Napoleon Wrasse is Apo Reef Natural Park’s flagship species

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources MIMAROPA Region, and the Protected Area Management Board of Apo Reef Natural Park have approved on May 10 a resolution declaring Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) as the park’s flagship species.

Napoleon Wrasse is one of the largest of all reef fishes and the biggest of the wrasse family, Labridae. It has thick lips and bulbous hump on the forehead. It is marked with green and blue hues with elongated dark spots on scales, and two distinct lines stretching from each eye. This species may grow up to six feet long and weighs up to 200 kilograms. Contrary to its masculine name, Napoleon Wrass is hermaphrodites, which means some females can become males once they reach sexual maturity.

The species is commonly found on steep coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region, which include areas in Southeast Asia like the Philippines’ Apo Reef Natural Park in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. As flagship species, Napoleon Wrasse shall serve as the symbol of conservation of Apo Reef. This follows the guidelines in identifying flagship species set by DENR Department Memorandum Order No. 1993-07, which take into account the species’ outstanding characteristics, occurrence, capacity to attract attention, and contribution to conservation areas.
Napoleon Wrasse, named locally as Mameng, is one of the few fishes that feed on toxic animals, such as crown-of-thorns starfish, a poisonous starfish that feeds on corals. Without Napoleon Wrasse, crown-of-thorns starfish would proliferate and devour the corals and prevent their formation.

“We consider Napoleon Wrasse as the guardian of the reef. It is a key player in maintaining balance and vibrancy of marine ecosystem in Apo Reef,” Park Area Superintendent Celso Almazan explained.

“Apart from this, Apo Reef owes its pink sand to the Napoleon Wrasse,” added Almazan.

Almazan explained that the Napoleon Wrasse feeds on mollusks, fishes, sea urchins, crustaceans, and other invertebrates; once digested, these are secreted by Napoleon Wrasse as fine, pinkish organic materials which, over a long period of time, mix with fragmented rock and mineral particles, and form as sand.

Aside from traits and ecological importance, the species’ threat status and inclusion to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), also form part of the guidelines in the selection of flagship species.
Napoleon Wrasse is listed by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Endangered based on “a population reduction of at least 50% over the last 30 years.”

The alarming drop of population rate can be attributed to illegal, unregulated, and unreported trade of Napoleon Wrasse.
Napoleon Wrasse is harvested and usually served in expensive banquets; it is also collected for aquarium business. The coral reefs, which are the preferred habitat of Napoleon Wrasse, are also under threat from the effects of human activities, such as cyanide fishing.

Because of these, the species is included in CITES Appendix II, which “lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction now but may become so in the future unless trade is closely controlled.”

“It is our mandate to conserve and protect our natural resources, especially those that are endangered like Napoleon Wrasse. There is an ecotourism management program that restricts the volume and activities of tourists to minimize the disturbance of wildlife in Apo Reef. There is also a “No Take Zone Policy” in the island and regular patrolling to ensure protection not only of Napoleon Wrasse but also of the rest of the species in Apo Reef,” Regional Director Natividad Bernardino stated.

“We envision a future where we, our children and grandchildren, and the next generations, can still see and experience the awesomeness of Napoleon Wrasse and other aquatic species in Apo Reef,” she said.

Apo Reef Natural Park was declared as a Protected Area through Presidential Proclamation No. 868 on September 6, 1996. By virtue of Section 11 of Republic Act No. 7586, the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS), a Protected Area Management Board is created to supervise the operations, protection, and conservation of a protected area. It is composed of representatives from the DENR, the local government, non-government organizations and civil society.###