Former Sea Turtle Poachers Are now Protectors

14 February 2023

All the kinds of sea turtles found in the Philippines are endangered. That means they are at risk of dying out.

But now, the turtles have one less threat. Many people who used to collect their eggs to eat or to sell are now working to keep turtles safe.

Those people are called poachers. They took the eggs and caught the turtles illegally to sell them or eat their meat.

Baby olive ridley sea turtles are gathered in a basin minutes after being born at CURMA's hatchery in San Juan, La Union, Philippines, January 12, 2023. (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)
Baby olive ridley sea turtles are gathered in a basin minutes after being born at CURMA's hatchery in San Juan, La Union, Philippines, January 12, 2023. (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

Now, however, conservation organizations are teaching former poachers how to safely collect the eggs and protect them before they hatch. The people who do this are paid about 37 cents per egg. That is four times more than they would earn from selling them illegally.

One of the former poachers is Johnny Manlugay. He is a 55-year-old builder. He said he used to go to beaches at night to steal the turtle eggs to eat or sell. Now, he walks the beaches with a bright light looking for turtle nests and the eggs inside.

Manlugay looks for eggs belonging to a turtle called Olive Ridley. He brings his two dogs who help him find the eggs.

"I've learned to love this work" he said, adding he did not know it was illegal to eat turtle eggs and their meat.

He collects the eggs carefully and brings them to a group called CURMA, which stands for Coastal Underwater Resource Management Actions. CURMA takes the eggs and puts them under the sand in a safe place. When the baby turtles hatch, they are directed to the water.

CURMA is trying to save the Philippine turtles. Along with Olive Ridley, the other kinds of turtles found there are Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Leatherback.

The turtles are called "pawikan" in the local language. They are at risk not only from poachers, but also climate change and habitat loss.

The conservation group formed in 2009. Its members teach the poachers how to collect the eggs and over time, they save thousands of turtles.

Carlos Tamayo is one of CURMA's leaders.

"We talked to the poachers, and it turned out poaching was just another means for them to earn a living," he said. "They had no choice."

Jessie Cabagbag is one of the former poachers who now helps the turtles. He grew up eating their eggs and meat. Now he collects the eggs and keeps them safe. He said the extra money he gets helps him pay for necessary things such as food and electricity.

He also purchased a tricycle, or bicycle with three wheels. He uses it to take passengers from place to place. The money he earns from that helps with his costs when he cannot collect eggs.

Cabagbag is 40 years old. His wife and seven-year-old son sometimes help him collect turtle eggs. Since October, they have taken over 1,000 eggs to CURMA. Cabagbag said that once he received training and learned that the turtles were endangered, he stopped poaching.

When the baby turtles hatch, many visitors come to watch them run down the beach and into the water. Cabagbag said seeing the turtles get safely into the water brings him a feeling of joy.

"I am truly proud," he said. "I am happy that I get to contribute to the conservation of the ‘pawikan.'"

I'm Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on a report by Reuters.


Words in This Story

endangered –n. in danger of dying out

conservation –n. work done to keep things healthy or prevent them from dying

habitat –n. the place where something lives

means –n. a way of doing something

hatch –v. when an animal the develops inside an egg is born

training –n. information or teaching given to someone who is learning something new

nest –n. a safe place where an animal such as a bird lays its eggs

proud –adj. a feeling of happiness after accomplishing something

contribute –v. to give an item or time to a larger product or project