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2 fishers with 70 dead turtles held in Palawan

By: AFP and Aaron B. Recuenco

Police have seized 70 dead hawksbill marine turtles, a critically endangered specie illegally trafficked for its prized shell, and arrested two fishermen for transporting them in Palawan last Thursday.

Hawksbills face an extremely high risk of extinction according to Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature as their shell is used for making jewelry and hair ornaments.

Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, director of the Region 4-B or Mindoro Oriental and Occidental, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan police, identified the suspects as 27-year-old Rico Gonzales and Kim Aristotiles, 28, residents of Taytay, Palawan.

They were arrested while transporting the dead hawksbills from Taytay by boat off the coast of Dumaran, Palawan, local police chief Chief Insp. Arnel Bagona told AFP.

“We suspect that these two are dealing with Chinese poachers,” Bagona said by telephone.

The marine turtles, who roam the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, are typically found around coastal reefs, estuaries, and lagoons.

Philippine conservation law prohibits their collection and trade.

Palawan, an archipelago of more than 1,700 islands in the South China Sea, is famous for its abundant marine life targeted by poachers.

Bagona said poachers usually bought the hawksbills and other rare Palawan-based species from locals.

Hawksbills retailed for at least P3,500 ($69) each in the black market, he added. Bagona said police have asked prosecutors to file charges against the suspects for taking endangered species, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to P5 million pesos (about $99,000).

The suspects told police they planned to deliver the dead sea turtles to the island of Balabac, about 400 kilometers south of Dumaran, he said.

Bagona said the remote island is infamous as a trading place for wildlife poachers.