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Unesco willing to assess Tubbataha reef damage


11:09 PM January 31st, 2013

By: Jerry E. Esplanada, January 31st, 2013 11:09 PM

REEFS ON THE ROCKS A diver observes a sleeping shark on a ledge at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Made up of two atolls, Tubbataha’s vertiginous walls are home to 12 species of sharks. Overfished because of the sharks’ valuable fins, Tubbataha offers one of the last guaranteed shark dives in the world. Although protected year-round by armed rangers who are stationed in two-month shifts, the reefs were defenseless against the rude intrusion of a US minesweeper three days ago when it ran aground in the Unesco-named World Heritage Site. YVETTE LEE/CONTRIBUTOR

MANILA, Philippines—The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has expressed willingness to send a team of experts to the Tubbataha Reef to assess the damage caused by the grounding of a US Navy minesweeper in the Philippine marine park  which the UN agency declared a World Heritage Site in December 1993.

The information was relayed to the Inquirer on Thursday by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, director of the Unesco Dream Center in Manila who is also the wife of Heherson Alvarez of the Climate Change Commission, an agency attached to the Office of the President.

In an e-mail, Alvarez said she had just talked with Dr. Hubert Gijzen, Unesco science bureau chief for the Asia-Pacific region, on the phone.

“They will send a team of experts for a mission to Tubbataha upon formal request by Philippine authorities,” she said.

Gijzen was apparently responding to Heherson Alvarez’ call for Unesco to conduct an “indepedent assessment” of the damage caused by the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef, located 98 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City, capital of the island-province of Palawan.

The reef is home to hundreds of species of marine life and serves as a nesting place for birds and marine turtles, among others.

The US Navy ship has damaged at least 1,000 square meters of the reef, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.

In a statement last week, Heherson Alvarez said Unesco “would be in the best position to estimate the required amount for the total recovery of the damaged reef and the amount of work and time this will involve” and that it had the resources and the expertise for that kind of work.

In a related development, the Unesco’s World Heritage Centre (WHC) in Paris has expressed serious concern over the USS Guardian’s grounding on Tubbataha Reef, which it called a “tragic incident.”

In a letter to Philippine Ambassador to France Cristina Ortega, WHC Director Kishore Rao said they were “very sorry to hear about the tragic incident.”

“We have also been informed that there might be potential damage to the World Heritage property of the Tubbataha Reef National Park, which makes us concerned,” said Rao, adding, “in light of the importance of this issue, I would be grateful if you could send us as soon as possible any relevant information about the incident and its impart on the World Heritage property.”

Rao furnished the Unesco National Commission of the Philippines and its regional office in Jakarta copies of his letter.

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