Fishermen in Bato Barangay Catch 5 Sea Turtles in 9 days

Three fishermen in Binanwahan, Bato have caught five sea turtles in their nets in nine days starting two weeks ago, indicating that the sea grass beds of Cabugao Bay have become a feeding ground for the marine turtles.

marine turtle
Green sea turtle set free.
The extraordinary event began Sept. 14, when Allan Balmadrid, 54, accidentally captured a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) in his fishing nets while the turtle was feeding at the sea bottom around 100 meters from the shoreline. The find was immediately reported by municipal; agriculturist Lito Barba to Edith Milan, section chief of the CENRO’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau.

Milan said the turtle weighed 20 kilograms, with a carapace 50 centimeters long and 45 centimeters wide. It was released back to sea at 4:25 P.M. with tag number PH0555c.

Three days later, on Sept. 17, Balmadrid again accidentally found another "pawikan" of the same species in his net, this time a 25-kilo turtle with a carapace 56 centimeter long and 51 centimeters wide. It was tagged and released by CENRO’s Milan at 3:45 P.M. on the same day.

marine turtle
A tag on its right foreflipper upon its release to natural habitat for monitoring purposes.
Balmadrid’s ‘luck’ was not yet over, as on Sept. 20, at around 11 A.M., his net again snagged a 20-kilogram green sea turtle, which he released at the beach at noon after learning that the CENRO had ran out of tags.

The fisherman, who is married with six childen, three of whom are still studying, said he did not hesitate in deciding to release the sea turtles despite his colleagues’ advice that they keep and slaughter the animals. "The turtles seem to drive fish towards our net," Balmadrid said.

Barangay captain Rustum Asejo told the Tribune that in the following days, two other fishermen –Fernando Tapit and Eduardo Santos - also caught sea turtles in their nets on Sept 21 and 23, respectively. They released the animals immediately back to sea.

marine turtle
Endangered green sea turtle.
Asejo, who said he has been telling local fishermen to release turtles caught in their nets, informed that this is the first time he has heard of that many turtles caught at one time. He joined Balmadrid in speculating that the turtles may be laying eggs at the sandy shore near Binanwahan bridge as their tracks have been spotted in the area. The area where the turtles were caught is limited to the sea just off Binanwahan bridge as there are no reports of fishermen catching turtles in the sea off neighboring villages.

Many fishermen in the neighboring villages in the Cabugao area engage in fishing using fine mesh nets, "ambit" and "sinsoro," with the latter requiring 30 persons. Asejo said that at present there are four "sinsoros" in Binanwahan and four more in Cabugao, but the practice, which is prohibited by law, does not deplete the fish population as it is not done on a daily basis.

The village chief said he underwent a one-day seminar together with Sipi barangay chairman Nilo Teople and members of the local Protected Areas and Wildlife Board at the DENR where the issue of what to do with sea turtles caught by fishermen was briefly discussed. He said the meeting did not say what they would do if they found turtle eggs laid on their shores.

In the early 70’s, they said, a bulldozer working on the barge landing site near the Ficelco compound accidentally uncovered a huge turtle nest. "The people found it difficult to haul away the eggs, there were so many of them," Balmadrid recounted.

Balmadrid and the barangay captain also told the Tribune that sometime in 2002, Eduardo Santos caught a "binililan na pawikan" (probably a leatherback sea turtle) weighing about 50 kilograms. The find was reported to the DENR, whose personnel got the turtle purportedly for tagging. Santos soon learned that the unreleased turtle died days later and was butchered by the DENR personnel, who gave him just a kilo of the turtle meat.

According to Milan, some fishermen in the area wantonly kill captured marine turtles. Republic Act 9147, otherwise known as the "Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act," imposes heavy penalties on the collection, killing and trading of critically endangered and endangered species, including marine turtles. Those found guilty could face fines ranging from P500,000 to a million pesos and years of imprisonment.

Source: Catanduanes Tribune - 04 October 2010