Philippines: Marine turtles poaching alarms DENR exec

Jonathan L. Mayuga Business Mirror 18 Jul 17;

An official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on Tuesday expressed alarm over the resurgence of illegal wildlife trade in the country.

“It’s annoying and embarrassing,” said DENR Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim, referring to the recent confiscation of dead marine turtles by authorities in Palawan.

The Philippines, she noted, will be hosting an international meeting for the protection and conservation of migratory wild animals next year.

“Recently, we received numerous reports about marine turtle poaching. The Philippines is a migratory pathway of marine turtles and we have many nesting sites here,” she lamented.

Hawksbill turtles are in demand by jewelers for their scale. Green turtles are hunted for meat, while olive ridleys [also known as Pacific ridley sea turtle], which are abundant in West Philippine Sea, are also hunted for their meat, shell and internal organs.

“I will report this [illegal wildlife trade] to [Environment] Secretary [Roy A.] Cimatu. There is recent resurgence of marine turtles poaching…and other wildlife,” she said.

Lim noted the confiscation on July 6 in Dumaran town of 70 dead hawksbill turtles by elements of the Philippine National Police while patrolling the coastal waters of Palawan, the country’s so-called last ecological frontier.

Police said the confiscated hawksbill turtles came from Barangay Maytegued, Taytay, Palawan. The suspects, Rico Gonzales Jr., who owns and operate the boat transporting the confiscated marine turtles, and a certain Kim Aristotiles, his companion, were on their way to Balabac Island, where a supposed trade was supposed to happen.

Hawksbill turtles are critically endangered according to the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Republic Act 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, prohibits wildlife trade, especially wildlife that are in the brink of extinction.

Lim said the confiscation of the dead marine turtles recently only means unscrupulous traders are back in business, buying and selling marine turtles and their by-products within the country’s territory.

Lim expressed concern that unscrupulous traders are taking advantage of poor law enforcement in open seas in connivance with locals who are familiar with the areas where targeted species can be caught without being detected by authorities.

“They [wildlife traffickers] can only do that with the help of locals who earn a living by catching wildlife,” Lim said.

Last year former Enviroment Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez created the National Anti-Environmental Crime Task Force dedicated to combatting large-scale environmental crimes. With Lopez’s rejection by the Commission on Appointments, the Task Force’s designated head, former Undersecretary Arturo T. Valdez, also stepped down.

Cimatu has yet to name a replacement for Valdez.

Lim is confident that Cimatu, being a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, will know what to do to fight illegal wildlife trade.

The BMB official is scheduled to meet Cimatu to give an update of the bureau’s ongoing programs for the protection and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity.

“I hope we can touch other wildlife issues, including our recent confiscation [of turtles] in Palawan,” she said.

Wildlife trafficking is a serious issue, especially because it has become a way of life to many Filipinos, said Lim.

Lim said the BMB is compiling information on illegal wildlife trade in the country.

Rep. Josephine Y. Ramirez Sato of the Lone District of Occidental Mindoro last week called the attention of Cimatu on the issue of marine turtle poaching, citing the recovery of dead marine turtles in Palawan.

Sato said Occidental Mindoro, which belongs to the same region as Palawan, is also vulnerable to marine turtle poaching. She urged the DENR chief to take a more proactive response to illegal wildlife trade.

Lim said the Philippines remains strongly committed to the global effort to protect marine wildlife, particularly marine turtles.

Five of the seven known marine turtle species are found in almost all Philippine seas. These are green, hawksbill, olive ridley, loggerhead and leatherback turtles. Most marine turtles are in the list of threatened species of the IUCN.

The Philippines is a party to several international treaties aimed at protecting and conserving marine wildlife, such as marine turtles, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna and Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals or the Bonn Convention, an environmental treaty under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Program, which provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats.

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