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No. 131, 16th May 2014

1. Manila, Philippines: Turtle poaching at Half Moon Shoal, Palawan Island, Philippines

Follow-up ATP Bulletin No 130

DATE: May 2014

At 7 a.m. on the 6th of May 2014, at Half Moon Shoal, Palawan Island, Philippines, a 15-ton Chinese fishing vessel piloted by Chen Hi-quan was found to be carrying hundreds of marine turtles classified internationally as either endangered or critically endangered, depending on species. Philippine National Police spokesman Superintendent Reuben Sindac said the authorities found 120 live turtles and 234 dead turtles on board while a Filipino vessel with four crewmen was also found loaded with 40 live turtles near the Chinese vessel.
Photos of hundreds of dead sea turtles seized from the Chinese fishing vessel angered online Filipinos over the weekend. The images circulated on Facebook and Twitter, triggering an uproar over poaching of endangered animals for financial gain.

Philippine prosecutors said on Monday they would charge nine Chinese fishermen arrested in disputed East Sea waters with environmental crimes, despite Beijing's warning of a dire effect on relations. If found guilty of collecting "rare, threatened or endangered" species, the most serious allegation they could face up to 20 years in prison and large fines. Poaching in Philippine waters itself is punishable by fines of up to $200,000.
Two crew members were found to be minors and would be repatriated without charges. In the Philippines — where five of the world's seven species of sea turtle live, poachers still seek the species out for their meat, which is believed in some cultures to enhance virility, and their shells, which are used for jewellery. The species include Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate), Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Olive Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), and Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). Theresa Mundita Lim, director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources said all five species of sea turtles in the country are considered endangered or critically endangered, but more so the Hawksbill and Leatherback that are valued for their shells, which are used for ornaments and jewelery.

It takes decades before a sea turtle reaches maturity, and only then will females breed and return to the beaches where they hatched to lay their eggs. Aside from natural predators, including humans, loss of habitat and other environmental threats mean as few as one in every 1,000 hatchlings will reach adulthood. Each female can lay as many as 150 eggs per clutch, and can lay several times a season. According to the World Wildlife Fund, poachers take around 30,000 green turtles in California alone while more than 50,000 sea turtles are killed in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. In the 1960s, over a million Olive Ridley turtles were butchered in Mexico.

The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) said the poaching and illegal trading of the endangered species in the province is alarming. PCSDS spokesperson Alex Marcaida said almost 70 per cent to 80 per cent of their wildlife protection and conservation operations in the Balabac area involved the poaching and illegal trading of the green sea turtles, and this is alarming because the numbers being collected are great. What is even alarming is that it is the Filipino fishermen that are now catching the endangered green sea turtles to make a trade with foreign fishermen, such as the Chinese. Since the location of the shoal is in the open sea, Marcaida believes it is easier for foreign fishermen to escape to nearby country of Malaysia, where they can no longer be chased due to border laws. On 7th of May, he said the military general met with PCSDS staff to discuss what can be done to further increase concerted efforts to protect the marine turtle species, and how the Wescom can also expand its participation.

In recent years, other Chinese fishermen have been caught by Philippine authorities for poaching turtles or other endangered species such as clams and anteaters. After the Philippine coast guard detained 11 Chinese fishermen for poaching turtle near Half Moon Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands on the 6th of May, it has emerged that a senior official from Manila provided the nation's new defence plan for the South China Sea to the Tokyo-based Kyodo News on the same day. This aims to prevent the potential Chinese maritime expansion. The guidelines stated that two patrol vessels and two seaplanes will be deployed to Thitu Island in the Spratlys, and two more ships will be sent to Nanshan Island and Commodore Reef. A marine brigade will be established to defend the islands currently administrated by the Philippines known as the Kalayaan island group. Military facilities such as an airfield and satellite communication stations are also being constructed on Thitu and the islands around it. The Philippines plans to build nine stations to control satellite ocean surveillance systems around Nanshan. All the stations will be completed by 2016.

The Spratly Islands are the most hotly contended group of islands and reefs in the South China Sea as they are claimed in whole or in part by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

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© PNP Maritime Group

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© Palawan Council for Sustainable Development-Asscociated Press

2. Africa: Poachers Use Tourists ' Geotagged Safari Photos to Find Endangered Animals

DATE: 6th May 2014

The battle against poachers is becoming a technological arms race. For every elephant ' s GPS tracking collar and drone for protective surveillance, there is also a poaching ring that ' s trying to scrutinise a tourist's safari photo to find the exact coordinates of an endangered species. The photo of a noticeboard warning about rhino poaching is a suggestion that tourist photos of endangered animals contain information that can betray their whereabouts to tech-savvy poachers. Marc Reading, whose marketing and communications company represents South Africa ' s national parks, said that the technique is to send a young couple on safari with a GPS-enabled smartphone, which poachers use to take a photo of the rhino. The exact co-ordinates are attached to the picture, allowing poachers to come in after dark and track the animal. Broadcasting an animal ' s coordinates could also be done accidentally — many smartphones and GPS-enabled digital cameras automatically embed geotagged data, which lists the physical coordinates where a photo was taken, in the EXIF data that is part of image files. If the picture is uploaded to a social media site with the geotags intact, it could leave the animals vulnerable. The poaching of rhinos is driven by demand from Asia , where their horns have rumoured (but wholly disproven) medicinal powers. More than 1,000 were killed in South Africa alone last year, a 42% increase from 2012. The technological arms race between poachers and anti-poachers has also taken the form of hackers trying to gain access to the encrypted GPS data of a Bengal tiger, according to a report by National Geographic .

ATP NOTE: Modern technology and geotagging also poses a risk to endangered turtle and tortoise species, especially if the species occurs exclusively in a small area like the Ploughshare tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora)

Link to this web article online (English)

© Steve Haggerty/ColorWorld/MCT

3. Antananarivo, Madagascar: Ploughshare Tortoises among shipment of 521 seized at Ivato Airport in Madagascar

DATE: 13th May 2014

Herilala Randriamahazo (Director, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) Madagascar) reported another large tortoise confiscation this week at the Ivato airport in Antananarivo. On Sunday, the 11th of May, 521 tortoises – all juveniles - were seized prior to being loaded on a Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi. The shipment included 512 Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) and nine Ploughshare Tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) that were placed with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) for initial care and safe keeping.
Ploughshare tortoise, locally known as Angonoka, Astrochelys yniphora is listed in Appendix I of CITES and is considered critically endangered (CR) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This species continues to be targeted by wildlife smugglers and Herilala believes that these animals are wild caught. Recognized as the most endangered tortoise in the world, wild populations are being decimated by the international black market trade. The future for this beautiful tortoise is indeed bleak unless this trade can be brought under control.

The TSA is being called on to handle an increasing number of confiscated tortoises recently. Just since the 4 th of March, 655 Radiated (Astrochelys radiata), 27 Ploughshare and 15 Spider Tortoises (Pyxis arachnoides) have been placed in TSA's custody. The TSA has made a concerted effort in recent years to shine a light on the poaching crisis in Madagascar, using grassroots community outreach and education programs. The increase in confiscations is a testament to the increased awareness of the problem, which is exciting, but coordinating the rescue efforts for confiscated tortoises presents a definite challenge.

Link to this web article online (English)


4. West Bengal State, India: Conserving River Terrapins in a Tiger Reserve

DATE: 12th May 2014

The Turtle Survival Alliance-India (TSA India) Turtle Conservation Program and the West Bengal Forest Department (WBFD) have been working in partnership in an effort to save the critically endangered Sundarban, or Northern, river terrapin (Batagur baska) from extinction. In 2008, TSA India inspected the Batagur pond at Sajnekhali at the Tiger Reserve headquarters, and captured 13 (eight male and five female) individuals, which led to the rejuvenation of the River Terrapin breeding program by the WBFD. These animals had not had any surviving young due to the absence of a nesting beach and predators such as mongoose and water monitor lizards. Working with the Forestry Department, TSA India provided critical input to husbandry and management protocols that led to the successful nesting and hatching of 33 babies in 2012, with 56 the following year. This year, a large pool and nesting beach was completely covered and fenced to keep out local predators. The Northern River Terrapin is regarded as one of the most endangered turtles in the world, and the 99 individuals in captivity at Sajnekhali represent one of the largest colonies of the species. Due to the rapid growth of captive Batagur baska and the expected expansion of this captive group, a reintroduction is the logical next step. The TSA India team recently concluded a survey in one section of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve, evaluating historic nesting beaches for the presence of remnant females. The goal is to identify safe and suitable sites for a pilot reintroduction of ten captive-raised Batagur baska . Their destination was an area where the last reported nesting sites for Batagur baska were documented 20 years ago. The team was there during the nesting season to survey beaches and try and detect if any Batagur baska nesting was taking place. They also did habitat assessments while surveying the area checking salinity, depths and tidal creeks for possible soft-release areas for headstarted Batagur baska. There were only three islands in the area that had suitable nesting beaches. Now that the area has been declared off-limits to fishing, and with a substantial tiger population in the area as a deterrent to poachers, it seems like the time is right for reintroduction.

Link to this web article online (English)


5. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Galapagos emergency over stranded cargo ship

DATE: 15th May 2014

Ecuador has declared an emergency in the Galapagos Islands, saying that a cargo ship which ran aground last week still poses a threat to the archipelago's fragile ecosystem. The ship's cargo has been offloaded, but the authorities said pollutants, like motor oil, inside the vessel could spill and cause environmental damage. They were working to remove the ship.

The Galapagos are home to unique animal species such as the Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra), marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) and flightless cormorant (Phalacrocorax harrisi). In 1978, the chain of volcanic islands were declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The Ecuadorean freighter, the Galapaface I, became stranded off the rocky coast of the island of San Cristobal last Friday. It was carrying more than 70,000 litres (15,400 gallons) of diesel fuel. The governor of the Galapagos said that, despite having emptied all the fuel, some pollutants remained inside. In a statement, the Ecuadorian government said the emergency measure would free up resources to remove the vessel. This is not the first ship accident in the Galapagos.

In 2001, an oil tanker also became stranded off the coast of San Cristobal, spilling fuel and decimating the marine iguana population.

Link to this web article online (English)



6. Muradganj town, Auraiya district, Uttar Pradesh state, India: 158 endangered turtles rescued in Auraiya

DATE: 15th May 2014

On the 14th of May 2014, around 158 endangered turtles were rescued in Auraiya district, Uttar Pradesh state, India while being smuggled to other parts of the country. A team of Ayana police and forest department officials seized 158 pond turtles, packed in four jute sacks, from a loader at Muradganj town, Auraiya district on Wednesday. The vehicle carrying the turtles had an accident on Auraiya-Etawah National highway near Muradganj town. An officer said the loader was found in an abandoned state by the road side. The district forest department of Etawah was informed and officials travelled to Auraiya to take charge of the reptiles. This is the first case when such a huge consignment of spotted pond turtles has been seized in the region.

ATP NOTE: The turtles in the shipment were Spotted Pond turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) and were transported to Delhi from Kanpur Dehat for the illegal pet trade. All of the turtles are alive and hopes are high that they can be released within the week after getting the permission from Court. Despite being listed on Appendix I of CITES and considered vulnerable (VU) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species is still traded in some numbers for the international consumption trade.

Link to this web article online (English)

7. Ganjam district, Odisha state, India: India's olive ridley turtles start life with a swim for survival

DATE: 9th May 2014

In February and March 2014 about 10,000 female olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) hauled themselves up on to the beaches of the Ganjam district in Odisha, India over a period of a few weeks to lay the next generation in the warm sands. Up to 150,000 females can turn up and, laying 120 eggs each, such mass nesting events are a phenomenal sight. After incubating for a couple of months, the hatchlings emerge during April and
May to make their chaotic dash for the sea.

Unfortunately, due to predators, survival rates can be as low as two per 1,000 hatchlings. Having made a beeline for the ocean, they disappear into the deep blue, giving scientists the slip. Exactly how young olive ridley turtles spend their next few years at sea, and where they travel, is still a mystery. In a few decades they will start the cycle afresh, returning as mature adults to the beaches from which they first broke the surface and saw the sun. How they do this still remains unknown, though it is likely they use a combination of cues including the Earth's magnetic field, low-frequency sounds and chemical signatures of their birth beach. Yet life is far from safe for the adults either. They were once extensively over-harvested for their meat and eggs; eating their eggs is now illegal, but the trade continues. The biggest threat these days comes in the form of accidental entanglement in the nets of the millions of fishing vessels that scour the oceans.

Nevertheless, the tides are changing in Ganjam. The fishermen who once caught the turtles are now their saviours, with communities involved in fencing off nest sites and patrolling beaches as the hatchlings emerge, giving the turtles a fighting chance to ride the surf.

Link to this web article online (English)


8. Coffs Harbour City, Australia: Surf ' s up for rescued loggerhead sea turtle babies at Coffs Harbour

DATE: 16th May 2014

A rare nest of baby Loggerhead (Carreta carreta) sea turtles had to hitch a ride with a surfer out to sea after hatching unexpectedly in Coffs Harbour.
A fatal combination of cold temperatures and large swells meant the babies struggled to get out to the ocean after they hatched on Saturday. With the help of a surfer, they were taken beyond the break to give them a fighting chance. Dolphin Marine Magic, with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, had been monitoring the nest of the critically endangered species. When rangers returned to check the nest on the 12th of May, they found more babies hatching. Too weak and sick to survive in the wild, the 22 live hatchlings are now in the care of Dolphin Marine Magic.
Dolphin Marine Magic veterinarian Duan March said in total 52 turtles hatched from the nest on Saturday and made it to the ocean. Unfortunately some of these did not make it on the day, with 18 being found on the shoreline on Sunday morning. He said the rescued turtles that had been taken to the park were recovering well — putting on weight, eating and swimming.

Link to this web article online (English)

© Solvin Zankl/plainpicture

© News Corp Australia

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