is a major source and sink of fish and coral larvae in the Sulu Sea, an important pathway and refuge for migratory birds, contains 90 percent of all coral species in the Philippines and 72 percent genera in the world and one of the few remaining intact seabird rookies in Southeast Asia.