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Fishermen should leave sea turtle ‘Kumiko’ alone, DENR warns

By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, Aug. 31 – "Kumiko," the green sea turtle tagged with a satellite tracking device and released in Saipan last May to proceed with its migratory character, has been last detected within Bicol waters and local authorities has cautioned the public from interrupting its movement.

The sea turtle migratory tracking project is an initiative of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands’ (CNMI) Department of Lands and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) based in Saipan.

The satellite-tagged turtle was named Kumiko in honor of Kumiko Furokawa, a Japanese volunteer who helped CNMI’s Sea Turtle Program before she died after a fight with cancer the same evening this marine animal emerged to nest.

The animal, a nesting turtle, was chosen to be the first satellite-tagged turtle in Saipan’s history and upon release at the Bird Island Marine Sanctuary in Saipan last May 25, Kumiko crawled back into the Philippine Sea with her new fiber-glassed hardware at the back of her shell.

Saipan, the administrative center of the CNMI, is about 1,440 nautical miles east of the Philippine Archipelago. According to reports on its satellite tracking over the week or about three months after its release, Kumiko has been detected somewhere within the Maqueda Bay north of Caramoan, Camarines Sur and moving towards the southern waters of Catanduanes, Mendoza said.

“Our fishermen or anybody else who would happen to have an encounter with this tortoise should leave it alone,” Felix Mendoza, the regional director of the Protected Areas Wildlife and Coastal Zone Management Services (PAWCZMS) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said here Wednesday.

If accidentally caught on their net, fishermen must release the turtle back to the sea at once without hurting it or removing the fiberglass satellite tag mounted on its carapace. The device is being used in monitoring its movement to study its migration tract that is essential for the conservation and protection of marine turtles, he stressed.

Sea turtles that nest in the CNMI only stay long enough to mate and lay several nests and are off again to their next destination — foraging grounds or places where turtles find food and shelter for several years until they return to their nesting grounds to lay eggs on Saipan beaches again, Mendoza said citing a recent statement of the DLNR.

He said that results of the study would not only serve as a teaching tool for students but to further sea turtle conservation efforts of the CNMI that looks forward to partnering with international agencies that are responsible for managing turtle issues in their foraging grounds, wherever they may be, to ensure protection of these species at home and abroad.

Once Kumiko has left Saipan’s nesting grounds and her tag is registered online, scientists, schoolchildren, and members of the community alike will be able to track her progress on www.ihaggan.com, Mendoza said.

Sea turtles are important to the marine ecology as grazing animals that cut and help maintain the health of sea grass beds to be able to act as breeding and developmental grounds for numerous species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans.

Without sea grass beds, many marine species humans harvest would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. The reactions could result in many more marine species eventually becoming endangered or extinct, Mendoza explained. (PNA)

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