Boats carrying endangered shells intercepted in Cebu


MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Navy, and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) are investigating 3 boats or batils found carrying threatened shell species that may have come from Tubbataha Reef Natural Park.

The boats were intercepted by the PCG and Navy around 11 pm on Wednesday, July 8, in Olango Island, Cebu.

The boats held sacks of Trochus niloticus, a threatened reef gastropod that thrives in the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Park.

A 2010 study by Filipino conservationists say the species, locally called samong, is one of “the most valuable and sought-after” shell species. It is heavily fished in the park because of its use as a raw material for mother-of-pearl buttons.

Biodiversity Management Bureau director Theresa Mundita Lim confirmed the apprehension to Rappler on Thursday, July 9.

The boats are docked in the village of Tinggo in Olango Island. The boatmen appeared to be residents of the island.

Still completing inventory

Government scientists are still completing an inventory of all the species found on the boats.

“The BFAR and DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Region 7 are still making the inventory to check if the boats were carrying other endangered species. We are still waiting for an update from the Region 7 office,” she told Rappler.

They are still also confirming if the shells came from Tubbataha Reef.

Environmental crime expert Mar Guidote said the 3 seized boats likely came from an illegal oil trade operation in Palawan.

The boats, usually from Cebu, travel to the high seas off Palawan to pick up petroleum-loaded drums from Malaysian ships.

Acting as “delivery boys,” they bring the drums either to southern Palawan or to other big ships at sea. On their way home to Cebu, they “pick up” threatened species from Palawan waters to “make more money on the side,” said Guidote, a law enforcement advisor for conservation programs

The PCG and Navy had long set eyes on apprehending these particular boats, he added. –

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