Foreign poachers cost Philippines another 100 turtles
The fishing boat’s 13-man crew flooded their vessel as a Filipino gunboat approached them near the country’s main gas field, around 80km off the coast of Palawan Island in the South China Sea. A total of 101 Hawksbill turtles were found drowned in the vessel’s cargo hold.
Resting sea turtles, which grow up to a metre in length and can weigh as much as 80kg, can remain submerged for up to two hours but stressed individuals must resurface every few minutes.
“Again and again, foreign nationals have encroached upon Philippine waters to plunder our nation’s dwindling marine resources,” said WWF Project Manager RJ de la Calzada. “It disheartens us to find the animals we work so hard to conserve slaughtered on a wholesale basis.”
Distinguished from other sea turtles by a hooked beak and heavily-serrated carapace, the Hawksbill has for millennia been hunted for food and tortoiseshell, a material used as far back as the ancient Greek and Roman times to fashion jewellery, combs and brushes.
The Hawksbill turtle is protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits all international trade. It is also now classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, the highest risk rating for a living animal. Under Philippine and international law it is illegal to capture and kill sea turtles and to trade in turtle by-products.
The 13 Vietnamese poachers are just the latest in a long line to have intruded upon Philippine waters, violating both local and international laws. Last year over 200 Green turtles were retrieved in the Sulu Sea and two years ago 359 CITES-protected Napoleon or Humphead Wrasse were seized.
“The list goes on and not one case has ever led to a serious conviction,” said De la Calzada. “The Vietnamese poachers were not the first and they will certainly not be the last.”
Amid fears that justice might again prove elusive, WWF is acting as a watchdog to ensure that charges are pressed in this case. The 13 Vietnamese crewmen will be charged with violating the Philippine Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act, penalties for which can include a fine of up to one million Philipppine pesos (US$21,500) coupled with a six-year jail term.
“WWF condemns such blatant poaching of internationally-protected marine life and hopes that the Philippine government will finally have the resolve to dispense due justice against foreign poachers who disregard both local and international laws,” said WWF-Philippines president Dave Valdes.
For further information please contact: Gregg Yan, Information, Education and Communications Officer, WWF-Philippines. Tel: +63 2 920 7923/26/31. Fax: +63 2 426 3927. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org