EVERY living thing in this planet has its purpose for its existence wherein each organism plays a specific function in the ecosystem.
Animals help maintain the Earth's natural environments by predating upon plants and other animals, pollinating various plants, and exhaling carbon dioxide, which green plants require to live. They help maintain the balance in the ecosystem and sometimes provide for some of the materials that human beings eat and use.
According to the IUCN Red List (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), there are over 41,415 species of animals throughout the world and 16,306 of them are already endangered and threatened with extinction. This is a dramatic increase as it went up from 16,118 last year.
The current rate of extinction appears to be hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of times higher than the background rate. It is difficult to be precise because most of the endangered species which are becoming disappearing species have never been identified yet by scientists.
Extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms, normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point.
With the absence of specie in the ecosystem due to extinction, it can tip off the balance in the order of nature and can affect the survival of other species in the system. It can either cause the population of its prey to increase rapidly and dominate other participants in the ecosystem or cause starvation and death to its predators.
One of the endangered animals in the Philippines is the sea turtle or commonly known as “pawikan” among the locals. Despite government laws which aim to preserve and protect them from poaching, hunting and poaching of pawikans is still ongoing.
In Daliao village, Toril, Davao City, the issue of catching and selling pawikans is part of the business in their public market. Pawikans are sold by the local fishermen even though they are aware that such action is illegal and prohibited since sea turtles are endangered species.
“These fishermen would walk around our purok, selling the pawikans that they caught house to house,” a local resident said.
She added that there are times that the pawikans are accidentally caught by the fishermen in their fishnets when they start pulling it out of the water. But instead of returning the pawikans back into the water, they would just put it in a different barrel and hide it in their fishing boats to elude detection from the local authorities when they arrive at the fishport for inspection.
“The place where they usually catch fishes might probably be a suitable habitat for the pawikans. Perhaps it is where they swim to after they are released to the ocean from a pawikan sanctuary in a coastal area in the city, which is more or less 10 kilometers from here,” she said.
The pawikan sanctuary that the local resident mentioned is the one at Cleanergy Park in Punta Dumalag maintained by the AboitizPower and first discovered by erstwhile City Councilor Leonardo Avila III sometime in 2003.
The fishermen slaughtering the turtles they accidentally catch after finding out that they could sell it at a high price and earn extra money.
In the country, one of the government offices that monitor and safeguard the welfare of aquatic creatures inside Philippine waters is the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). They regulate fishing in the country and enforce laws that protect the marine life in our oceans.
BFAR-Davao Regional Director Fatma Idris said in an interview that the commercial fishers caught were fishing mostly off the coast of Davao Oriental. She added that the Fisheries Code in the Philippines says that illegal fishing includes the catching of endangered species such as pawikans (sea turtles) and dugongs (sea lions).
“Most of the cases encountered by our patrol teams are illegal fishing. Most of the vessels that we caught for illegal fishing were unlicensed and that the fishing operations were unauthorized”, Idris said.
Idris said that although the fishermen from Barangay Daliao justified that they just accidentally caught the pawikans in their fishnets, the mere act of keeping the pawikans instead of setting it free back to the ocean and selling it is already against the law.
As the Regional Director of BFAR-Davao, Idris encourages all Filipinos, especially the Dabawenyos, to help and support marine wildlife sanctuaries in the country in preserving and protecting the endangered living treasures found underneath our oceans so that the future generations can still witness the existence of pawikans and to sustain the balance in the ecosystem.
Truman Phillip Calipes is a student of Ateneo de Davao University.