Palawan police stop smuggling of giant sea turtles

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Sea turtle. AFP/Rina Bernabe/Conservation International

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines—A marine unit of the Philippine National Police has thwarted a new attempt to smuggle giant sea turtles believed destined for the Chinese seafood market, the police disclosed Friday.

Colonel Rico Payungga, head of the PNP Maritime-Special Boat Unit based in southern Palawan, said they have so far confiscated an estimated 50 marine turtles, most of them weighing between 50 and 70 kilos each, on Bahayan Island, a remote community that is part of Barangay Sebaring in Palawan’s southernmost municipality of Balabac.

“At least two of the turtles were found dead,” he said, adding SBU operatives were still searching the island. The illegal trade in marine turtles was uncovered on Wednesday night.

Marine turtles are classified as endangered and trading in them is banned by law in line with various international agreements.

Payungga said the turtles were found hidden in vegetated areas and were believed to be awaiting shipment by Chinese buyers.

Acting on a tip, an SBU team headed by Inspector Demetrio Sabbaluca initially recovered on Wednesday night some 12 live sea turtles. Residents interviewed by the policemen  said the turtles were to be fetched by a Chinese trader with connections to local officials.

No arrests were made.

The seizure was the second such incident in the area in two months. In early June, the same team raided a temporary holding area for live sea turtles on Ameril Island, confiscating 17 turtles. Several local Moro traders were implicated in the illegal trading activity.

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