Why save the sea turtles?
Aside from our desire not to awaken to a generation that knows nothing about turtles except what they learn from yet another film or television remake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there are a number of important reasons for strengthening turtle protection.
First, the continued consumption of turtles in Cebu (as recently exposed by Cebu Daily News) and in other places across the country means that fewer and fewer turtles maintain the sea beds which in turn means fish and other marine species are losing viable areas for laying eggs and growing.
The Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy says turtles, together with manatees, happen to eat plenty of sea grass that needs to be cut regularly to be attractive to and healthful for aquatic creatures that nest in the sea beds.
The decimation of turtle populations which upsets the rhythm of fish and other marine creature reproduction and development under the sea therefore helps explain the reduction in fishers’ catch over the years.
Second, since nutrients from turtle eggs normally make coastal lands conducive to the growth of vegetation, fewer turtles and turtle eggs means fewer coastal vegetation which in turn leads to greater soil erosion.
We cannot afford the latter especially now when we are trying to integrate nature and human resources to combat or cope with the effects of global warming that includes rising sea levels.
Imagine how slowly mangrove propagules planted by sea regreening crusaders would grow if coastal lands are no longer as fertile as they used to be because turtle eggs are not left in their place. Picture the effect on mangrove dependent species.
Officials and workers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources need to be consistent in educating the public about the consequences of sea turtle extinction.
Fishers need a new consciousness that in tolerating the poaching and eating of sea turtles and their eggs, they are eliminating partners in the production of fish.
We cannot accept Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s argument passing the buck on sea turtle protection to other government agencies, least of all because Pasil and other barangays where sea turtle is served is just a stone’s throw from City Hall.
In fact, the city’s Community Environment and Natural Resources Office has no mandate to pick and choose which environmental issues to address.
The Environment Department was caught unaware of the continuing consumption of sea turtles, said Al Orolfo, regional technical director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Coastal Zone Management Services.
The officials should not be surprised. Shuttering food stalls that offer sea turtle dishes is not a solution. How much effort has been poured into informing the public that sea turtles are an endangered species, that turtle extinction will ruin the fishing industry? A sustained campaign to change mindsets and erase demand for sea turtles should start pronto.
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