Apo Reef’s critically endangered sea turtles have doubled in numbers amid the lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Apo Reef Natural Park reported 29 hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green sea turtles were seen thriving in the waters of Occidental Mindoro on August 31, 2020, nearly double the 15 recorded in 2019.
Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) Krystal Dayne Villanada credits the improved number of sea turtles in the area to decreased tourism activity due to the park’s temporary closure in line with the government directives for community quarantine.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the ecotourism activities of Apo Reef Natural Park. This led to its closure from outsiders and low IPAF (Integrated Protected Areas Fund) collection. However, this pandemic also made way for the island to rejuvenate,” Villanada said in a live discussion organized by the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB).
The entire Apo Reef complex comprises of the Apo Island, which is rife with mangrove vegetation, and the northern and southern coral reef complex around Binangaan Islet and Cayos del Bajo.
The Reef and the vast expansive waters around are protected areas in the Philippines, known as the Apo Reef Natural Park (ARNP). The National Park is located approximately 33 kilometers off the coast of Sablayan in the Occidental Mindoro province.
The PASu also noted the speedy increase in the turtle population. According to Villanada, 21 of the turtles have already laid their eggs based on the tracks left by hatchlings returning to the sea.
“It was observed that more turtles lay eggs, even in areas previously used for tourism activities, and the presence of crown of thorns (a starfish feeding on coral polyps) significantly decreased,” she added.
The park officially re-opened to local tourists on July 20 but is still seeing few visitors amid the ongoing nationwide quarantine.
This September, Apo Reef is celebrating 24 years of conservation since it was declared as a Protected Area under the category of Natural Park on September 6, 1996, by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 0868, s. 1996.
Conservation efforts for the marine creatures in the Philippine seas have meanwhile not been disrupted by the pandemic.
WWF-Philippines maintains its daily whale shark monitoring operations, despite the temporary suspension of tourism activity in the Ticao-Burias Pass Protected Seascape (TBPPS) due to ongoing lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID 19.
The group sighted 19 new whale sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon’s waters since the beginning of 2020.
WATCH Apo Reef Natural Park’s anniversary video here and SEND CHEERS in the comments below to the conservationists caring for Apo Reef’s endangered sea turtles which doubled in numbers during the lockdown.
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