By Ces Oreña Drilon
MANILA - Chinese fishermen are believed to be the top poachers not only in the Philippines but in the waters of other countries. Their targets are Hawksbill sea turtles, or the pawikan.
The Hawksbill turtles are the gentlest of sea creatures.
However, the lucrative marine turtle trade has made the pawikan the most critically endangered among the 5 marine turtle species found in the Philippines.
The Philippines sits in the Coral Triangle of 6 countries, considered the richest marine area in the world.
The Coral Triangle includes the Sulawesi Sea off the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-tawi, and Palawan.
During a recent trip to Balabac's Onuk Island, ABS-CBN News saw a pawikan sanctuary just a few hundred kilometers from Hasa-hasa Shoal where Chinese poachers were intercepted.
At a just-concluded workshop on the marine turtle trade in the Coral Triangle, China was identified as the top buyer of the Hawksbill turtle.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste are also victimized by Chinese poachers.
The Philippine report at the conference mentioned Vietnamese poachers, too but their goods also end up in China.
From 2008 up to early this year, there have been 16 cases of marine turtle poaching, with only a single conviction in court.
There have been many occasions when no apprehensions were made, with the poachers abandoning their contraband to escape.
In November 2012, Chinese fishermen eluded arrest and dumped 130 sea turtles that were eventually released by the Philippine Marines in Balabac's Onuk Island.
Two turtles did not survive the ordeal. Video.