What could have been an otherwise pristine and silent coral reef has been turned into an overnight sensation after a Navy minesweeper vessel by no less than the world's economic giant unceremoniously damaged the protected marine area.
On Tuesday, the Philippine government fined the U.S. Navy after it unlawfully entered the restricted Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, consequently damaging the World Heritage-listed coral reef when it ran aground in the Sulu Sea last week.
The Tubbataha Protected Area Management Board (TPAMB) said penalties of unauthorised entry to the Tubbataha Reef include a maximum penalty fine of 300,000 pesos (AU$7,000 or US$7,400) as well as one-year imprisonment. Fines for damaging the reef could reach 25,000 pesos (AU$583 or US$615) for each square metre of affected coral.
Moreover, the Philippine government could further ask fine payments between 300,000 pesos (AU$7,000 or US$7,400) and 1 million pesos (AU$23,325 or US$24,599) as "reparations" for lost income from the impact of the accident on fish density.
The USS Guardian, an American minesweeper, went aground the coral reef on Jan 17, despite radio warnings sent by park rangers in the area who are assigned to warn oncoming ships of the location to the World Heritage-listed site. Despite radio warnings, the park rangers said the ship captain of the USS Guardian told them to direct their complaints to the U.S. embassy instead. The U.S. Navy vessel continued along its route, eventually going aground against the Tubbataha Reef. It has been stuck since then.
Located in the southern province of Sulu in the Philippines' Mindanao area, Tubbataha is a 10-hectare preserved site that contains thousands of marine life and is considered one of the most beautiful corals in the world.
The world's other beautiful corals are in the accompanying slideshow.