Tawi-Tawi LGUs, folks intensity sea turtle conservation thrusts PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 November 2013 14:29

Community efforts to curb poaching of endangered sea turtles in Tawi-Tawi is gaining headway, backed by local Moro folks now clamoring for the immediate enactment of a bill seeking the declaration of an island in the province as protected turtle sanctuary.

Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali, in a statement, said members of the provincial maritime police unit released to the sea last weekend another set of more than a dozen sea turtles found in a boat abandoned by heavily-armed poachers after a firefight with pursuing lawmen last November 3 some five nautical miles off the neighboring Sipangkot and Sitangkai islands.

Reports reaching the regional police office in Camp Pendatun in Parang town in Maguindanao indicated that 15 green sea turtles and 19 Hawksbill turtles were recovered in the operation, promptly turned over to the provincial office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The turtles were set free by policemen, local officials and representatives from the DENR and the Bureau of Aquatic Resources on the eastern shore of Tango Island, also a component area of Tawi-Tawi.

Sahali, who is in her first term as congressional representative of Tawi-Tawi, had earlier proposed, through House Bill 2771, the declaration by Congress of the Turtle Island in the province as “protected area.”

“The aim is to effectively prevent encroachment by poachers hunting for sea turtles and gathering turtle eggs to be sold to the markets and to hasten the implementation of projects complementing the government’s sea turtle protection and conservation programs,” the lawmaker said.

The island, about a hundred miles off the provincial capital Bongao, had earned its moniker “Turtle Island” owing to its being a nesting spot for endangered sea turtles.

The proposed law, once enacted, will put the island under the direct control of the Protected Area Management Board, according to Sahali.

Mindanao peace activists and environmentalists have expressed support to Sahali’s proposal.

Oblate missionary Eliseo Mercado, Jr., director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, and Aveen Acuna-Gulo, manager of the Indigenous People’s Development Project, were among the first to call on the public to support the enactment of HB 2771.

Even Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, who has ministerial control over the ARMM’s natural resources department, said he also favors declaring Turtle Island a protected area.

Functions and powers of the DENR, except for supervision and control of protected wildlife and marine sanctuaries, have been devolved to the ARMM under its charter, Republic Act 9054.

Hundreds of adult sea turtles from the seas in South America, parts of Europe and from the Atlantic ocean flock to the Turtle Island periodically to lay eggs.

The turtles leave right away after covering their eggs with warm sand. Local folks put markers on the spot where the eggs were laid and help guard the surroundings from poachers and animal predators.

The Turtle Island is presently being guarded from poachers by policemen, soldiers and local residents.

Sahali said the provincial government of Tawi-Tawi has actively been helping protect the island too.