MANILA - The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park has been officially declared an ASEAN Heritage Park.
The naming of Tubbataha as an ASEAN Heritage Park highlights the importance of the reef not just in the Philippines but in all of Southeast Asia.
There are about 37 ASEAN Heritage Parks and Tubbataha is the only underwater marine park so far.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Center for Biodiversity said Tubbataha's inclusion on the list will greatly benefit the park, as it will now have access to funding, capacity building training for staff and park rangers, and attracting tourists from ASEAN neighbors.
Angelique Songco, head of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, is happy with the new international recognition, noting that they badly need financial assistance to protect nearly 100,000 hectares of the marine park.
She said Tubbataha remains to be one of the best in the world. However, climate change and El Nino are damaging the corals.
There is also the possible grounding of ships, similar to what happened two years ago when USS Guardian and a Chinese vessel ran aground, damaging hectares of coral reefs.
READ: PH gets P87M compensation for Tubbataha damage
Pollution from cities like plastics and other garbage have also reached Tubbataha, which is home to endangered species, both fish and birds.
Efforts are now being done to further protect Tubbataha, including the construction of a new ranger station which will include a visitor center, research building and a helipad.
Aside from being an ASEAN Heritage Park, Tubbataha is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, the mountain range in Camiguin has also been included on the list of ASEAN Heritage Parks, but the official launch has not been scheduled yet.