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Ilonggo Network

Save the world's ancient mariners

Last week, photos of a man at the top of a tied marine turtle became viral in the Internet. A certain Jose Lastimado from Marabut town in Samar province uploaded in Facebook the photos of him proudly sitting on top of a big leatherback marine turtle.

Netizens were outraged of Lastimado's actuation since it showed animal cruelty and total disregard of laws that protect marine turtles, which are already classified as threatened species. Many suspected that some local folk were ready and about to slaughter the marine turtle because it was heavily tied.

According to Corazon Makabenta, chief of the Protected Areas, Wildlife and Coastal Zone Management of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Region VIII, the person was the former president of the Association of Barangay Captains in Marabut. With the timely intervention of the DENR, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and local government, the marine turtle, measuring six feet in length and 36 inches in width of carapace, was eventually released back to its habitat. The leatherback turtle was accidentally caught in a fishnet of one fisher who brought it on shore in Barangay Pinamitinan, Marabut.

The recent incident was not actually the first reported case regarding the mishandling of marine turtles. Last summer, several photos also went viral in social media showing some persons holding marine turtles out of the water. A resort in Guimaras was found to tie a turtle while in the coastal water to attract visitors.

All these acts are in violation of the Wildlife Act of the Philippines and simply not acceptable, since marine turtles should be free at their own natural habitats. Locally known as pawikan, the marine turtles are already threatened to extinction in the wild.

The marine turtles are considered as ancient mariners, because they exist for more than 100 million years. These marvelous creations are integral component of coastal and marine ecosystems, and they help maintain ecological balance. Marine turtles play crucial roles in maintaining healthy coral reefs and seagrasses, and, therefore, they contribute in sustaining fishery production.

Of the seven species of marine turtles globally, five are found in the Philippines – green, hawksbill, olive ridley, loggerhead, and leatherback. According to marine experts, only the green, hawksbill, and olive ridley marine turtles nest in the country, while the two others come for forage. All of these marine turtles are already endangered.

The study of the World Wildlife Fund disclosed that over the past 200 years, human activities have massively tipped the scales against the survival of marine turtles worldwide. The WWF report added, “The turtles have been slaughtered in the millions for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells, and their already reduced populations still suffer from poaching and over exploitation, as well as incidental capture in fishing gear and habitat loss and alteration.”

This is particularly true in the Philippines, where marine turtles are slaughtered for food, especially in rural areas. Pollution also affects the survival of marine turtles in the Philippines.

Aside, of course, from legal considerations, ethical standards require that marine turtles should not be touched, fed and disturbed while in their natural environment and nesting grounds. This is particularly important because there are irresponsible tourists who are not only satisfied of watching and swimming along with the marine turtles, they also touch these beautiful species. It is illegal, too, to take out marine turtles from their habitat, except in cases when they were accidentally entangled in fishnets, and need to be freed, or they need medical attention.

Let us save these ancient mariners from becoming things of the past. They survive for millions of years, and let it not be our generation that would be the culprit for future generations to say, “Once there was a pawikan…” *

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