Asia Dive News : 45 poachers arrested on Tubbataha reefs
Rangers guarding the Tubbataha National Marine Park arrested 45 suspected poachers from Cebu after they tried to bribe the guards deployed in the park in exchange for allowing them to illegally collect a threatened species of shell.
According to park manager Angelique Songco, the poachers proceeded directly to the ranger station upon arriving in the area Monday and tried to offer the rangers P100,000 bribe to allow them to gather samung, a protected species of shell sought for its ornamental value.
The marine park is an internationally acclaimed coral reef atoll off the island municipality of Cagayancillo, some 150 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa.
The suspects face criminal charges, including violation of an international agreement, FAO 28, which classifies samung, (sp. Trochus niloticus) as a threatened species.
Violators are meted a punishment of 12 to 20 years in prison and fines.
Characterized by a lustrous mother of pearl layering, the samung shell is used primarily for high quality buttons and ornamental materials and is bought at a high price by traders mainly based in Cebu, according to Songco.
She expressed concern over the increasing illegal incursion of samung gatherers in Tubbataha, stating that they already apprehended "over 200 samung gatherers from Cebu and northern Palawan this past year."
Tubbataha Reefs, a World Heritage site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is one of the country's major marine parks and is among the top candidates in the ongoing online search for the 7 New Wonders of the World organized by a private foundation.
Tubbataha Reefs currently ranks 5th in the ongoing global Internet voting campaign supported by the Department of Tourism and other local organizations.