The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) said the poaching and illegal trading of the endangered green sea turtles (pawikan) and other “critically endangered” species in the province is “alarming.”
“Something needs to be done to curb this because we are losing them fast; we do not want to wake up one day with no more of them in our ocean,” PCSDS spokesperson Alex Marcaida said in an interview with Philippine News Agency (PNA).
Marcaida’s statement came in wake of the interception of 11 Chinese and five Filipino fishermen within the vicinity of Hasa-Hasa or Half Moon Shoal on Tuesday, suspected to be making a trade for caught green sea turtles from Balabac island town at the southernmost tip of Palawan.
He said they are not only worried about the sustainable protection, conservation and preservation of the green sea turtles, but also other reptiles of the order Cheloniidae that are found in Palawan like the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
“Almost 70 percent to 80 percent of our wildlife protection and conservation operations in the Balabac area involved the poaching and illegal trading of the green sea turtles, and this is alarming because the numbers being collected are great,” Marcaida disclosed to the PNA.
He said what is even alarming is that it is the Filipino fishermen that are now catching the endangered green sea turtles to make a trade with foreign fishermen, such as the Chinese.
“Some foreign fishermen wittingly enjoin unscrupulous Filipino fishermen to catch them and then make a trade. We suspect that they are making a trade in Half Moon Shoal; like they have made it a store for green sea turtles in the sea,” he said.
Since the location of the shoal is in the open sea, Marcaida believes it is easier for foreign fishermen to escape to nearby country of Malaysia, where they can no longer be chased due to border laws.
“If they see Filipino soldiers patrolling at sea, they can easily escape to the nearest country, which is Malaysia because it’s near Half Moon,” Marcaida added.
The alarming rate at which the green sea turtles and other marine turtle species are being poached and illegally traded, Marcaida claimed, was the subject of the PCSDS’ recent meeting with Western Command (Wescom) commanding chief Gen. Roy Devaraturda.
On May 7, he said the military general met with PCSDS staff to discuss what can be done to further increase concerted efforts to protect the marine turtle species, and how the Wescom can also expand its participation.
“We had initial discussions on how we can increase our joint efforts to protect the endangered and critically endangered turtles, and we have agreed to widen our information, education and communications campaign about their protection,” said Marcaida.
This means that the support of barangay officials, particularly in Balabac, will be enjoined to prevent the possibility of losing the green sea turtles.
“Community support is very, very important in efforts to make this species of marine turtle survive. We cannot discount them, we need to make them see the value of why there is a need to protect these marine turtles,” he added.
He added that the Wescom might be able to help by providing logistical support since one operation can cause environment authorities outside the military at least P 20,000 or more in gas and fuel, which is difficult.
“We’re in the process of mapping out how to address this problem with the help of government agencies, like Wescom. General Deveraturda is very cooperative, and we appreciate this,” he said.
Before the arrest of the 11 Sino fishers with over 300 live and dead green marine turtles, on April 30, environment authorities in Palawan recovered 53 species of the same species held in water pens in Sitio Silom-Silom, Barangay Catagupan also in Balabac.