PH bid to establish Sulu marine sanctuary OK’d
A United Nations specialized agency tasked to improve safety and security of international shipping has added a layer of protection to the Tubbataha Reef with the approval of the country’s proposal to establish the 97,030-hectare marine sanctuary in the Sulu Sea as an Area to be Avoided (Atba).
The subcommittee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) authorized the proposal during its fourth session at the IMO headquarters in London from March 6 to 10, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
With the ATBA as the sole associated protective measure over the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (TRNP), ships sailing through the Sulu Sea will be guided to plot a course that will not enter the area, said the DFA.
“[This will] reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of accidental ship grounding by keeping ships well away from the TRNP and its component coral reef atolls/structures,” it said.
On its website, the Tubbataha Management Office said the Atba designation would also allow for more time to respond to incidents like ships adrift, accidental discharges and oil or chemical spills.
The approval of the Atba was a result of a decision of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee to give Tubbataha the designation in principle as a particularly sensitive sea area during its session in 2016.
The Tubbataha Reef, nestled in the center of the Sulu Sea southeast of Palawan, is located within the Coral Triangle, touted as the Earth’s underwater Amazon and is a global focus for coral biological diversity.
Currently, about 30 percent of all the vessels spotted on the Tubbataha ranger station’s radar sail within the 10-nautical mile buffer zone of the marine protected area.
“When the Atba takes effect, ships will start deviating to ensure they do not enter these boundaries,” it said.
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