Turtle Islands Wilderness Sanctuary
Turtle Islands, Philippines
MARINE PROTECTED AREA
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Turtle Islands, also known as Turtle Isles, is a 5th class municipality composed of a remote group of seven islands in the province of Tawi-Tawi in the Southern Philippines. According to the 2010 census it has 10,048 people in 1,955 housholds.
The islands are located within the Sulu Sea at the southwestern tip of the country, at the edge of the international treaty limits separating the Philippines and Malaysia. The seven islands from northwest to southeast are:
Fresh water is reported available from shallow groundwater on the last six islands.
In the Philippines, mud volcanoes are known to exist only on the Turtle Islands. Presence of these formations are evident on three of the islands - Lihiman, Great Bakkungaan and Boaan Islands. The hills on these islands are mostly mud volcanoes. On Great Bakkungan Island, gray mud quietly flows from the vent in a pulsating manner accompanied by gas bubbling. On Boan Island, mud extrusion have ceased for a number of years.
Compared to the other two islands, in Lihiman Island, a more violent extrusions of mud, mixed with large pieces of rocks occur that it has created a 20-m (66-ft) wide crater on the hilly part of the island. Such extrusions are reported to be accompanied by mild earthquakes and evidence of extruded materials can be found high up the surrounding trees because of its explosive character. Huge amount of materials are discharged from this volcano that drainage was cut on the northern slope of the hill to direct the flow to the sea. Submarine mud extrusions off the island have also been observed by local residents.
The Turtle Islands is a municipality of Tawi-Tawi province and is politically subdivided into 2 barangays:
According to the 2010 census, the population of the five permanently inhabited islands is 3,772 people in 646 households. With a land area of only 3.08 square kilometers, the islands have a population density of 1168 persons per km² – much higher than the national average of 276 persons per km².
The 2010 Census reported that, as of August 1, 2007, the population of the islands was 6,194.
The islands, together with Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi, were formerly held by the United Kingdom which at that time administered the adjacent territory of North Borneo (the current Sabah state of Malaysia), as a British Protectorate. Following the League of Nations Treaty between the United States, which controlled the Philippines, and United Kingdom on January 2, 1930 regarding territorial boundaries, the UK turned over seven of the Turtle Islands (or Turtle Isles as the UK call it) and Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi to the United States in 1930. The islands came under Philippine sovereignty with the recognition by the United States of Philippine Independence on July 4, 1946. The remaining three Turtle Islands which were not turned over by UK are now part of Malaysia, and are now the Malaysian Turtle Islands National Park.
Together with three islands of neighbor country Malaysia and the surrounding coral waters, Turtle Islands are the only living areas for the Green Sea Turtles in Asia and in the whole world. In 1996, the islands were declared as Turtle Islands Heritage Protected area by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia as the only way to guarantee the continued existence of the green sea turtles and their nesting sites.
For the five islands, the Philippine government decided to create special protection zones, and within this zones, only scientific and conservation activities are allowed. In other zones, certain rules are adapted in order to prevent too much impact by people on the environment and the turtles. Visiting these zones is only possible with strict guidance and under supervision of the staff of the officials of the government.
For a successful conservation and protection program, the support of the locals was very important. Fishing, for most of them, is the most important activity and source of income. Hunting sea turtles and collecting the turtle eggs for food, had always been a possible source for additional income. From the end of August to December, turtles come by the hundreds from the surrounding coastal waters, to lay and dig their eggs into the sand. The staff of the conservation project were able to succeed in convincing the locals the need to minimize their collecting activities. Local men, women and children, are now involved, helping with the protection activities.
In 1988, the Manila press announced that Malaysia had annexed the islands. Three days of hype, supported by news maps showing the annexation, died away when it was revealed that the "annexation" was the result of the misreading of an American naval chart by a Philippine naval officer. The officer mistook a deepwater ship route for the boundary of Malaysia's new economic zone.
Access to the Turtle Islands is difficult, as there are no regular means of transportation to the area.
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