After seven years, governments of Malaysia and the Philippines finally reconvened for the 13th Meeting of the Joint Management Committee for the Turtle Island Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) to provide updates and determine courses of action for the effective management of the protected area. TIHPA is the first transboundary marine turtle protected area in the world. The group of islands is renowned as a major nesting area for green turtles (Chelonia mydas). The bilateral agreement between the Philippine and Malaysian governments ensures protection of these turtles, as well as their habitats across territorial boundaries.
Both country delegations highlighted the importance of TIHPA as a priority area for conservation. The Philippine delegation reported the recent enactment of Republic Act No. 11038, also known as the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System (E-NIPAS) Act of 2018 that includes the Turtle Island Wildlife Sanctuary in Tawi-Tawi as one of the legally gazetted protected areas in the country. Both the Philippines and Malaysia agreed on action points to organize data sharing; strengthen enforcement to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and marine turtle trafficking; and explore possible arrangements for sustained cross border exchange.
One of the major contributions of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape Project was the support to the management of priority green turtle habitats within Sulu-Sulawesi region. The project, in collaboration with the Marine Research Foundation, embarked on a scientific research to validate identified sites within the marine turtle network and improve management of different green turtle habitats beyond TIHPA boundaries. The project also worked with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Department of Agriculture (DA-BFAR) on the implementation of the marine protected area and fisheries management components. (SSS/ John Christian Toledo)