Saturday, April 6, 2013

HOPE IN REEF | Tubbataha shows sign of early healing; park chief defends smaller bill for US Navy

From InterAksyon (Apr 6): HOPE IN REEF | Tubbataha shows sign of early healing; park chief defends smaller bill for US Navy

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – Experts revealed Friday that the Tubbataha Reef has shown early signs of recovery, 10 weeks after the ill-fated grounding incident of the US Navy minesweeper vessel USS Guardian in the protected area.

In a presentation to the Protected Area Management Board, Philippine-led joint assessment team members were pleased to note that the reef has shown indications that it can naturally heal amid the 2,345.67 square meters of coral rubble the incident left in the area.

"Based on the findings of the assessment team, the reef is very healthy. The number of fish that are actually managing the growth of the algae in the area is impressive and we are very hopeful that if we allow natural regeneration to continue, theTubbataha will heal itself,” said Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, Vice Chair and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Philippines.

The experts also believe that human intervention to aid the recovery of the reef is unnecessary.

The Tubbataha Management Office expressed high hopes with the conclusions of the assessment team. “The TMO has the support of the finest coral reef scientists in the country and I think, arguably in the region. And when this scientist tell us na ayos na yan, mangyayari yon [that this is fine, then we know that is happening],” said Tubbataha Park Superintendent Angelique Songco.

Members of the Assessment Team meanwhile, said that the incident could have been worse, and lauded the US Navy for handling the incident responsibly.

"One thing we should be thankful for is that the ship was made of wood. If it were made of metal, the damage could have been three times worst. The response was great. The salvage operation was very professional. There was so much effort to avoid further damage ” said Dr. Cleto Nañola of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.

Although another series of assessment dives will be conducted, the Tubbataha Manangement Office said it will be purely for academic purposes.

"Tubbataha is the control system. It is the standard by which reefs all over the country are being judged and they want to really study how fast is the recovery of Tubbataha in this unfortunate incident,” said Tan.

US Navy to be billed P58M

Reef manager Songco said he Philippines will ask the US to pay P58 million ($1.4 million) in compensation for damage caused by the warship, based on the rate of damage per square meter provided for by law.

The concluding assessment made by Philippine agencies including the coast guard put the damaged reef area at least 2,345 square meters (25,240 square feet), just a little over half of the area earlier assessed by the US Navy, or 4,000 sq.m.

Songco said a letter requesting compensation would be sent to the US embassy next week, stressing this is the amount required by a law passed to protect the reef, a UNESCO World Heritage site in a remote area of the Sulu Sea.

Straightforward process; no overcharging

"We don't want to be dishonest. It is just a simple process: measure it correctly and then they pay. That is all. It is very straightforward," she told AFP.

Earlier estimates said as much as 4,000 square metres of the reef had been destroyed when the USS Guardian minesweeper ran aground on Tubbataha on January 17 but Songco said their studies found the damage was less than feared.

It took the salvage teams until March 29 to remove the last of the 223-foot (68-metre) USS Guardian, which had to be cut into pieces so it could be lifted clear without damaging the reef further.

The incident stirred nationalist anger with demands that the United States pay a large amount of compensation for damaging the reef, which is world renowned for its rich marine life.

But Songco said they would only ask for the required amount based on the affected area.
"I am not worried about criticism (for the small amount). We are not trying to put one over them and we hope they will do the same with us," she said.

She said the last of the salvage ships had left Tubbataha but a team of US Navy divers and a US vessel remained in the area, assessing the damage.

The United States has apologised for the mishap and said it would cooperate in addressing the damage.

The commanding officer and three crew of the USS Guardian were relieved of their duties over the grounding, the US Navy announced earlier this week.

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