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Location Philippines, Region IVa
Central coordinates 119o 55.00' East  8o 50.00' North
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4ii
Area 33,200 ha
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Haribon Foundation

Site description Tubbataha Reef is located in the middle of the Central Sulu Sea, c. 98 nautical miles south-east of Puerto Princesa. It is composed of two large shallow reef platforms enclosing a sandy lagoon. On the seaward portions of the reef platform are steep, often perpendicular reef walls extending to c. 50 feet. Most of park area is submerged, with only a few permanent emergent sandy islands. The two atolls are named the North and South Reefs or Islets. The former is a large, oblong-shaped continuous reef platform about 4-5 km wide and completely encloses a sandy lagoon. The reef flat is shallow and emergent in some places at extreme low tide. The most prominent feature in this reef is the North Islet or North Rock, which is a 1.5-2.0 ha wide flat coraline-sand cay which serves as the nesting site of seabirds and marine turtles. Steep and often perpendicular walls extending to a depth of c. 40 m characterise the seaward face of the reef. The South Reef is a small triangular-shaped reef about 1-2 km wide. Like North Reef it consists of a shallow platform enclosing a sandy lagoon. On the southern tip of this reef is a 2-3 ha coraline-sand island, the South Islet, which has a lighthouse. This islet is a rookery site for birds and turtles. There are no permanent inhabitants except during fishing seasons, when fishermen from other parts of the Philippines establish temporary shelters in the area. Activities include traditional hook and line, commercial trawling for tuna, spearfishing, offshore long lines, aquarium fish collection and general reef gleaning near-shore. This is one of the top Scuba diving destinations in the country, visited by many local and foreign divers. Snorkelling is possible in shallow portions of the reef, and it is fast becoming a popular sport fishing area.

Key Biodiversity The North Islet and South Islet have mixed colonies of boobies and terns. A survey in 1991 indicated that a major decline in numbers of most of the breeding species has occurred since a survey in 1981, probably as a result of disturbance by fishermen. Small numbers of the threatened Chinese Egret have been recorded on passage.

Non-bird biodiversity: The threatened sperm whale Physeter catodon has been seen off Tubbataha Reef.. Marine Turtles, including Green Sea-turtle Chelonia mydas and Hawksbill Turtle Erethmochelys imbricata, nest on many beaches on North and South Islets. There is a diverse coral assemblage with c.46 coral genera in the area. A very high diversity of fish has been recorded, including at least 40 families.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes non-breeding  2001  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster breeding  2001  present  A4ii  Least Concern 
Greater Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii breeding  2001  present  A4i  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2001 high not assessed not assessed
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Biological resource use fishing & harvesting aquatic resources - unintentional effects: large scale happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Biological resource use hunting & collecting terrestrial animals - intentional use (species being assessed is the target) happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park 33,200 is identical to site 33,200  
Tubbataha Reefs Marine Park World Heritage Site 96,828 is identical to site 33,200  
Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 33,200 is identical to site 33,200  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Coastline   -

Protection status Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park was declared by Proc. No. 306 on 11 August 1988. It was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in early 1994. This is a Ramsar site.

References Heegaard and Jensen (1992); Manamtam (1996); Scott (1989).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016

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