49 rescued marine turtles released back to sea
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Palawan, Philippines–Endangered marine turtles believed to be ready to be sold live to Chinese traders were found in an abandoned mangrove enclosure in Balabac on Monday, authorities announced Thursday.
Forty-nine turtles, mostly adults with some of them weighing over 200 kilos, were released Thursday morning in Puerto Princesa Bay after they were turned over to the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.
The poached green sea turtles, classified as endangered species and have long been banned from trade, were found by a combined team of Philippine Navy and Bantay Palawan, the environmental enforcement arm of the provincial government, in an enclosed mangrove area in Barangay Ramos, Balabac last Monday.
Randy Suelo, head of Bantay Palawan, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday that they had gathered information that the marine turtles were being readied for transport “possibly in the area around Hasa-Hasa which is the known trading post for turtles.”
Hasa-Hasa, known internationally as Half Moon Shoal, is part of the disputed Spratly Islands claimed jointly by China, the Philippines and Vietnam. Philippine law enforcement officials have also identified it as a regular trading point between Chinese traders who buy marine turtles from local illegal fishers.
In May, 11 Chinese nationals were caught there by the PNP Maritime in possession of over 300 dead marine turtles and have since been detained at the provincial jail while facing charges for poaching and illegal possession of endangered species.
Navy Spokesman Ariesh Climacosa said they have estimated the value of the marine turtles in the latest illegal wildlife trade to be around P1.7 million.
He said no suspect has been arrested so far, as the turtles were found abandoned inside two enclosures in the mangrove swamps.
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