Philippines: Authorities to probe ‘shrinking’ turtle islands in Tawi-Tawi

Jonathan L. Mayuga Business Mirror 8 Oct 17;

THE Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) will look into the shrinking of islands comprising the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary (TIWS), Southeast Asia’s largest marine-turtle sanctuary, in the municipality of Turtle Islands in Tawi-Tawi province.

Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), said the “shrinking” of five islands in Tawi-Tawi needs further verification in her reaction to reports of the bureau’s conservation experts working under the Pawikan Conservation Project (PCP). The group of islands, namely, Boan, Lihiman, Langaan, Great Bakkungan, Taganak and Baguan, has a total aggregate area of 241,495.92 hectares, of which 298.27 hectares correspond to the land portions of the sanctuary, according to information provided by the Philippines to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

The smallest island, the Langaan, measures about 7 hectares, while the largest, the Taganak Island, is about 124 hectares. Taganak Island is now thickly populated, with some residents living on beaches, which used to be nesting sites of the green marine turtles.

“We need to know if this [shrinking] is caused by natural sand shifting or as a result of sea-level rise,” Lim told the BusinessMirror in a telephone interview.

Sand shifting is a natural phenomenon. Beaches change shape as influenced by tides and ocean currents. This could also lead to the shrinking or expansion of islands.

Sea-level rise, on the other hand, is predicted to occur as a result of the melting of the ice cap because of increasing global temperature. Known to nest and lay their eggs on beaches, both phenomenon can aggravate the already dwindling population of marine turtles and hasten their extinction. Based on satellite images taken in 1987, comparing it to the image captured last year, the islands’ beaches have shrunk considerably.

The Baguan Island reportedly shrank by as much as 5 hectares, said Rizza Araceli Salinas during the “Seminar on Marine Turtle Conservation Science” held at the DENR-BMB Training Center at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center in Quezon City on September 19.

Salinas expressed alarm, considering that the islands are the nesting sites of marine turtles, particularly the green marine turtles. The TIWS was proclaimed as Wildlife Sanctuary under Proclamation 171 on August 26, 1999, and identified as extremely high for biodiversity conservation, according to the Unesco web site.

“[The TIWS is] the only major nesting habitat of green sea turtles in the Philippines and the only major nesting ground in the whole Asean region and the 11th major nesting site in the world,” the web site added.

Lim said the DENR-BMB would have to coordinate and seek the help of other concerned government agencies to come up with a science-based conclusion on the shrinking of the islands.

“We have to consult experts and again capture satellite images. We will need the help of the Department of Science and Technology and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority,” Lim said.

Hunted for their meat, eggs and shells, the global population of the marine turtles is dwindling. Besides illegal wildlife trade, accidental by-catch is a serious problem. The DENR’s marine turtle conservation program was established in 1979 as part of its effort to save the species from extinction. There are five known species of marine turtles in the Philippines, foremost of which is the green marine turtle.