RANGER STATION, TUBBATAHA REEFS – At around noon each day, eight strapping young men wait for Valerie to make her appearance. Her daily entrance, coming almost like clockwork, is what makes their day.
“That’s Valerie, sir,” Navy PO2 Jonathan Lobo says proudly as a dark shadow swims underneath the posts that hold up this ranger station. Even at some distance, her large disk-like shape, with the four flippers where arms and legs should be, is unmistakable.
Valerie is certainly no mermaid, but she is the only four-limbed female (and even the gender is an assumption, but it seemed impolite to point that out) within miles around that the men ever get to interact with.
She is, in fact, a Hawksbill sea turtle – hardly the stuff of any man’s fantasy, but then here everything else has fins, feathers, or gills.
TUBBATAHA REEFS NATIONAL MARINE PARK, Palawan — Since 1995, park rangers have relied on aging government equipment and meager funds to protect this remote atoll in the middle of the Sulu Sea from poachers and illegal fishers who have ravaged its resources.
But with the help of foreign grants and increasing tourism revenues, the country’s most favored scuba diving destination has reversed the trend. Park rangers are getting improved facilities and proper training, and Tubbataha’s marine resources have recovered significantly.
PUERTO PRINCESA SUBTERRANEAN RIVER NATIONAL PARK — The future of the Philippines may well hang on places like this — a mountain with a majestic canopy of virgin forest and a coastline fringed with towering stands of mangrove trees.
As the country reels from yet another disaster linked to large-scale deforestation and politicians search for ways to appease public outrage about logging, the most workable and sustainable solutions — involving communities in the struggle to preserve the environment — are once again being ignored.
© 1989–2018 All rights reserved. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.