Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines)


Ecosystems and beneficiaries

Tubbataha Reef Marine Park covers just over 130,000 ha, and is a unique example of an atoll reef with extensive lagoons and two coral islands (UNESCO, 2014). It is the only national marine park in the Philippines and is located in the bio-geographic centre of marine diversity in the world (with 441 fish species, 379 corals, 8 cetacean species as well as some globally threatened species of seabirds (UNESCO, 2014)). The site is located in a remote area without human habitation, but is a popular tourist destination (especially for diving) with visitors accessing the site on boats. In order to ensure the values of the property are maintained, tourism requires careful planning and management.

The local economy

With regard to fishing, Tubbataha is a no-take area, and the only activities allowed are tourism and research. There is some evidence that this has benefitted fish-stocks in adjacent fishing grounds (TEEBcase, 2011). The World Heritage site listing has helped the reef became a famous tourist destination and a number of boat operators directly benefit from this. For example: "The inclusion of Tubbataha Reefs as a World Heritage Site is a very positive aspect in marketing to tourists, especially foreign, mainly European and American, divers. It gives the reefs a more important status compared to other areas, it is now a must-see destination." - Alex Floro, Dive Boat Operator working in Tubbataha (UNESCO, 2014). The park has capitalized on this through the collection of entry fees from the turn of the century, some of which is shared with local communities (Subade, 2010). In order to determine the user fee a willingness-to-pay survey was conducted among divers and dive operators, which showed that the average diver was willing to pay US$ 41 per visit (Tongson and Dygico, 2004). In 2006 fee collections covered about 80% of the core park management costs (TEEBcase, 2011). External funding has also been forthcoming, with circa US$ 1 million (2013) being granted for conservation activities at the site between 2000-2003 (Subade, 2010).

Type of economic analysis undertaken

The Subade (2005) study assesses the willingness of people in the Philippines to pay towards the conservation of Tubbataha Reefs. In order to do this the contingent valuation method was used to find out how much residents in three nearby cities (Quezon City, Cebu City and Puerto Princesa) would contribute to a conservation trust fund for the park. The study followed the recommended procedures for undertaking a contingent valuation study: a) designing and pre-testing of the survey questionnaire (focus group discussions were conducted to determine what would be an acceptable payment mechanism), b) carrying out the main survey, c) estimating the willingness-to-pay, d) bid curve analysis (i.e. testing the estimation model), e) data aggregation, and f) final assessment. In such surveys it is important that respondents are made aware that payments are not hypothetical and may be collected at a future point by government agencies or other institutions (which was the case in this study). Two variants of data collection – personal interviews and self-administered surveys – were employed, and the dichotomous choice method of contingent valuation adopted (which involves presenting respondents with a value and asking them whether they would be willing to pay it or not). The total number of completed forms was 2,591.

Main findings from the study

The response rate for the self-administered questionnaires was fairly high at 79%, and 97% for the personal interview surveys. The study finds that 41% of all respondents would be willing to pay money to support conservation in the reserve. The main motives for a positive willingness to pay were: bequest value/motive (concern for future generations), existence value/motive (knowing that the Tubbataha Reefs were being well-protected), and altruistic value/motive. These are non-use values. However, a small number of respondents (between 9-14%) cited direct use values as their motivation for their "yes" to the willingness to pay question. The main reasons for non-willingness to pay found in this study were similar to other studies, namely limited income available, mistrust of the institutions managing the conservation funds, and the belief that conservation of the reef would take place anyway (without the respondent's contribution). The average willingness to pay values using the personal interviews were higher than the self-administered surveys (twice the value on average). For the household population of the three cities the aggregate willingness to pay per year (in 2002) is PHP 141-269 million (US$ 3.2-6.1 million in 2013), which is over ten times the core costs of running the park and more than required for an expanded conservation programme at the site (Subade, 2005).

General conclusions from the case study 

The Subade (2005) study provides empirical evidence on non-use values for a World Heritage site in the developing country context. This is important since there is a mistaken impression that large non-use values are likely to be associated only with developed countries. If economic valuation is to be used for more than awareness-raising, then there is a two-part process: first, measure the economic value of natural assets to an identified population, and second, find ways to appropriate the value for use in securing those natural assets. Options for capturing values (i.e. collecting money) include taxes and voluntary donations. Studies such as this for the Tubbataha Reefs can be used to make the case with a national government for the introduction of a tax, or allocation from existing tax revenues. Since World Heritage sites are global goods the non-use values will extend beyond individual countries where the World Heritage site is located. This is sometimes demonstrated by international grants. A national source of funding is generally more secure than the use of tourism fees since external events can reduce visitor numbers. A final point to note from this study is that the estimated average willingness to pay significantly differed across the sample sites in the Philippines, thereby lending caution against benefit transfers of estimates from one place to another (at least without making careful adjustments). Although the city closest to the reefs (Puerto Princesa) had the highest willingness to pay, the second closest (Cebu) had the lowest (almost half the value of Puerto Princesa), and the furthest city (Quezon) was only around 15% lower than Puerto Princesa. If attempting to demonstrate the level of financial support a national population is willing to see government commit to funding World Heritage sites, then the benefit transfer approach is unlikely to be adequate. A large-scale contingent valuation survey, such as the one conducted in the Philippines, is to be preferred, ideally covering a weighted representative sample of the national population.