After emerging from their nests, hatchlings immediately make their way to sea, starting a journey that may take them right back to where they hatched, where they will then lay their own eggs. Credit: A.G. Saño The 36-hectare Baguan in southern Philippines is one of the nine islands of the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA), a unique protected area jointly managed by two countries: Malaysia and the Philippines. It is made up of six islands of the Philippines' Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary, where Baguan is located, and three islands of Sabah's Turtle Islands Park (TIP).
Baguan's nesting records have been declining and dropped to as low as just over 4,000 nests in 2003. Poaching by foreign fishermen, egg harvesting by local communities for food and trade, destruction and disturbance of habitats through illegal fishing methods and weak law enforcement were identified as the causes of the decline in the sea turtle population in the sanctuary.
"The increasing nest numbers show that when turtles are protected on their nesting beaches and in the water for long enough, they will recover," said Bryan Wallace, director of science for the Marine Flagship Species Program at CI. "The Turtle Islands are a globally important area for green turtles, especially for the West Pacific population, because of the relatively high abundance present and because of increasing protections for turtles in the area."
Often conservationists can formulate good plans, but poor enforcement weakens them. That did not happen in this case. The team at Baguan wisely provided training to park wardens, law enforcers and community volunteers. They also stepped up patrolling efforts. The Philippine Turtle Islands' enforcement team even includes officers from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy Marines deployed to the area.
Wardens assigned to the sanctuary live in the Turtle Islands field station for months at a time, patrolling against poachers and doing data monitoring activities like turtle tagging. Credit: Conservation International/photo by Rina Bernabe "These partnerships with other agencies like the Coast Guard and Marines provide a big boost to law enforcement efforts in the Turtle Islands," said Mundita Lim, director of DENR's Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. "We also enjoy a good working relationship with our Sabah counterparts in charge of managing their side of the Turtle Islands. Turtles nest throughout the entire area, regardless of political boundaries. That is also the approach we are using in managing these islands through productive partnerships."