Poachers avoid PH waters over kidnap fears – Coast Guard
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Kidnapping in the high seas, usually done by the bandit group Abu Sayyaf, has been scaring away poachers of rare and endangered species of turtles from Tawi-Tawi, an officer of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.
Lt. Makaradat Uddin, PCG district commander in Tawi-Tawi, said poachers from Malaysia, Indonesia and other Asian countries had been veering away from the Tawi-Tawi islands, including the Turtle Islands, the natural nesting ground for green sea turtles.
PCG officials suspected the presence of Abu Sayyaf men, who are known for their kidnap-for-ransom activities and for beheading several of their victims, must have scared the poachers.
“We no longer monitor poachers coming from nearby countries, perhaps they are already afraid of passing through or going to these islands because of the kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf Group,” Uddin told the Inquirer.
He said Tawi-Tawi residents had been closely guarding their areas, particularly the six small islands that composed Turtle Islands. These are Baguan, Langgan, Great Bakkungan, Taganak, Lihiman and Boan.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has declared all marine turtle species as endangered and Turtle Islands as the only major nesting ground for green sea turtles in Southeast Asia.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has also declared Turtle Islands, which cover around 308 hectares of land, as one of its heritage sites.
In May 1996, the Philippines and Malaysia agreed to declare Turtle Islands as the first transboundary protected area for marine turtles in the world, and establish the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area to guarantee the continued existence of marine turtles and their nesting sites.
Cmdr. Joseph Coyme, PCG commander in southwestern Mindanao, said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Protected Area Management Board and the PCG had been protecting these islands not just from poaching but also from illegal fishing.
Uddin said the PCG had arrested a number of foreigners who were either trying to get inside Tawi-Tawi via Sabah or getting out of the country through the southern back door.
Early this year, two Americans, both Muslim converts, were intercepted in Tawi-Tawi when they tried to enter the country through Sabah.
The Americans were supposed to be on an adventure trip but for lack of travel papers, they were arrested and turned over to the Bureau of Immigration for further investigation, Uddin said.
He said they also arrested a Polish who was facing illegal drugs charges in Siquijor province and who tried to escape through Tawi-Tawi.
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