Asean has named Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park as an Asean Heritage Park (AHP).
Roberto Oliva, executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity, described the park as “a piece of heaven on Earth”.
The 10 Asean environment ministers approved the nomination in October last year.
The prestigious diving destination is home to almost 80 per cent of all coral species in the Philippines and to at least half of all coral species in the world.
The AHP has 10,000 hectares of coral reef and at least 86,000 hectares of waters at the heart of the Coral Triangle, the centre of global marine biodiversity.
Tubbataha Reef was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1993.
“We hope we can serve as a role model to other marine natural parks,” the park’s protection superintendent Angelique Songco said.
Nelson Devanadera, director of the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, welcomed the recognition.
“There is a need to highlight Tubbataha not just as a diving site but as a biodiversity haven that is worth exploring for a total unique experience,” Devanadera said.
He said the declaration could help replicate the conservation practices of Tubbataha in other protected areas in the archipelago.
Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau, said the recognition was proof of the country’s rich marine biodiversity.
“This means we need to continue or even intensify protection of the TRNP. Stricter rules should be followed as to activities being undertaken near Tubbataha. Utmost care should be observed,” Lim said.
She said she hoped that more funds would now be invested in Tubbataha’s conservation.
“This just shows that our country is indeed rich in marine resources given the recognition for the TRNP at the regional level,” she said.
It is the seventh AHP in the Philippines.
Other AHPs are the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve in Laguna, Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental, Mount Iglit-Baco National Park in Mindoro and Mount Apo Natural Park in Davao, Mount Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidnon and Mount. Malindang Range Natural Park in Misamis Occidental.
In 2003, Asean environment ministers signed the Asean Declaration of Heritage Parks “in an effort to conserve areas of particular biodiversity important or exceptional uniqueness throughout the Asean member states”.