Philippine authorities on Monday filed charges against nine of the 11 Chinese fishermen apprehended last week for allegedly poaching hundreds of endangered sea turtles in a shoal near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
Prosecutor Allen Ross Rodriguez said that the Chinese fishermen face as many as 20 years in prison if convicted for gathering “critically endangered” species, such as the Hawksbill turtle.
Two Chinese suspects were released because they are minors, he said. In addition, five Filipino fishermen accused of loading the marine turtles onto the Chinese vessel were charged with the illegal gathering and trafficking of endangered species.
Philippines authorities said they found 489 sea turtles—108 of them alive and 381 dead—on the two boats. The authorities inventoried the turtles Saturday after the two fishing vessels arrived in Puerto Princesa, having been towed by maritime police for five days, Mr. Rodriguez said.
The live turtles were immediately released to sea after they were photographed to assist in the prosecution of the Chinese and Filipino fishermen.
Seventeen of the live turtles were Hawksbill while 91 were Green Sea turtles. The Hawksbill is a critically endangered species of marine turtle, the poaching of which could trigger, upon a conviction, 12 to 20 years of imprisonment or a fine of $2,290 per act. Philippine environmental laws allow bail for suspects accused of poaching if they are foreigners.
Associated Press video from YouTube (12th May 2014)
The Philippines is a hotbed for poaching. Five of the seven species of sea turtles around the world can be found in the Philippines because of the plentiful sea-grass beds.
Aside from the Hawskbill and Green Sea turtles, other species found in the country include the Olive Ridley, the Loggerhead and the Leatherback, the other marine-turtle species most threatened with extinction.
Sea turtles are valued for their eggs and meat—used in Chinese and other East Asian cuisine—and in Chinese medicine. The Japanese are a major buyer of sea turtle shells, known as bekko, which are used for ornaments and jewelry.
It takes decades before a sea turtle reaches maturity, and only then will females breed and return to the beaches where they hatched to lay their eggs. Predators, loss of habitat and other environmental threats mean as few as one in every 1,000 hatchlings reaches adulthood.
(Source Wall Street Journal Online, 12th May 2014)
Hong Kong has one of the last remaining nesting populations of endangered green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in southern China. According to a recent study (Ng et al., 2014) the number of nesting turtles observed in Hong Kong was relatively low compared with other sites in southern China, but the the number of eggs laid and intervals between nesting is comparable with that of other nearby sites. The nesting turtles are thought to be the survivors of a small population that was reduced by historical harvesting of eggs in Hong Kong. DNA analysis showed that populations in Hong Kong and Lanyu, Taiwan, are genetically different which means the two populations are somehow isolated from each other. So losing either of these populations would cause a loss of genetic diversity for this species in the region, which is bad news. By tracking local nesting turtles by with satellite tags their movements and feeding habitats in Vietnam and Hainan Island were discovered. The research urges to international cooperation and consistent dedicated research for the conservation and recovery of green turtles in the region.
Needless to say the poaching and slaughter of turtles in the region severely threatens an already endangered species.