The entire Apo Reef complex comprises of the Apo Island, which is rich in verdant mangrove vegetation and the northern and southern coral reef complex around Binangaan Islet and Cayos del Bajo. The Grand Apo Reef, also considered as Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP) lies 15 miles west of Sablayan in the Province of Occidental Mindoro. The Reef spans a total of 27,469 hectares within the Sulu Sea (this also includes 11,677 hectare protective buffer zone). ARNP is the home of an impressive and diverse array of colourful birds, mammals, reptiles, marine vertebrates and invertebrates.
Currently, there are forty six varieties of terrestrial flora, seven sea grasses and twenty six algae species. Apart from this, there is abundance of tamarind (Tamarindus indica), ipil-ipil (Laucaena glauca), agave or maguey (Agave Americana), coconut (Cocos nucifera) and malunggay (Moringa oleifera) that were introduced by the inhabitants in this region. About forty seven species of birds have been identified at the Apo Reef Natural Park, including the rare Nicobar Pigeon. The ARNP is the home of rare Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the endangered Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Risso’s Dolphins (Grampus griseus) and Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris). You will also find the rare variety of Short-Finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) along the deep channel between the Apo Island and Binangaan Island.
Shoals of fish swim around in the clear blue waters of the Reef. There are about 385 species of fishes in 85 families that include damsel fishes, wrasses, butterfly fishes, groupers, gobies, angel fishes, blennies, parrot fishes, cardinal fishes, snappers and spine checks, trigger fishes, fusiliers, siganids, squirrel fishes, jacks and trevallies. Reef sharks are mostly found at the channel whereas the other varieties such as white tip, black tip, hammerhead and gray reef sharks are found in deeper waters. Apart from this, there are various other wondrous species of starfishes, sea urchins, squirts, brittle stars, worms, sponges, snails, nudibranches, clams, rare shells, holothurians, octopus and squid.
For years effects of overfishing, destructive coral mining, lethal chemical pollution, sedimentation and climatic change had resulted in severe acidification, ocean warming and coral bleaching. In the recent times, measures have been taken by the Filipino government to protect this Natural Park.
The ARNP is strictly divided into three zones:
Strictly Protected Zone that includes the coral sanctuary and the entire Apo Island. These portions are strictly protected against all forms of destruction, mainly dynamite fishing.
Managed Reserve Zone which comprises of bird sanctuaries and turtle nesting grounds. Controlled human activities are permitted in this zone.
Multiple-use Zone that includes the recreation area (dive sites for watching fishes and reefs, photography, education and guided tours), the anchorage area and the fishing area.
The Apo Reef is one of world’s grandest treasures and the protected zones remind people the importance of protecting the natural treasures from further destruction.