Pact forged to protect marine turtles

- Benny G. Enriquez () - June 8, 2008 - 12:00am

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the local government of Bataan and executives of Montemar Beach Club, Inc. (MBCI) have forged an agreement to intensify the protection and conservation of the endangered marine turtles to avert the decline in population due to hunting and destruction of their natural habitat.

The three parties agreed to promote the protection of marine turtles and the rehabilitation of their degraded habitats in Bataan by increasing community awareness and participation in turtle rescue efforts, said Regidor De Leon, regional executive director of DENR in Central Luzon.

“The marine turtle is the oldest living reptile whose very existence is now threatened by poaching and destruction of its habitat. It is important that the DENR forge creative partnerships with local governments, private sectors and other stakeholders to protect and conserve what few remains of these gentle creatures that visit our beaches,” De Leon said. According to De Leon, marine turtles, locally known as pawikan, have been around for 250 million years but are now facing extinction due to overhunting and destruction of their natural habitats due to destructive fishing and marine pollution.

Of the seven species of marine turtles considered to be endangered, five species nest here in the Philippines, namely olive ridley, green turtle, hawksbill, logger head and leather back turtles, he added.

Bagac town Mayor Armando Ramos vowed to support the protection and conservation of marine turtles, saying the local government shall identify alternative livelihood activities among local communities in coastal areas to discourage them from poaching turtle eggs and hunting marine turtles for meat.

Victoria Gonzales, president of MBCI, expressed concern that egg poaching along the coastal areas of Bagac has become rampant because of the growing demand for turtle eggs which local people believe to have medicinal properties and are considered a delicacy. A single turtle egg fetches P8 to P10 in the local markets, she said. MBCI envisions the beaches of Bagac to be a marine turtle sanctuary in Central Luzon. She said her company has consequently established a marine turtle hatchery along the beaches of Montemar and mobilized community residents in marine turtle rescue efforts since 2004.

Apart from waging a massive public information and education campaign among coastal residents, MBCI has returned to sea more than 5,000 olive ridley turtles, scientific name Lepidochelys olivacea, since embarking on a pawikan conservation project more than two years ago.

“We are set to release another 2,000 olive ridley turtles this month,” Gonzales added saying two adult turtles have also been tagged to help DENR and marine biologists keep track of these creatures.

According to Rogelio Trinidad, regional technical director for Protected Areas, Wildlife, Coastal Zones and Marine Services (PAWCZMS), a marine turtle can lay an average of 100 eggs in a single clutch starting from the months of August to December, but only one out of 100 hatchlings usually makes it to maturity. He noted that the coastal areas of Bagac and Morong in Bataan and San Antonio in Zambales are found to be the preferred nesting grounds of marine turtles here in Central Luzon.

Marine turtles reach maturity in about 20-30 years, at which time they return to the beaches where they once crawled out as hatchlings to lay their own eggs. Hatchlings usually register the magnetic fields of the sand where they were hatched to allow them to go back, but the conversion of these coastal areas into residential estates and resorts disorient marine turtles and have caused a marked decline in the number of marine turtles returning to nest.

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