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The Save Our Sea Turtles (S.O.S) Project

What are Sea Turtles?

Sea turtles are often referred to by scientists as the only living remnants of the dinosaur age, but might not be around long enough. Unless sincere efforts are undertaken, sea turtles might follow dinosaurs into extinction.

Popularly known as pawikan, a typical Philippine Sea Turtle weighs between 180 to 210 kilograms, and unlike land turtles, cannot retract its head and limbs under its streamlined shell. It has large upper eyelids that protect its eyes, but has no external ear opening. Awkward on land, it is more active and graceful in the water, traveling as fast as 32 kilometers per hour using its long paddle-like fore and hind flippers.

Sea turtles vary in color - olive-green, yellow, greenish-brown, or black. The most common species in the Philippines is the Green Sea Turtle, which is also found in all tropical and sub-tropical seas, which includes our island, Catanduanes. Its most distinct feature is a more blunt and wider head than that of the Hawksbill Turtle. It grows up to 1.5 meters long and weighs up to 185 kilograms.

The largest species is the Leatherback Turtle, which grows more than two meters in length. The Hawksbill Turtle, as its name suggests, can be identified with its pointed beak and attractively marked shell of overlapping plates. On the other hand, the Loggerhead Turtle is known for its disproportionately bulky head. Of the five Philippine species, only the Olive Ridley Turtle is considered as carnivorous.

Why should we save sea turtles?

Sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of the few marine species that eat sea grass. Sea grass needs to be constantly cut short to help it grow across the sea floor. Sea turtles act as grazing animals that cut the grass short and help maintain the health of the sea grass beds, thus the name, "gardeners of the sea".

Sea grass beds provide breeding and developmental grounds for numerous species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without sea grass beds, many marine species that humans harvest would be lost and the marine food chain disentangles. And we will have no fish, no food.

Beaches and dunes are a fragile ecosystem that does not get many nutrients to support its vegetation, which is needed to help prevent erosion. Sea turtles contribute nutrients to dune vegetation from their eggs. Every year, sea turtles lay countless numbers of eggs in beaches during nesting season. A decline in the number of sea turtles means fewer eggs laid, less nutrients for the sand dunes and its vegetation, and a higher risk for beach erosion.

What are the Threats to Sea Turtles?

The last century saw the fastest decline in sea turtle population. Their population has dwindled down due to centuries of hunting, land development, marine pollution and accidental fisheries by catch.

In the Philippines, thousands of sea turtles were plucked out of the wildlife to supply the heavy demand for turtle by-products such as wall décor, jewelry pieces, guitars, bags and shoes.

Worldwide, pawikans are being ruthlessly hunted down by humans and killed for their meat and oil. Their shells are made into luxury items such as tortoise shell eyeglass frames, lighters, and combs.

Locally, egg poaching on islands with sea turtle populations is the biggest threat that the pawikan faces. The eggs, which are thought as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, are sold in local markets and eaten in soup or other dishes.

Meanwhile, increasing development and pollution are also destroying the pawikan’s nesting and feeding grounds. Many adult turtles swallow fishhooks or get caught in fishing nets and drown.

What Can We Do?

As part of my advocacy for marine life conservation, we are launching the Save our Sea Turtles (SOS) Project, whose objective is to secure the protection of sea turtles in our province.

For every sea turtle you save, you get rewarded in kind. It could be in the form of a fishing paraphernalia or gear like fish net, circle hooks, turtle excluding device ( TED), etc. which could be of best use to your family’s sustenance.

In the past months, we have already released four sea turtles which local fishermen offered to us in exchange for monetary reward.

My efforts will go for naught unless everybody cooperates. To help secure the existence of Philippines Sea Turtles, please coordinate with Save our Sea Turtles (SOS) Project at the Governor’s Office, Provincial Capitol, Virac, Catanduanes.

SAVE OUR SEA TURTLES — these remarkable creatures have been around for hundreds of centuries, but they need our help to reach a few hundred more.

Let us all help to keep this magnificent creature a part of the ecosystem that sustain us all.

JOSEPH "BOBOY" CUA
Governor

Source: Catanduanes Tribune - 03 June 2011

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