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BFAR team sails to Tubbataha to assess reef damage

/ 08:28 PM January 24, 2013

INTRUDER The USS Guardian, a US Navy minesweeper, is still stuck after running aground Tubbataha Reefs, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Sulu Sea, in this Jan. 17 photo released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command. AP

MANILA, Philippines–A 19-man team from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is sailing to Tubbataha Reef to closely assess the damage caused by the USS Guardian and determine what needs to be done to revive some of the “wounded” coral habitats.

BFAR assistant director Benjamin Tabios, said the agency has deployed its marine scientists and divers from the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute of the Department of Agriculture on board the patrol vessel MCS-3008 to “check more closely the damage” inflicted by the US  minesweeper on the reef.

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“They are scheduled to leave the port today (Thursday) to assess what happened. They are also tasked to find out what could be the measures to revive some wounded reefs and protect those which had survived,” Tabios, a lawyer, said on Thursday.

The BFAR official said the team may have to wait for the USS Guardian to be removed from the Tubbataha Reefs before it could fully examine the damage.

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The team would return after at least a week with a comprehensive report on the incident and the extent of damage.

He said the calculated damage, which according to the Philippine Coast Guard covered 1, 000 square meters of the Tubbataha Reef, was just a “rough estimate.”

Asked how much the country had lost from the grounding, Tabios said it would be impossible put a monetary value on the destroyed reefs.

“You can’t put a price tag on it. Yes, you would know the damage by size and shape. But you can’t estimate it in terms of peso. The reefs in there are invaluable,” Tabios said.

He noted that the ecosystems in the Tubbataha Reef, with its rich marine biodiversity, support the aquatic life across the Philippines.

He explained that fisherfolk near the reefs are assured of a good catch because pelagic fishes like “tamban” (sardine), “hasa-hasa” (mackerel), tuna and other highly migratory species feed there.

“To a certain degree, we lost part of our biodiversity bank,” Tabios said.

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He said the fines to be imposed on the US Navy could not compensate for the losses. “But this is a way to avoid any similar incident in the future,” he said.

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TAGS: atoll, coral, environment, News, reef, ship accident, Tubbataha, US Navy
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