Authorities have seized some 200 tons of illegally harvested giant clam shells worth nearly $25 million in one of the biggest known operations of its kind in the country.
The Coast Guard said four suspects were arrested on the remote Green Island in the Sulu Sea that turned up the largest ever giant clamshell haul by law enforcers in the area.
“Taking the giant clams from their natural habitat is a form of inter-generational crime,” Jovic Fabello, spokesman for the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development told AFP.
“It will permanently affect the marine ecosystem and future generations will be deprived of the benefits accruing from it,” he added.
He said the seized shells included those of the Tridacna gigas, the world’s largest clam.
Growing up to 1.3 meters wide and weighing up to 250 kilogram, these host marine algae which are a basic food source for many of the fish species consumed by humans.
Conservationists say giant clam shells are used as an alternative material for products ranging from earrings to chandeliers as ivory becomes scarce.
Fabello said the illegal trade in giant clams has been growing in Palawan and several other areas of the Philippines in the past three years.
Killing endangered species is punishable by up to 12 years in prison and fines of up to a million pesos under the country’s wildlife protection act.
“These people are digging up giant clams and killing them,” Fabello alleged.
The coast guard estimated the value of the latest haul at P1.2 billion ($24.8 million).
It dwarfed the previous Palawan record of 80 tons of giant clam shells worth $3.3 million that were seized early last month from Johnson Island, also near the venue of Friday’s raid.
Meanwhile, an environmental group said the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea was worse than an actual invasion as the country’s resources are depleted by the illegal fishing armada.
“This is worse than an actual invasion because they are invading our resources. The government has to undertake more concrete action,” said Villardo Abuene, president of the Homonhon Environmental Rescue Organization.
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