The Philippines is home to 5 of the 7 species of marine turtles, all of which are listed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List. Green, hawksbill, olive Ridley and leatherback turtles can be found across the archipelago, whereas loggerheads remain a mystery though known to occur in the country.
LAMAVE has worked with turtles since 2011. Initial work focused on turtle rescue, in particular, responding to stranding reports as well as conducting an Information Education and Communication Campaign in the province of Bohol, to raise awareness on sea turtle biology and conservation. We are currently providing support to the Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape Management Board, to understand how the turtle population use the protected area.
In 2013 we started investigating the reliability of using photographs of the facial scutes of individual green turtles (Chelonia mydas) as a form of identification. Previously, for sea turtles, individual identification has typically relied on the attachment of plastic or metal tags to the flippers, a methodology that normally involves the live capture and handling of the animals, which could result in injury and stress. Over a number of years the team photographed the facial scutes of turtles at one of our study sites in south Cebu, identifying and re-sighting a total of 38 individual green turtles. The study showed that the pattern of the scutes remained unchanged for a min. of 3.6 years showing photo-ID as a valid minimally invasive technique for identifying individual C. mydas for mark-recapture analyses.
Apo Island lies in the middle of the Mindanao Sea, off the south-eastern coast of Negros Island. It hosts one of the best green turtle snorkelling experiences in the Philippines. In 2016 LAMAVE started providing support to the Apo Island Protected Landscape and Seascape Management Board, to understand how the turtle population use the water of this protected area.
In August 9, 1994, Apo Island was declared a National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) area under Presidential Proclamation No. 438, creating the island as Protected Seascape and Landscape. Today, the management is under the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), which comprises local government units, academics, and the local communities under various organisations.
During in-water surveys the team have been using photo-identification as a minimally invasive technique to collect baseline data on the local turtle population; adding this data to an existing database of the turtles seen on the island. Each turtle can be recognised by the scutes on the side of its head.
Identifying each turtle allows the team to conduct focal follow studies to investigate any impact the tourism might be having on individuals. We can study whether the turtle’s behaviour changes once tourists are in close proximity, for example if we study its breathing rate with and without tourists present we can see if this increases or decreases, or, whether the turtle swims away when a tourist approaches.
In addition to dedicated behavioural surveys, LAMAVE aims to raise awareness about the unique habitat and history of Apo Island and its amazing biodiversity, through dedicated interpretation materials and campaigns such as Their Future Our Future (TFOF), which champions sustainable marine wildlife in the Philippines.
Watch "Can't Touch This", the TFOF video starring the Apo Island Snorkel Equipment Rental and Guiding Association (AISERGA).