Scientists tracking 20 green marine turtles highlight need to protect sea life in Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape

A STUDY on the migration pattern of green marine turtles from the Turtle Island Heritage Park Protected Area  calls for the establishment of a transboundary network of marine-protected areas (MPAs) in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape, which covers Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, an official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said.

Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) said scientists have been tracking green marine turtles to learn more about the mysterious marine wildlife’s behavior.

Five of the world’s eight marine-turtle species can be found in Philippine waters. These are the loggerhead turtle, olive ridley turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle and the green sea turtle.

The Turtle Island in Tawi-Tawi province, which lies at the southwestern tip of the country, is the remaining and largest nesting site of a significant population of green sea turtles in the entire Asean region.

Under the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Marine Ecoregion-Sea Turtle (ST MPAN) Project, with the support of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit, the tracking of the marine turtles was outsourced to the Marine Research Foundation based in Malaysia, to conduct sea-turtle research using laparoscopy, aerial surveys and satellite tracking.

So far, a map that shows the migration path of the green sea turtle, was produced, identifying the pattern of migration or movement of the marine turtles being monitored.

The map shows the links of the sites in East Kalimantan, Sabah and the planned Philippine ST MPAN through the migrating sea turtles monitored with the use of satellite transmitters.

The map reinforces the connectivity of the three countries in terms of sea-turtle migration and the importance of the need to protect a wide range of habitat for conserving sea-turtle populations, the scientists conducting the study said.

Lim said the study supports the wisdom of establishing networks of MPSAs across the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The DENR, through the Pawikan Conservation Project  led by the BMB, has been tagging and releasing marine turtles across the country.

The BMB said last year, a total of 739 marine turtles have been tagged and released.  Of the number, 682 are from the Tawi-Tawi’s Turtle Island Wildlife Sanctuary. They included 48 turtles without tag and 37 turtles with foreign, mostly Malaysian, tags.

Most marine-turtle species are threatened because of habitat loss, pollution, accidental-by-catch and poaching for their meat and shells.  Marine-turtle eggs are also being harvested indiscriminately, being a primary source of food and income, particularly in Tawi-Tawi province.

Meanwhile, Lim said the Philippines will pitch the call for stronger cooperation to protect migratory wild animals, like the green marine turtles, in the next meeting Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS-COP12) to be hosted by the country in October.

“As host of the upcoming meeting, we will call for stronger cooperation among the parties to the convention.  This includes the establishment of networks of marine protected areas.  These migratory wild animals need to be protected, and the protection should include their migratory routes,” she added.

This is the first time the CMS, also known as the Bonn Convention, will be held in Asia since the international treaty was adopted in Bonn, Germany, in 1979 and came into force in 1985.

Around 1,000 participants from 124 countries, all parties to the convention, are expected to attend the meeting.

The Philippines, which acceded to the convention in 1993 by virtue of Philippine Senate Resolution 28, will affirm its commitment and showcase its various initiatives for the protection and conservation of migratory wild animals, Lim said.

Lim added the Philippines will put forward several resolutions for consideration during the COP12. These include the placing of the butanding, or whale shark, and the Christmas frigatebird on Appendix I, and the yellow bunting, black noddy and the whole population of white-spotted wedgefish on Appendix II.

Appendix I species are those threatened with extinction and are strictly protected globally by CMS parties. Appendix II lists species that may not be highly threatened or endangered but need conservation through international agreements.

Also being pushed for discussion during the event are resolutions promoting marine-protected area networks in the Asean region; sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, for poverty reduction and environmental protection; and the conservation of critical intertidal and other coastal habitats for migratory species.

Lim said COP12 would serve as “prime opportunity” for the Philippines to showcase its important role as host to a number of migratory species found in coastal, marine, wetland and forest ecosystems across the archipelago.

As part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, with over 150 species of migratory birds that annually visit the country’s migratory sites such as the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Cebu, the Negros Occidental Wetland Conservation Area, Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro, and the Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area in Metro Manila.

The COP is the CMS’ main decision-making body and meets every three years to adopt policies and laws and propose new species under the framework.