Believed to be the sole surviving seabird family in the Philippines, a juvenile Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) was found dead by rangers of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and World Heritage Site in Cagayancilo, Palawan.
The Tubbataha Management Office which oversees the marine park said in a statement released on Tuesday that the masked booby which is about six months old and almost ready to fly had fresh blood on its beak and no other apparent injury when it was found by one of the marine park rangers on January 21.
The rangers, which where then conducting regular patrol within the Bird Islet, noticed that an adult masked booby was “stepping on a dead bird.” They were “horrified” when they found out that the carcass belonged to the juvenile masked booby.
“Our hopes to reestablish the Masked Booby population in Tubbataha are once again dashed—a sad turn of events,” the statement read.
Park authorities are still consulting experts to help determine the cause of death of the young masked booby.
Being the only breeding pair known in the Philippines today, the TMO said the masked boobies represented “what we once lost—and what we hope to recover,” when the seabird family was spotted on an islet in Tubbataha on October 2020, after being believed to have been “locally extinct” for almost 20 years.
Park officials had been “on a roller coaster ride of joy and despair” when the “almost mythical” masked booby returned to Tubbataha in May 2016. Three years later, marine park rangers reportedly saw another seabird at the same spot.
The masked boobies, believed to be “partners,” were then seen hanging around the “plaza”—the unvegetated area in the middle of the islet. Around the second quarter of 2020, the pair of masked boobies were photographed in a mating ritual. TMO officials announced in October 2020 that the country’s lone breeding pair has started a family.
The masked boobies are usually found in tropical oceans, from the Arabian Peninsula of the Indian Ocean to the western Australian coastline up to the Carribean and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. They spend most of their adult life foraging in the open ocean.
Naturalist Dean Worcester first reported the presence of the masked boobies on the Bird Islet in Tubbataha when he observed them to be in “large colony” in 1911. Their numbers significantly declined 70 years later, or in 1981 when ornithologist Robert Kennedy found only about 150 adults at the world-renowned park, and to only about 30 recorded in 1989.
In 1995, a lone seabird was photographed in Bird Islet and the specie was declared completely gone in the Philippines by 1996.
Park rangers, who “really did their best taking care of the masked booby family”, were saddened by the untimely death of the juvenile seabird that has an expected lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
On January 23, Tubbataha marine park rangers conducted “distance and direct counts” of seabirds in South and Bird Islet to participate in the annual Asian Waterbird Census.
They were able to record seabird species including Black Noddy (Anous minutus), Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus), Great Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii), Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), and Red-footed Booby (Sula sula).
The park rangers stationed in Tubbataha conduct a year-round regular seabird surveys to determine the soundness of their conservation strategies and actions.
They also check for illegal fishing and other damaging activities to ensure that a healthy ocean for the seabirds is provided.