US Navy marine biologist Lee Shannon led a team of scientists who conducted a new assessment last week on the extent of damage caused by the recent grounding of the USS Guardian.
Using aerial photography, transect tape measurement, and Global Positioning System coordinates, the team estimated damage to the reef to be approximately 2,346 square meters (25,252 square feet), which is significantly less than the previous estimate of nearly 4,100 square meters. As a result, the Philippine government has sent the Navy a bill that totals 58.4 million Philippine pesos, or nearly US $1.5 million in fines.
“Using aerial imaging, the grounding zone was originally outlined with the ship’s length as the basis for computing the total damaged area. This image was later observed to be obliquely angled, thus artificially expanding the area plotted on mapping software,” said one official in a message posted to a Philippine government website.
The fines are considered light by some and are only a small percentage of the total cost of the salvage operation which cost American tax-payers $45 million, according to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Tubbahata Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered to be the global center of marine biodiversity. Research has shown that the reef contains no less than 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, and 100 birdspecies. The reefs also serve as a nesting ground for Hawksbill and Green sea turtles.
For an update on the salvage process visit gCaptain’s USS Guardian grounding page.