PHL, US eye joint research on marine turtles

A host to five marine turtles, particularly green marines, the Philippines is planning to conduct a joint research with the United States on marine turtles to protect and conserve the species.

The Philippines and the US share a vast range of marine turtle distribution across the Pacific. Many of the marine turtles “tagged” in the US have been found to be traveling across the Philippines to forage.

On Tuesday  experts from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and their counterparts from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB), Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, University of the Philippines’s Institute of Biology and other marine-conservation stakeholders held a public seminar at the DENR-BMB’s Training Center in Quezon City where the experiences of both countries on marine turtle research and conservation were shared.

Held at the Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife Rescue Center in Quezon City, the second of a series of meetings cohosted by the DENR-BMB and the United States Agency for International Development was highlighted by experts sharing initial results of ongoing research and initiatives on marine turtle conservation.

It aims to explore avenues for collaboration and to jump-start joint initiatives for marine turtle research, as well as possible collaboration to combat marine-turtle poaching.

Both countries have extensive studies on marine turtles.

Experts from NOAA—John H. Wang and Dr. Summer Martin—shared their studies on fisheries and marine turtles in the Pacific Islands.

Martin said marine turtles have the tendency to stay in one place for about 20 years, which could explain the mystery surrounding a juvenile marine turtle’s behavior.

Marine turtles, known to be a migratory species, leave their nest after hatching and return only when they are mature and it’s time for them to nest and lay their own eggs.

The recent studies of NOAA experts cover assessment of marine turtles through genetics and satellite technology and reducing by-catch of turtles in fisheries.

The Philippines has an ongoing program on marine turtle conservation called Pawikan Conservation Project, which was formally started in 1979.  Through the project, the Philippines has established marine turtle sanctuaries and nurseries where eggs are secured against illegal-wildlife traders and natural predators.

Dr. Rizza Araceli Salinas and Pablo de los Reyes of the DENR-BMB shared policy initiatives and ongoing marine turtle conservation efforts, particularly in Tawi-Tawi and other areas.

The most recent project involves the satellite tracking of tagged 20 marine turtles to track their migratory pathways.

While the Philippines has been frequented by marine turtles because  its coastal and marine ecosystems are ideal as foraging grounds, nesting grounds or migratory corridors, it is also a biodiversity hot spot because of the rapid rate of species extinction owing to habitat loss and illegal-wildlife trade.

Poaching is rampant as marine turtles are hunted for their eggs, meat and shell. Other threats to the existence of marine turtles are pollution, destructive and harmful fishing practices and disease.

BMB Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim said the Philippines, being a resource-poor country, needs the support of its allies in the conduct of extensive research for biodiversity conservation.

“We look forward to this collaboration because, after all, with our limited resources, we cannot do it alone,” Lim said.