Asia Dive News :
WWF Report: Protecting the turtles of the Turtle Islands
Manila, the Philippines – A fragile population of marine turtles on remote islands in Southeast Asia are being threatened by unsustainable commercial practices and a weak management system, according to a case study published by WWF-Philippines.
The Turtle Islands, comprised of nine small islands in the Sulu Sea (six within the Philippines and three under Malaysian jurisdiction), are one of two of Southeast Asia's most important breeding and nesting sites for the endangered green turtle.
The isolated islands are seeing turtle numbers decline as a result of over-exploitation. Harvesting turtle eggs is a traditional livelihood for local communities and sold on the underground markets. The eggs, long considered a delicacy and thought to have medicinal properties, are also sought out by buyers from Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Brunei.
In 2002, all turtle eggs laid on the islands, except in the protected sanctuary of Baguan, were presumably collected and sold. Unverified sources claim that outside the sanctuary, not one egg was left to hatch.
“The Turtle Islands are a classic illustration of the need to educate and mobilize local residents to effect change in the governance, as well as the need for all stakeholders to continually dialgoue in order to have a common vision for conservation and development,” said Ria Apostol, project manager for the WWF-Philippines Integrated Conservation and Development project in the Turtle Islands.
The case study also highlights WWF's work in the islands, which includes helping to facilitate local health services, education, and alternative livelihoods that were previously unprovided by the local government. The global conservation organization continues to work with communities to build awareness on the importance of natural resource conservation.
“Improvements in the quality of life for the inhabitants, heightened awareness, and mobilization of stakeholders, translate to hope for the green sea turtles,” Apostol added.
“We are optimistic that effective and participatory conservation management in the area can be realized.”
Currently, plans for phasing-out turtle egg collection is being collaboratively drafted among stakeholders, including WWF. Alternative livelihoods will be developed to wean people off their dependence on selling turtle eggs, until they eventually become self-sufficient.
In addition, Malaysian trawlers encroaching and exploiting the fisheries of Turtle Islands have been decreased significantly due to increasing pressure from the national and local governments. Unofficial sources reveal that the number of Malaysian shrimp trawlers in the area was reduced from 200 to 18.
• WWF was instrumental in the facilitation of cooperation between the Philippines and Malaysia, leading to the signing in 1996 of a bilateral agreement establishing the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA), the world's first transboundary protected area for marine turtles. The islands continue to be managed by their respective country's management authorities, but under a uniform set of guidelines developed by the Joint Management Committee, which is comprised of representatives from each of the two countries.
• The Turtle Islands lay with the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion, covering an area of around 950,000km2 throughout the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea, and the inland seas of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The ecoregion is of enormous ecological and economical importance, featuring productive ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests. Its marine biodiversity includes more than 400 species of corals, 650 species of reef fishes, unusual fishes such as the coelacanth, six of the world's eight species of marine turtles, endangered marine mammals such as the dugong, whales and many dolphins, and more than 400 species of algae.