Philippine custom officials filed criminal charges against a number of individuals last week found to have smuggled $810,000 worth of rare coral and sea turtles.
Two vans from a southern province were intercepted in Manila in May and found to contain 21,169 pieces of Black corals, 163 stuffed Hawkbills and Green turtles, 7,340 pieces of Trumpet and Helmet shells and 196kg of Sea whip coral.
It is thought that the smugglers must have harvested and destroyed an area at least 73 square miles (190 square kilometres) in area of coral reef — almost five times the size of the Philippine capital, Manila.
The Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez filed a complaint charging the owner, consignee, shippers and haulers of the cargo with charges of violating the ban on coral exploitation and exportation and related offenses.
Exequiel Navarro, who is listed in the shipment's manifest as the consignee, has denied the charges saying he was not aware what was in the cargo, and none of those linked to the shipment have been arrested. They have, however, been put on an immigration watch list to prevent them from leaving the country.
Penalties for illegally collecting shells and coral vary from two to 12 years plus fines depending on the offense. Alvarez said: " brought to the fore the devastation being caused on the marine ecosystem by the illegal harvesters of endangered and threatened marine life and the greediness of those who finance their search-and-destroy operation."
The Philippines is one of six countries straddling the ‘Coral Triangle’ — a 2.1 million-square-mile stretch of ocean that contains 75% of the world's coral species, one-third of the Earth's coral reefs, and more than 3,000 species of fish.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature commercial fishing has meant that only five percent of coral reefs in the Philippines are left in excellent condition, with only one percent said to be in a "pristine" state.
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