MANILA, Philippines — The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is sending a team of experts to Tubbataha Reef to assess the damage wrought by the grounding of the USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, in January.
This was confirmed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Monday by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, director of the Unesco Dream Center in Manila and wife of Heherson Alvarez, head of the Climate Change Commission, an agency attached to the Office of the President.
Guidote-Alvarez said Unesco’s World Heritage Center was also organizing a “five-day meeting of marine experts aimed at strengthening conservation and management practices at Tubbataha Reef National Park.”
“The meeting will be held in Puerto Princesa City from May 20 to 24,” she said, quoting Dr. Hubert Gijzen, director of the Unesco Regional Science Board for Asia and the Pacific and Unesco representative to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste and Brunei.
Gijzen apparently responded to Heherzon Alvarez’s call for an “independent assessment” by Unesco of the damage caused by the Guardian after it got stuck on the reef for over two months.
Tubbataha Reef is located in the Sulu Sea 98 nautical miles southeast of Palawan.
Alvarez, a former senator, early this year 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.”
Tubbataha Reef, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in December 1993, is home to hundreds of species of marine life and serves as a rest area for birds and turtles, among other animals.
The US Navy vessel, which was removed in late March, damaged more than 1,500 square meters of the reef, according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
The Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), which operates the marine park, said it would be involved in the damage assessment.
The US government has announced its commitment to rehabilitate the portion of the reef that was damaged by the Guardian, but has kept its discussions with the Department of Foreign Affairs confidential. It has not discussed the matter with the TMO.
The WHC in the French capital expressed serious concern over the Guardian’s grounding, calling it 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.”
Shortly after the Guardian was cut up and removed from Tubbataha in pieces in late March, a Chinese fishing vessel got stranded in another portion of the reef in early April. That vessel, the Min Yong Lu, was floated after its illegal cargo of anteaters was removed. No mention of that stranding and the damage it caused was made by Unesco.