MANILA, Philippines—An official of the Climate Change Commission on Saturday asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) to assess the damage wrought on the Tubbataha Reefs by the USS Guardian which ran aground on the World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea.
Commissioner Heherson Alvarez also warned the Philippine government against accepting payment for the damage on a square meter basis, calling the fine a measly sum compared to the damage done to the coral reefs.
“It is far too simplistic to fine the US Navy on the basis of P12,000 per square meter or a measly sum of P12 million for some 1,000 square meters of damaged corals, as proposed by some quarters, because the reef is not a fallow or dormant plot of land in the seabed,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez proposed that Unesco be formally invited by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which has jurisdiction over the marine park, to independently assess the damage, help determine a fair amount of investment required to rehabilitate and allow the reef to recover over a given period of time.
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, he said.
Alvarez, a former chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and DENR secretary, further said that Unesco, which declared the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park a World Heritage Site in 1993, had the resources and expertise to make a scientific assessment which should be the basis for fining the US Navy.
Pointing out that a coral reef is a living, growing ecosystem of marine bio-diversity, Alvarez stressed that it is also a barrier that protects coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms.
“The creation of the Tubbataha marine park was a recognition that fishing is historically important to our culture and economy. While the park aims at conservation, it also provides an anchor for the fishing industry in southern Philippines as a spawning ground, promotes tourism, and addresses mounting environmental threats,” Alvarez said.
He said it was time for the Philippines to reexamine the governance of shipping and sea lanes through the Tubbataha Reef with the goal of imposing high deterrence fees for sailing through these waters in cases of violations or accidents.
Alvarez noted that in October 2005 the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, ran aground on Tubbataha Reef, damaging approximately 100 square meters. Greenpeace paid a fine of about $7,000.