Press Release:

Since 2008, a Panda has been prowling the high seas of Palawan.

Painted panda black-and-white, M/Y Navorca provides a wide range of services for World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) conservation initiatives in the Sulu Sea, particularly in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and nearby island municipality of Cagayancillo.

Acquired in 2008 and refurbished through a partnership with Grieg Star, Grieg Foundation and WWF-Norway, the 18 meter long vessel now serves as the permanent home of WWF-Philippines’ ‘Oceans Seven’ team.

Modifications include improved propulsion systems to optimize fuel consumption and increase range, a brand-new fiberglass coating for the vessel’s hull and upgrades for navigational, communications and safety equipment.

“These upgrades are vital in ramping-up our research and enforcement efforts for the Sulu Sea,” explains WWF-Philippines Tubbataha Reefs Project Manager Marivel Dygico. “At the center of the Sulu Sea lie the Tubbataha Reefs, where fish biomass breaches 200-tonnes per square kilometer. This is five times greater than the productivity of a typical healthy reef and seeds the Sulu Sea with fish and invertebrate spawn. It is imperative to protect and conserve Tubbataha through regular research and patrol efforts.”

The Tubbataha Reefs is slated to celebrate its 25th year as a Marine Protected Area in 2013. Before it was declared a National Marine Park in 1988, the reef’s residents have long suffered from exploitation, with generations of fishermen gathering not just fish, but turtles and bird eggs as well.

On 21 December 2006, 30 Chinese poachers on board the F/V Hoi Wan were apprehended 1.5 nautical miles from Tubbataha Reef Natural Park’s South Atoll, a national marine protected area where entry without authorized clearance is strictly prohibited. Found aboard were over 2300 high-value fish, including live Grouper, Red Snapper and 359 legally-protected Napoleon Wrasse. WWF and the Tubbataha Management Office stand ever alert to counter future incursions.

Adds Grieg Star Senior Vice-president Ole Steinar Mjell, “Realizing the importance and urgency of conserving Tubbataha, we are impressed by the results of WWF-Philippines’ efforts. We are proud to be able to present a small contribution to their success.”

Research and Enforcement Vessel

From March to September this year, M/Y Navorca was involved in no less than ten trips – including research for seabirds, corals and fish, capped off by a month-long expedition to the proposed Tun Mustapha Marine Protected Area in Malaysia, a million-hectare wonderland of contiguous coasts, islands and deep seas at the southern border of the Philippines. Using M/Y Navorca as a mother ship, the expedition was led by scientists, staff and volunteers from University Malaysia Sabah, WWF-Malaysia and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Other expeditions include a media trip for two leading Filipino television networks plus exposure trips for partners, donors and WWF-Philippines National Ambassadors Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez.

WWF’s seaborne Panda is slated for similar trips in 2013. Surveys to be undertaken include seabird, fish, coral and COTS (crown of thorns seastar) monitoring surveys, further installation of mooring buoys plus immersive trips for WWF allies and supporters. As well as protecting Tubbataha, WWF has also conducted environmental seminars for 876 Filipino seafarer-cadets from the Norwegian Maritime Foundation of the Philippines (NMFPI).

Through the aid of Grieg Star, Grieg Foundation and WWF-Norway, the newly-upgraded vessel will once more be ready to explore and protect the mysteries of the Sulu Sea by the summer of 2013.

“Though other Philippine marine parks are in the decline, Tubbataha has proven to be an example of what a world-class marine park can be. Consider that less than 5% of Philippine coral reefs are in excellent condition and that 40 million Filipinos rely on the sea for food or livelihood. Can we really afford to lose what remains? We need all the support we can get to protect these sunken food factories,” concludes Dygico. (30)

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