By Redempto D. Anda
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines — The Philippine Navy in Palawan announced Sunday that it had recovered 140 chemically preserved marine turtles hidden and buried in the shores of a coastal village in Balabac town awaiting shipment into the turtle black market trade.
The marine turtles, all hawksbill species, were wrapped in plastic bags filled with the preservative formaldehyde and buried in the sands in Sitio (sub-village) Mansalangan, Barangay (village) Sebaring in Balabac, said Lt. Ariesh Climacosa, spokesman for the Naval Forces West (Navforwest).
Seven live turtles were also recovered in a secluded mangrove area. Authorities decided to free the turtles immediately after they were recovered at the port of Balabac, he said.
Climacosa said authorities have not yet determined who were responsible for the wildlife poaching but cited information gathered from local residents that the turtles were kept while the poachers waited for their buyer.
Also recovered from the area was a roll of turtle net locally called “pukot.”
The recovery was made on November 30 by members of the Naval Station Narciso del Rosario headed by Lt. Kiram Sadava, PN, and the Balabac police, said Climacosa.
The area where the turtles were found was the same general area in Balabac where other incidents of illegal sea turtle trade had been reported. Authorities have determined that the turtles were often gathered by locals and sold to illegal Chinese traders.
Last week, a Palawan regional trial court imposed stiff fines against nine Chinese nationals arrested for turtle poaching near Hasa Hasa Shoal in the disputed Spratlys, an area which authorities believe was a trading post where Chinese buyers and Filipino turtle suppliers often meet to conduct illegal trade.
Hawksbill turtles, so named due to their hawk-like head features, are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered and close to extinction.
Compared with other endangered species like the green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles don’t grow so big and are considered ideal sizes for wall ornaments and decors.