DENR rouses Bicolanos to marine life conservation

March 17, 2015 2:03 am 

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, March 14 (PNA) -– The Bicol Peninsula is surrounded by waters gifted with an exotic marine wildlife made up of various species —from the charming sea turtles, the exciting whale sharks, dancing dolphins and magnificent manta rays to the extremely rare megamouth shark — that are all considered endangered species,

Unfortunately, the sea turtles, locally called “pawikan” and around five species of them — Green (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) — present in the region’s waters are facing extinction due to widespread poaching mainly for its meat.

Since the most common species present in the region’s coastal waters, particularly of Sorsogon and Albay, are the green or Chelonia mydas and Hawksbill, they oftentimes become the victim of poachers, mostly local fishermen.

Marine life conservation advocates blame the poaching issue mainly to the cultural upbringing of many Bicolanos that developed their insatiable appetite for pawikan’s meat.

Example is Sorsogon province from where the Philippine News Agency earlier learned that in the municipality of Bulusan town, a weekly average of one pawikan weighing between 40-100 kilograms is hauled by fishermen from the municipal fishing ground either accidentally caught with their nets or hunted with home-made harpoons.

A kilo of pawikan meat commands a price of not less than Php250, which is more than the price of pork and beef in the locality and, alas, most of its buyers are prominent residents that include government officials who are presumed to know the law on the conservation of this endangered marine species, according to a local source.

Under Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act, anyone who would be found involved in the selling or trade of pawikan meat shall be imprisoned for two years and fined with up to Php200,000.

The same penalty applies to anyone who eats the meat of the endangered species while a stiffer penalty of four to six years of imprisonment as well as a fine of Php500,000 await the person who slaughter the animal.

On Saturday, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Regional Director for Bicol

Gilbert Gonzales said the region’s coastal waters whose shorelines are noted to be among the sea turtles’ favorite breeding grounds have been listed as among the country’s poaching hot spots.

The Philippines itself, he said, is ranked third in the world in poaching marine life, especially sea turtles.

China and Vietnam come first and second, respectively.

While the Gonzales acknowledges some points favorable to pawikan conservation in Bicol and around the country like the growing number of species rescued by fishermen and released back to the sea in response to the protection campaign waged by the government and the private sector, still the unabated poaching needs more preventive actions.

“We appeal for help from the public in our campaign in the preservation not only of pawikan but also all of the endangered species whose presence in the seawaters around Bicol is considered a gift of nature that others in the world do not have,” he stressed.

These waters are the Lamon Bay that separates Bicol from Quezon Province to the north; Ragay Gulf to the west of Camarines provinces; Burias Pass between the provinces of Albay and Masbate; Ticao Pass, Samar Sea, San Bernardino Straits and Philippine Sea to the west, south, southeast and east of Sorsogon, respectively; Albay Gulf and Lagonoy Gulf to the east and northeast of Albay; Maqueda Channel, east of Camarines Sur and; San Miguel Bay, east of Camarines Norte.

“In this case, local government units (LGUs) as well as all enforcers of the law for the conservation and protection of marine wildlife, particularly RA 9147, should not only keep a close watch but also maintain a more sensible programs toward the same ends,” the DENR Bicol chief added.

On other wildlife species, Rebecca Matusalem, the head of the DENR’s Regional Coastal and Marine Management Division, said destructive fishing is another problem posing grave danger to the protected species in the region’s seawaters.

There are whale sharks or locally “butanding” present in some parts of the waters around the Bicol Peninsula, especially off the municipality of Donsol, Sorsogon, whose tourism industry is being made alive by this protected giant sea mammal that is gentle to humans.

Pods of this enormous fish have also been sighted in Albay Gulf near the coastline of this city and in Lagonoy Gulf off Tiwi, Albay, while a herd of dancing dolphins is also present and attracting tourist, in the former–off Sto. Domingo town.

On the other hand, the Ticao Pass, which is located in the center of the Philippines, is one of the best kept secrets in Bicol where the amazing “winged giants,” manta rays, thrive en masse in its deep waters called the Manta Bowl–a shoal where the animals, sighted fairly reliably, are prized by divers.

This habitat of the world’s biggest ray is now considered the Manta Ray capital of the Philippines.

The Ticao Pass,which separates Sorsogon and Ticao Island, has one of the world’s highest concentrations of plankton due to the strong currents from San Bernardino Strait that push large groups of plankton and other organisms to gather in the area, making this an ideal cleaning and feeding station for the Manta Ray.

The Pass is the deep sea “big boys’ alley” attracting also whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, thresher sharks and other pelagics.

The presence of a megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) that also feed on plankton has also been recently discovered in Burias Pass off the coast of Pioduran, Albay.

Unfortunately, it was already dead when found by fishermen from the same town at Catandulan Point near Donsol last Jan. 28.

“The deep concern developed on the part of the present national government should also be instilled among the local governments concerned as well as on the public so that concerted efforts are done to save these important marine wildlife species from extinction. Thus, destructive fishing, the biggest threat, should be stopped,” Matusalem said.

According to Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the coastal waters off Donsol — Ticao and Burias Pass — while considered as one of the most productive fishing grounds of the country, is also representative of the problems faced by the nation’s oceans due to rampant intrusion of commercial fishers on its municipal waters. (PNA)



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