Education helping save turtles in Sablayan
Education seems to be the key in ensuring the protection of sea turtles in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro as authorities are seeing results in the government-led educational campaign against the poaching, selling, and buying of sea turtles in the town and province.
Forester Alvin Sanico, chief of the Conservation and Development Section of the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the town, said the information campaign they have initiated have earned the support of locals and reduced illegal activities that endanger sea turtles.
“Hindi po kasi pwede na ‘pag may gusto ka dapat i-impose mo agad. Kailangan unti-unti kaya po mas pinagtutuunan namin ng pansin ang pag-e-educate sa mga tao,” he said.
The information campaign, which focuses on the Do’s and Don’ts of handling marine sea turtles, continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is guided by Biodiversity Management Bureau Technical Bulletin No. 2020-05 (BMB-TB #2020-05) or the guidelines on the protection of marine turtle nesting habitats. It aims, primarily, at educating barangay officials on the protection of hatching and nesting species.
Sanico said they decided to focus on capacitating fisherfolk and other individuals concerned because identifying those who poach, buy, and sell turtle eggs has been difficult. By extension, penalizing them has also been challenging.
“We do some informal interview among households along the sites where the sightings of marine sea turtles are present; through this, we learn that there are still poaching, buying and selling of turtle eggs,” Sanico said.
He said the major threat to local turtles is that of consumption and this practice has been passed on from generation to generation.
But incidents of these illegal activities have reportedly been fewer with more locals being aware of the importance of protecting the turtles.
Locals are also encouraged to reduce the use of plastic as this helps preserve the seas – the turtle’s habitat.
Out of the five species found in the Philippines and seven species in the world, two species of marine sea turtle are seen in Occidental Mindoro – the green sea turtle and the hawksbill turtle.
The green sea turtle is widely seen along shores of sitio Tabuk in Barangay Buenavista, the stretch from Gustavs Place Resort in sitio Sto. Nino to sitio Tagubok in Barangay Ibud; at Pandan Grande and Piqueno; the stretch of Sitio New Pandaitan up to the mouth of Mompong River in Barangay Sta. Lucia; the stretch of the boundary of Sitio San Nicolas and General Emilio Aguinaldo up to the river in Barangay General Emilio Aguinaldo; and the stretch of Sitio Aplaya up to Pianga in Barangay Burgos.
The hawksbill turtle is found in Apo Reef in Sablayan.
Sanico said sea turtles can be found depending on the color of the sand in a particular place. He said that turtles imprint the place where they are hatched – that they return to their birthing place after 25 years. This has allowed them to tag the turtles to track if they return to their hatching place and nest there.
Meanwhile, Apo Reef Superintendent Krystal Dayne Vilanada said no illegal activity exists at Apo Reef Natural Park because it is a marine protected area (MPA).
Vilanada said efforts at the park are focused on minimizing disturbances that affect turtle emergence.
“We strictly impose the no lights off policy at 9 pm to make the environment more conducive to egg hatching. Debris are also being cleared to let the turtles walk straightly to the seas when they emerge,” she said.
Both Sanico and Villanada agree that marine turtles play a vital role in ensuring ecological balance and in maintaining the quality of the seas.
Citing the Philippine Aquatic Wildlife Rescue and Response Manual, green turtles are one of two large vertebrates – dugong being the other – that graze on seagrass and algae. Through grazing, they control the growth and community structure of seagrass beds, thus, increasing their productivity and nutritional value. As a mega-herbivore, they are important in the nutrient cycling of the seagrass.
Furthermore, hawksbill turtles enhance coral growth when they graze on encrusting sponges on reef, providing more suitable attachments for coral larvae to grow, thus, enhancing coral reefs, the manual reads further.
Sanico said people must be aware of their role in helping conserve and sustain the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development, and one of the ways to do so is avoiding single use plastics.
“Whenever we use anything, we have to think about the wildlife, the flora and fauna, and how will we protect them, in order to preserve everything while we still can,” he said.
This article was written by Maria Luisa G. Inovejas from Occidental Mindoro as a final requirement of AYEJ.org and the US Embassy’s “Green Beat Islas: An Online Environmental Journalism Training.“
Featured photo from findingmyway.net