THE PAWIKAN CONSERVATION PROJECT

I.  Background and History

By virtue of Executive Order No. 542 signed on June 26, 1979 , the Task Force Pawikan (TFP) now referred to as the Pawikan Conservation Project (PCP) became the government's urgent response to conserve the dwindling marine turtle population in the country. It is responsible for the development and implementation of conservation and protection policies, management and propagation schemes and nationwide information and education programs to ensure the survival and growth of marine turtles.

During the first 2 years of its operation, the Project was attached to the Office of the President and was later transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources (now the Department of Environment and Natural Resources) by virtue of Executive Order No. 708 series of 1981. With the issuance of DENR Special Order No. 78 series of 1989, it was again transferred to the wildlife Division of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau where it is currently attached.

1.1  Rationale

Marine turtles are among the world's most endangered species. As declared by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Resources (IUCN), all species of marine turtles and their population are fast diminishing due to animal predation and human exploitation.

Marine turtle conservation in the Philippines is part of a worldwide activity. Coordination and cooperation with foreign conservation agencies and organizations is needed to ensure the proper utilization and commercial traffic of marine turtles. Cooperation between the government and the citizenry is likewise necessary to ensure the survival of these species.

1.2  Objectives

1.2.1 General

To conserve and propagate the ecologically and economically important marine turtles which are now on the verge of total depletion.

1.2.2  Specific

1.  Enforce existing marine turtle laws, rules and regulations;

2.  Conduct scientific investigations relevant to the formulation of updated policies;

3.  Conduct information campaign and extension activities;

4.  Conduct socio-economic surveys for the formulation of substitute livelihood for turtle dependent populace;

5.  Coordinate with international agencies involved in the conservation of turtles.

II. Activities

A. Resource Management and Protection Unit

1.  Establishment/Maintenance of Marine Turtle Sanctuaries (MNR Administrative Order No. 8)

Since the creation of the TFP (now PCP), the agency has identified and declared known marine turtle habitats and nesting areas as Marine Turtle Sanctuaries. The declared sanctuaries are situated in three (3) provinces, namely:

Palawan

1.  Halog island

2.  Tanobon Island

3.  El Nido

4.  Kota and Panata Cay-Kalayaan Group

Tawi-Tawi

1.  Baguan, Turtle Islands

2.  Bancauan, Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi

Antique

1.  Caluya

Presently, the PCP is concentrating its conservation efforts in Turtle Islands . Strict management activities are being implemented at the Baguan Island Marine Turtle Sanctuary (BIMTS).

Resource hatcheries were established in five islands of the Turtle Island Group to protect turtle eggs from natural predators and poachers. The islands of Taganak, Lihiman, Langaan and Bakkungan have one resource hatchery each while two research hatcheries is currently maintained in the BIMTS.

2.  Enforcement of MNR Administrative Order #33 (Tawi-Tawi)

Prior to the creation of PCP, the exploitation and harvesting of the marine turtle egg resource was under the control of the Municipal Government of Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi. The bidding system was used by the Municipal Government, which was virtually availed of by only a few who can afford to bid. Exploitation of marine turtle eggs was close to 100% prior to the implementation of MNR Administrative Order #33. The enforcement of MAO#33, and the implementation of MAO#8 for Baguan Island rationalized the utilization of eggs and provided part of the production for conservation. From 1984 to 1998, a total of 2,066 permits were distributed to qualified residents. The estimated total production in the Turtle Islands is 18,892,172 eggs for the same period. Of these number, about 13,233,554 eggs were conserved. This represents 70% of the total number of eggs produced for the period covered. In Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi, about 255,782 eggs were conserved out of the 865,174 eggs produced from 1984-1991.

3.  MNR Administrative order # 518 establishing the El Nido Marine Turtle Sanctuary (ENMTS)

Enforcement of this Administrative Order has led not only to the protection of the marine turtle resource but the entire marine ecosystem within the sanctuary.

From 1984 to 1989, the following cases of apprehensions involving illegal fishing operations were reported:

Dynamite Fishing 5
Commercial Trawl Fishing 7
Muro-ami Fishing 2
Beach Mining 1
Commercial Fishing 1

With the implementation of MAO # 518, practice of destructive fishing was minimized to a considerable extent.

Along with the apprehension of violators, consciousness among the populace regarding marine life conservation was greatly improved. Through MNR A.O. # 14, series of 1991 the ENMTS was upgraded to a “marine reserve” status. Management was funded under the Debt for Nature-Swap (DFNS) Program.

4.  Implementation of MAO # 12 series of 1979

The inventory of marine turtle by-products is conducted to determine the extent of the trade of marine turtles and its by-products in the country. This is an important factor in assessing exploitation in known processing areas, particularly Cebu . From 1983 to 1998, 977 business establishments were monitored and informed regarding the ban on the trade of marine turtle by-products. To reinforce the implementation of this Administrative Order, Special Order # 884 series of 1989 was promulgated, thus, designating Regional Technical Directors for Environment and Research to assist in the implementation and monitoring of PCP related activities within their respective regions.

B. Research and Investigation Unit

The Research and Investigation Unit is concerned mainly with the collection of pertinent information/data needed to update policies concerning marine turtle conservation and management.

1.  Habitat Surveys

The primary objective of this activity is to gather qualitative and quantitative baseline information, such as nesting incidence and density of turtle population, as well as the physical and biological features of a specific locality. Recommendations based on survey reports and criteria for selection of sanctuaries have been formulated to establish significant areas as marine turtle sanctuaries.

As of the present, habitat surveys have been conducted in 430 sites from 31 provinces all over the Philippines . All surveys were conducted by the PCP in coordination with the regional offices of the DENR, local fisheries sector and local government units. A total of 9 sites have already been proclaimed as sanctuaries.

2. Population Studies

2.1  Saturation Tagging

The procedures involved in population studies are saturation tagging and nesting incidence monitoring. These activities aim to provide valuable information on the migratory pattern of sea turtles, determine peak and lean nesting seasons of the year and evaluate the current population status of nesting marine turtles.

Population studies are concentrated mainly at the BIMTS where high-density nesting occurs. From 1982-1998, a total of 7,711 neophyte nesters have been tagged in the Turtle Islands .

The DENR regional offices thru their Field Action Officers have been submitting their tagging reports to the PCP. Since 1985 to 1998, a total of 735 turtles have reportedly tagged by the DENR regional offices.

2.2  Nesting Incidence Monitoring

This activity accounts for all complete nests, false nests and false crawls made by turtles during the previous night until early morning. A team of technical personnel and forest rangers regularly inspect the continuous 1.6 km. nesting beach and the smaller pocket beaches of Baguan Island Marine Turtle Sanctuary (BIMTS) every morning. As of 1998, a total of 98,215 complete nests have been recorded in the BIMTS.

Based on the total number of complete nests (98,215) recorded and the average clutch size i.e., 101 eggs per nest, the total egg production of the island is estimated at 9,919,715 (1984-1998).

3. Hatchery

Aside from protecting marine turtle eggs against natural as well as human predators, hatcheries serve as laboratories for the research team where they conduct studies which may determine the reproductive potential of the resource. It is well known reproduction is most successful in nests that are not disturbed and under normal conditions.

At present, the Research and Investigation Unit maintains two (2) functional hatcheries at the BIMTS for research purposes and one hatchery in each island for conservation.

Usually, collection of eggs from the nesting beach and pocket beaches to be transplanted to the hatchery is performed simultaneously with the tagging and nesting incidence activities. Eggs that were laid below the high tide watermark, those laid in the pocket beaches and those laid in the farthest ends of the nesting beach are prioritized for transfer to the hatcheries. A total of 1,806,135 eggs from 26,403 artificial nests have been transplanted to the hatcheries in the BIMTS. Total number of hatchlings released from 1984-1998 is 863,976.

4. Headstarting

Experimental headstarting or rearing of marine turtles in captivity was conducted in Turtle Islands , Tawi-Tawi (1985-1987) and El Nido, Palawan (1986-1988).

Eight (8) groups of ten (10) hawksbill turtles and a separate group of three (3) olive ridleys were headstarted in floating cages inside a lagoon in Miniloc Island , El Nido marine Turtle Sanctuary (ENMTS). The holding period ranged from 127 days to two years for hawksbills and 86 days to 3 months for the olive ridleys.

In the BIMTS, 20 green turtles and 20 hawksbills were reared using a concrete tank and a dugout banca. Water replacement was done every other day.

All the samples upon emergence from the hatchery were measured and weighed. The succeeding measurements were made on a weekly basis.

The turtles in ENMTS were fed with deboned and chopped fish rationed at ten (10%) percent body weight, while squid, cuttlefish and fish ratios were given in the BIMTS.

Data gathered showed that hawksbill in ENMTS exhibited a growth rate of 9.9 mm/mo straight carapace length (SCL) and 56% survival rate. The olive ridley group showed a remarkable 13.43 mm/mo SCL growth rate and 66.6% survival rate.

Curved carapace length was used in measuring turtle samples in BIMTS. Data showed that the average growth rate of 20 green turtles was 19.1 mm/mo or 146% growth increase after 56 days of rearing and a survival rate 95%. On the other hand, data gathered on hawksbills reared revealed a 17.5 mm/mo or 26% increase also after 56 days of husbandry. Survival rate was placed at 95%.

Further analysis of the data collected in this particular activity showed that growth rate and weight gain were directly proportional with age. A decrease in growth rate was also observed during the period when food was unavailable.

The PCP also donated a total of 3,030 green turtle hatchlings to NAVFORSOUTH (1984) and BFAR (1986) used primarily for headstarting purposes.

At present, the PCP discourages headstarting as a means of conserving these endangered species. This position is based on the number of reasons to be discussed in a latter chapter.

5.  Sea Turtle Distribution Research

This research aims to determine the distribution, migration and species of marine turtles in the Philippines . Using a postcard, all DENR Regional Offices, PCP collaborators and concerned citizens were enjoined to report any sightings of sea turtles. The prepaid addressed postcards contains the following information: date and location where the marine turtle was encountered; species, curved carapace length and width of the turtle seen; serial number of tags attached or applied; and identifying marks; if any.

Based on the total number of 465 postcards received from 1992-1998, all five species of marine turtles have reportedly been sighted from different parts of the country.

6.  Telemetry

A team from the PCP, Coastal Resources Management Program, WWF-Philippines, Sabah Parks and Smithsonian Institution attached satellite transmitters to four post-nesting green turtles in Baguan and Selingan Islands in the Philippine-Sabah Turtle Islands . The study aims to determine the migratory routes turtles take after the nesting season. Initial results if the study showed that turtles from Baguan Island moved to the area of Basilan and Jolo after nesting in the Turtle Islands . Another three transmitters will be attached.

To date, a total of five (5) green turtle nesters in Baguan Island and one (1) hawksbill turtle nester in Lihiman Island were outfitted with satellite transmitters from 1998 to 2001. Data is monitored and received through ARGOS computers of the US NOAA and then sent to the PCP via the internet.

C. Information and Education Services Unit

The Information Unit is responsible for disseminating relevant information regarding marine turtle conservation to create greater awareness and consciousness among the people.

The Unit makes use of the most available channels of information dissemination like broadcast, print, film and folk media.

Developmental communication packages in the form of fora, symposia, conferences, public meetings, audio-visual presentations, and print communication like posters, leaflets, brochures, primers, newsletters and magazines are produced by the Information Unit. These communication packages are also committed to disseminate existing guidelines and policies concerning the conservation and management of marine turtles.

D. International and Regional Efforts

1.  ASEAN Marine Turtle Conservation Project

The first ASEAN Symposium-Workshop on Marine Turtle Conservation was held in Manila on December 1993. It was initiated by the PCP in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Marine Turtle Foundation Inc. (MTF). The primary objective of the symposium-workshop was to forge a regional program to conserve and manage the marine turtle as an official environmental policy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN). The proposed ASEAN Marine Turtle Conservation Program, being the main output of the workshop, was approved by the ASEAN Working Group on Nature Conservation (AWGNC) and indorsed to the ASEAN Senior Officials on the Environmental (ASOEN) for adoption by member nations. During the 5 th AWGNC meeting, the Philippine delegation presented a proposal for the creation of the ASEAN Marine Turtle Specialist Group and implementation of a Regional marine turtle conservation program.

In 1997, the Senior Officials Meeting – ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries approved the Regional Marine Turtle Conservation Program in response to the conditions set forth by the World Trade Organization to regulate shrimp importation. To date, the PCP has been representing the Philippines in meetings, training programs and workshops organized by the Coordinating Body of the program.

2.  Bilateral Negotiations with Malaysia

To complement the ASEAN program on marine turtle conservation, the Philippine Government through the PCP and the Malaysian Government through Sabah Parks entered into an agreement for the joint management of the Philippine-Sabah Turtle Islands in Sulu Sea . Conservation and management of the resource in the Turtle Islands is very important since the area is known to be the only major rookery of green turtle in the ASEAN region .

With the standing approval/endorsement of the ASOEN to the proposed regional program, it is perceived that actual implementation will take a long and tedious process working within the context of the ASEAN. Thus a bilateral approach was initiated by the PCP and WWF with the Sabah National Parks.

A draft agreement was prepared after an inter-agency consultative meeting was conducted and this was tackled during the 2 nd RP-Malaysian Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) held in March 1995.

As recommended by the JCBC, the Joint Technical Working Group (JTWG) for the establishment of the Turtle Island Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) was convened to discuss in detail the Philippine proposal to jointly manage the only remaining major rookery of green turtles in the ASEAN region. The JTWG further agreed that the draft Memorandum of Agreement be submitted to both governments of the Philippines and Malaysia for final approval.

Last May 3l, 1996, the Government of the Philippines through Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon and the Government of Malaysia through Foreign Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi signed the agreement establishing the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) at Shangrila, Makati , Philippines .

The TIHPA is an integrated and collaborative approach towards the conservation of the only remaining major nesting population of green turtles in the ASEAN Region, which is shared by Malaysia and the Philippines . The TIHPA is the world's first Transfrontier Protected Areas for Marine Turtles.

Work areas envisioned for this program will include institutional development, management-oriented research, resource management, border patrols, information/education, and eco-tourism. A Joint Management Committee (JMC) will be convened to prioritize and initialize the activities of the TIHPA.

In 1997-1999, the JMC has conducted three meetings. The meetings were held alternately between the Philippines and Malaysia.