Posted on 08 June 2013
Batman has his Batcave, Darth Vader had two Death Stars and Voltes V had Camp Big Falcon. For the rangers standing vigil over the Philippines’ top coral reef, home is the Tubbataha Ranger Station -- and it's just about to undergo a radical, eco-friendly facelift (including hydroponically-grown vegetables).
Legendary heroes need great hideouts – Batman had his Batcave, Darth Vader had two Death Stars and Voltes V had Camp Big Falcon. For the dedicated Rangers standing vigil over the Philippines’ top coral reef, home is the Tubbataha Ranger Station.
But after a decade of serious weathering, can the aging offshore complex still function as a research hub and quick-reaction point for enforcement operations?
Sitting 160 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, the squat white barracks, which started as a makeshift base station built by Philippine Navy Seabees to shelter law enforcers in 1995, has since taken many forms. Today it serves as a forward operations base for up to a dozen Park Rangers – all volunteers from the Tubbataha Management Office, Philippine Navy, Coast Guard and Local Government of Cagayancillo who spend lonely two-month shifts protecting the 97,030-hectare reef from both internal and external threats.
This month, the Tubbataha Management Office and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Philippines) unveiled plans to build a brand-new Ranger Station – and the schematic jumps straight out of a science-fiction flick.
“The Ranger Station has served the country well, but we must improve it to deal with fresh threats,” explains WWF-Philippines Architect Consultant Dylan James Melgazo, who assessed the remote complex for three weeks in 2012. “Mounting poacher incursions, grounding incidents and climate change effects are inbound issues. Enhancing our capacity to protect Tubbataha makes perfect sense, as the reef provides food and livelihood for millions of Pinoys.”
Imagineered by Melgazo plus a team from the Emerging Architects Studio (EASt) composed of Kim Pullante, Dean Ramos, Don Sebastian and Marc Virtucio – the space-age structure draws on technology like solar panels, micro-wind turbines and hydroponically-grown vegetables to maximize both resource sufficiency and operational capability.
“It’s hard to resupply the station, which is why we designed it to be as self-sufficient as possible,” adds Melgazo. “Sunshades double as rainwater collection systems while wind slats provide continuous ventilation. We also included a helipad for medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) purposes. Years back, a Ranger was bitten by a Great Barracuda and had to be rushed to Puerto Princesa by speedboat.”
To be built beside the old barracks, the new station shall also feature a research building, which will house up to eight marine biologists, who have always been limited to short research trips aboard live-aboard boats. A library, visitor center and merchandise shop shall also be added to entice visitors not only to interact with the Rangers but to provide a needed mechanism for fundraising. The complex shall also feature a museum, which is vital in showcasing Tubbataha’s rich history, highlighting its burgeoning biodiversity.
Several institutions have already pledged to contribute to the station’s rebirth. Lafarge Philippines has committed to provide special Type 5 marine construction cement – specially engineered for the sea. Given its extensive experience in deepwater oil and gas operations, Shell Philippines has promised support, possibly by deploying submerged closed-circuit TV cameras to monitor what really swims beneath Tubbataha seas year-round. A long-time ally, UNESCO has promised to donate new equipment to enhance Ranger capacity to deal with threats.
“Though the USS Guardian grounding incident might have left swathes of South Atoll in shambles, it has also become a point of convergence. As we don’t yet have the funds to turn this dream into reality, TMO and WWF invite new players to take an active role in conserving one of the world’s most productive reef systems,” concludes Tubbataha Reefs Protected Area Superintendent Angelique Songco. “Your help will go a long way towards improving our Rangers’ home-away-from-home.”
A multi-awarded UNESCO World Heritage site which celebrates its 25th Anniversary as a Marine Protected Area this 2013, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park boasts of unparalleled biodiversity levels. Over 360 hard coral and 600 fish species inhabit the park, which continuously seeds the Sulu Sea with life. Salvage teams have yet to recover a stricken US Naval minesweeper which struck Tubbataha last 17 January.
View the high-res image of the new TRNP Ranger Station here