A group of small islands in the southern province of Tawi-Tawi has long been the birthplace of the gentle and resilient green sea turtles, which is said to be the oldest reptile species in the world.
2,000 of the turtles known locally as “pawikan” nest in the islands
every year. Other species, such as the hawksbill turtle, also frequent
the area, which lies south of wildlife bountiful Palawan.
distinction has earned the island cluster the name Turtle Islands, the
last major green sea turtle sanctuary in Southeast Asia and one of the
only 10 remaining nesting sites all over the world.
But that may soon change.
The government has announced that ecotourism projects are being planned
for three of the six major isles which are part of the municipality of
has been launched amid an observed increase in the number of tourists
visiting the area in recent year, a statement from the Mindanao
Development Authority (MinDA) showed.
The government agency cited
local tourism records, which reported a total of 1,139 local and
foreign tourists in 2012, up from only 1,058 for the aggregate of 2010
“Tourists visit us to witness marine turtles lay their
eggs or watch the hatchlings struggle out of their nests and make their
way to the sea,” MinDA quoted Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali said.
need the appropriate facilities that will not only accommodate our
tourists, but also ensure the safety and protection of the turtles and
their nesting sites,” Sahali said further.
Antonino of MinDA said a budget of P30 million has been secure for the
project, bulk of which will be from the Tourism Infrastructure and
Enterprise Zone Authority.
The projects will include elevated
wooden boardwalks, turtle watching lounges and several cottages for the
islands of Taganak, Bakkungan and Baguan, the most widely visited
The facilities, MinDA said, will protect the turtles
from tourists while allowing visitors to observe the experience they
made the trip for: watching the gentle creatures lay their eggs at
“[R]esidents of Turtle Islands can earn sustainable
livelihood by promoting this famous attraction, while ensuring the
protection of the endangered species and their nesting sites,” Antonino
She added that the initiative is part of the Brunei
Darussalam Indonesia Malaysia Philippine East ASEAN Growth Area’s
programs to protect the Greater Sulu-Sulawesi Corridor’s biodiversity.
on the plan, environmental advocacy group Greenpeace urged government
to “proceed with caution especially since turtle nesting grounds are
particularly sensitive to any slight disturbance. “
resource accounting should be conducted and its carrying capacity
determined before any development is started,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia
oceans campaigner Vince Cinches said in an email.
International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
tagged all marine turtle species as endangered due to the critical
decline in the world’s marine turtle population.
Philippines, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 1979
launched the Pawikan Conservation Project to address the dwindling
number of local marine turtles.
Turtle Islands has been declared a
protected area in 1997 by the Philippines and Malaysia, which governs
three of the islands in the cluster. It was the world’s first
transboundary protected area.
Cinches said the plan to develop
the Turtle Islands “must conform to all internationally accepted
environmental principles and comply with Philippine environmental laws…”
the ecotourism plan should be jointly developed by local communities,
scientists, non-government and civil society organization
representatives, and other stakeholders,” he added.
ecotourism activities in the island should also be coupled with
education efforts, Cinches said, adding that all visitors must undergo
comprehensive briefing and be given guides on behavior in the islands.
fom marine turtles, the Turtle Islands is also home to 34 species of
birds, 27 coral species, 128 fish species, 62 species of marine flora
and other wild animals such as fruit bats and reptiles.
Ecotourism for the economy
as long as developed strictly in accordance with ecological principles,
is one of the many services a healthy ecosystem gives,” Cinches told
The industry provides more income for local
government and also “reduces the dependency of communities on poaching
and veer them away from doing destructive marine activities.”
indeed, Turtle Island Wildlife Sanctuary will be opened to the public,
it should be a model for sustainability and one that will ensure true
protection of our marine ecosystem rather than just a revenue-making
strategy,” Cinches said.