Hope in the middle of Sulu Sea: Tubbataha rangers win IUCN WCPA award

Iya Gozum

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Hope in the middle of Sulu Sea: Tubbataha rangers win IUCN WCPA award

RANGERS. Segundo Conales Jr., Noel Bundal, Jeffrey David, and Cresencio Caranay Jr. form the core team of the Tubbataha Management Office rangers.

Jon Andrew Cabiles

The award highlights the extraordinary work that the rangers do at the UNESCO World Heritage Site where they spend half the year away from their families

MANILA, Philippines – Four rangers from the world-famous Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park won the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)-World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) 2023 International Ranger Awards, on Wednesday, July 26.

Segundo Conales Jr., Noel Bundal, Jeffrey David, and Cresencio Caranay Jr. form the core team of Tubbataha Management Office rangers that leads rangers from the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, and Cagayancillo, Palawan.

The award aims to “highlight and felicitate the extraordinary work that rangers do in protected and conserved areas worldwide.”

“Akala namin hindi kami mapapansin ng mundo sa gitna ng Sulu Sea,” Cresencio Caranay said in a recorded video played during the awarding ceremony. (We thought no one would recognize us, isolated in the middle of the Sulu Sea.)

Their ranger station is located around 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park covers 96,828 hectares. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a sanctuary to thousands of diverse marine species, including vulnerable to critically endangered species.

This isolation has created a set routine for the rangers, assigned to go to the station for two months at a time. In total, the rangers spend half the year marooned at the station, and half the year with their families.

“‘Di maiiwasan ‘yung lungkot,” Segundo Conales told Rappler in a phone interview when asked about being away from his family for a long time. “Syempre trabaho. Nasanay na rin.” (Sadness because of separation from family is part of the job. But we’ve gotten used to it.)

UNDERWATER. Ranger Segundo Conales diving in the waters of Sulu Sea.

It’s worth it though when they see the park improve. Conales has been a ranger since 1999 when he was in his early 20s.

Aside from patrolling around the site, the rangers also count birds to determine colonies, help in coastal cleanups, and arrest offenders. Last May, they arrested fishermen from Binubuhan, Negros Occidental, who caught a giant squid in the area.

Conales said they try to be diplomatic in these interventions. The ranger surmised that this conciliatory approach even to offenders helps keep them safe.

“Kung may nahuli kami, hindi namin sinasaktan…. May kaunting paliwanag, pinapakain sa station, hinahatid pa sa Puerto [Princesa],shared Conales. (When we arrest someone, we don’t hurt them. We explain to them, we offer them food. We accompany them back to Puerto Princesa.)

What does he like most about the job? Conales said everything they do is for the future generation. There is also contentment to be found in fulfilling the work of a ranger, he said.

“[‘Yung] tuparin ‘yung trabaho bilang ranger para sa mga susunod na henerasyon,” Conales said. “Makikita mo ‘yung lugar na bumabalik na sa dati, ‘yung hindi nasira noon.” (To carry out the work for future generations; seeing the place rehabilitate and go back to what it once was.)

Clothing, Shorts, Animal
TERN. Ranger Jeffrey David at the background of a Greater crested tern (Thalasseus bergii).

The work is for the future, and the award is for Tubbataha. Conales said the IUCN WCPA award helps Tubbataha shine more on the world stage.

The life of a ranger is rigid. Because they are isolated for two months, they have to stock up on their food in advance and ration supplies when the weather is bad. They have also set up a small garden where they plant vegetables like spinach so they have extra supply.

The award comes with a cash prize of $10,000. When asked about their near-future plans, Conales said the money would go to their office to contribute to their finances and buy more solar panels for the ranger station. And hopefully, Conales said, a freezer to store food and fish.

The rangers are set to go back to the site on the first week of August.

In 2022, Masungi Georeserve rangers received the prestigious award. Masungi Georeserve is a conservation site located in Baras, Rizal. Forest rangers Kuhkan Maas and John Paul Magana, and conservation area manager Monica Inonog represented the georeserve online during the awarding ceremony. –

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.