An international environment conservation group yesterday urged the US Navy to do the right thing and finance the restoration and continued protection of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park after its minesweeping vessel ran aground in the area two weeks ago.
“Like a ticking taxi meter, the passing of each minute and hour raises the stakes,” Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, vice chairman and CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines (WWF-Philippines), said in a statement, referring to efforts to repair the damage to and refloat the USS Guardian from the marine park.
“Safety must be chosen over speed,” he also warned. “Hasty efforts might do further harm to the reef.”
Tan, who is also a member of the Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board, expressed hope that the US Navy would accord the same respect it gave Hawaii when a guided missile cruiser, the USS Port Royal, ran aground near Honolulu International Airport on Feb. 5, 2009, and destroyed 890 square meters of coral reef.
As a result, the US Navy promised to pay the state of Hawaii $8.5 million for the coral reef damage and additional $6.5 million for the reef restoration, including the reattachment of 5,400 coral colonies to facilitate regrowth.
According to Tan, the total assistance given by the US Navy was $15 million, or approximately P610 million.
In comparison, he pointed out, the 68-meter-long USS Guardian, which currently sits on the northwestern portion of Tubbataha’s south atoll, has damaged an estimated 1,600 square meters of coral reef at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) world heritage site in the Sulu Sea.
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009 mandates a fine of about $300 (approximately P12,000) per square meter of damaged reef plus another $300 per square meter for rehabilitation. Initial estimates, he said, would place the minimum fine at $960,000 or P38 million.
“Clearly parallelisms between the USS Guardian and the USS Port Royal can be made. In the case of the Port Royal, the US Navy did the right thing by working cooperatively to fund the restoration and continued protection of the damaged reef,” Tan said.
“It is our hope that the same respect accorded to the people of Hawaii be given to the Philippines. For even though corals, sponges and fish shall one day return to the stricken site, the scars borne by the USS Guardian will take years to heal.”