CEBU, Philippines – A rare kind of sea turtle weighing 80 kilos was found dead in the coastal barangay of Sabang in Danao City, while 11 giant clams died in a marine sanctuary in Alcoy town due to the onslaught of Typhoon “Pablo” early this week.
The female leatherback sea turtle that had cracks on its head and shell was found by a resident last Monday morning.
This type of sea turtle is the largest turtle on Earth and is continuously declining. It can grow to seven feet and weigh 900 kilograms.
According to the National Geographic website, “This is the only remaining representative of a family of turtles that traces its evolutionary roots back more than 100 million years.”
Jaime Gorres, staff of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO), told Sun.Star Cebu that big waves might have washed the turtle ashore.
The turtle was 45 inches long and 39 inches wide.
Gorres said the propeller of a motor boat could have hit the sea turtle’s head.
Quoting Danao City Veterinarian Dr. Roque Noya, Gorres said the turtle may have died a week ago and reached the coastal barangay because of the big waves caused by Typhoon Pablo.
Gorres said the turtle died of head injuries.
The residents of Sabang buried the turtle within the barangay.
In Alcoy, officials reported that there were 11 giant clams that died in a marine sanctuary off the municipal waters.
Alcoy Councilor Ricky Gonzales said the clams were part of the municipality’s project with the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute in 2002. The institution turned over 70 clams and 49 survived through the years.
Some divers retrieved the clams and found 11 were dead and rotting while eight are still alive, but they are not expected to live long.
The surviving clams are under stress, there may be more that would die, Gonzales told Sun.Star Cebu.
Coastal Conservation Education Foundation (CCEF) also provided technical help for the program to increase the population of giant clams, especially in the marine sanctuary in Alcoy.
Gonzales could not specify the actual weight of the clams but he said that each clam had to be carried by two people.
The clams that were brought in from Pangasinan province were about the size of a large fist that have grown to more than two feet in length.
As of Thursday morning, 11 dead giant clams and eight live ones were retrieved during an operation spearheaded by the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (Menro).
CCEF director Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio said they lost “a product of almost a decade of marine protection and conservation” especially by the active Bantay Dagat enforcers and local government unit officials in close partnership with the CCEF and the Southeast Cebu Coastal Resource Management Council, the cluster of seven local government units in southern Cebu.
She said the typhoon caused the massive movement of sand in the sandbar near the area where the giant clams were found, smothering and killing the clams.
“This is quite alarming considering the amount of conservation work that were invested in order to protect them but in just one instant, they are gone,” lawyer Eisma-Osorio said.
The giant clams, with scientific name Tridacna gigas, are an important part of the marine ecosystem as their coral-like shells add to the structure of the coral reef.
One giant clam can filter about 100 liters of water per day.
They help clean nutrients from the water that would otherwise encourage the growth of algae that can smother corals. Thus, they also help clean up dirty and polluted waters. They can grow to about six feet long, but they only grow at a maximum of 12 centimeters a year, Osorio said.
The giant clams are listed under the endangered species status due to overharvesting and collection.
“Our national laws make it an offense to harvest and trade giant clams,” she said.
An application with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to fund the conservation of giant clams may be in peril with the loss of a large number of giant clams, Gonzales said.
He was referring to the Municipal Government’s application with the DENR’s Integrated Coastal Resources Management Program aimed at funding the giant clam project.
He said they will also consult marine biology experts from University of the Philippines on their next move after the retrieval operations end.
Osorio said what needs to be done immediately is to retrieve as many surviving giant clams as possible.
On hindsight, she said, there is a need to undertake adaptation measures to address climate change, including the immediate physical transfer and recovery of giant clams as part of the early action measures when there are strong typhoons.
“These are helpless creatures and they need to be physically taken out of possible danger areas,” she added.