Friday, February 24, 2012

Bumper Crop of Green Sea Turtles in the Philippines

Turtle-tracks-X2Female turtles crawl out of the water, usually at night, to dig a nest and lay their eggs. The entire process can take one to two hours. Turtles reach sexual maturity between 20 and 50 years old, and can live up to 200 years.

“1.44 million eggs is an astounding number and it presents great hope for boosting green turtle populations,” Romeo Trono, CI Philippines Country Executive Director, says.

Hatchling-on-its-way-to-sea-X2A one percent survival rate sounds pretty awful, so it's no wonder so many eggs are required to maintain a stable population of these turtles.

The 36-hectare Baguan in southern Philippines is one of the nine islands of the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA), a unique protected area jointly managed by two countries: Malaysia and the Philippines. It is made up of six islands of the Philippines’ Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary, where Baguan is located, and three islands of Sabah’s Turtle Islands Park (TIP).

After emerging from their nests, hatchlings immediately make their way to sea, starting a journey that may take them right back to where they hatched, where they will then lay their own eggs.

Baguan’s nesting records have been declining and dropped to as low as just over 4,000 nests in 2003. Poaching by foreign fishermen, egg harvesting by local communities for food and trade, destruction and disturbance of habitats through illegal fishing methods and weak law enforcement were identified as the causes of the decline in the sea turtle population in the sanctuary.

“The increasing nest numbers show that when turtles are protected on their nesting beaches and in the water for long enough, they will recover,” said Bryan Wallace, director of science for the Marine Flagship Species Program at CI. “The Turtle Islands are a globally important area for green turtles, especially for the West Pacific population, because of the relatively high abundance present and because of increasing protections for turtles in the area.”

Turtle-measuring-and-tagging-X2Wardens assigned to the sanctuary live in the Turtle Islands field station for months at a time, patrolling against poachers and doing data monitoring activities like turtle tagging.

“These partnerships with other agencies like the Coast Guard and Marines provide a big boost to law enforcement efforts in the Turtle Islands,” said Mundita Lim, director of DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. “We also enjoy a good working relationship with our Sabah counterparts in charge of managing their side of the Turtle Islands. Turtles nest throughout the entire area, regardless of political boundaries. That is also the approach we are using in managing these islands through productive partnerships.”

Turtles can be a prime ecotourism attraction, and it is hoped that in future, tourism income will help support conservation efforts for Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary.

My second book in the Bella and Britt Series, Sea Turtle Summer, describes how the girls help save a Loggerhead sea turtle's best on the beach one summer day.  It's a great teaching tool for kids, especially with Earth Day, just around the corner!

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