PCG, Navy step up Tubbataha patrols
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As the diving season at the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park begins, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Philippine Navy (PN) have intensified their monitoring in the area to ensure that marine resources would be free from abuse and theft.

PCG Palawan District commander Commodore George Ursabia yesterday said that they have been alternately sending a patrol ship with the PN since the start of the diving season last March 11. The diving season lasts until mid-June.

Ursabia explained that before the diving season they would only send random patrol boats to the Tubbataha Reefs, which covers 97,030 hectares in Cagayancillo, Palawan and is the largest marine protected area in the country.

“We have made an arrangement with the Western Command (WESCOM), specifically the Navy, to deploy patrol boats there. The PN and PCG would do alternate patrolling and change teams every week,” he said, adding that they are anticipating an influx of foreign and local tourist divers.

He said there is no need to send two rubber boat teams even if the park covers a wide area, as the PCG could simply communicate and coordinate with the ranger station via radio.

Manning the ranger station are personnel from the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), PN and the PCG.

He also noted that nothing would obstruct the view of the patrol team and they could easily see the other side of the reef.

Diving tours

The PCG official said those joining diving tours to Tubbataha would often stay for five days at the reef.

Divers and accredited operators would need to first seek a diving permit from the TMO in Puerto Princesa. Their names would then be forwarded to the ranger station.

The group would leave Puerto Princesa at nighttime and arrive the following morning. The average travel time is eight hours.

Upon arrival, the group would have to pay a courtesy call on the ranger station to validate their identities. Only after a go signal from the ranger station would they be allowed to dive.

“The TMO will also emphasize to the divers that they cannot touch the sea creatures and they are not allowed to harvest. They cannot take anything, except pictures. The beauty that they see is for their eyes only. If you dive there, use only your eyes to appreciate the beauty underwater,” Ursabia said.

He said most tourists prefer to swim and dive freely and being accompanied by a PCG member seems confining.

“The sea marshal concept was tried before, but this was not appreciated by the guests. They feel uncomfortable having a PCG or Navy officer on board their boat,” he said.

“One of the reasons why foreigners patronize Tubbataha is because they want to experience freedom, knowing that no one is hovering over them. They like the feeling that they are escaping to paradise,” he added.

For these reasons, patrol officers would only check on diving groups at different times of the day, Ursabia said.

Before leaving, the group would also need to pass by the ranger station at the reef and declare that they are departing from the area.

 

COMMODORE GEORGE URSABIA DIVING PALAWAN DISTRICT PCG PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD PHILIPPINE NAVY PUERTO PRINCESA TUBBATAHA TUBBATAHA MANAGEMENT OFFICE URSABIA
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