Manila: Three fishermen were arrested by police in Central Philippines’ Lapu-Lapu City recently for killing a green sea turtle, an endangered species that provides valuable contribution to the ecosystem.

Reports reaching Manila said the three fishermen from the Badjao seagoing tribe were arrested by the regional maritime police and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Cebu last Saturday after the authorities found in their possession a dead green sea turtle.

The green sea turtle, known locally as ‘pawikan’, bore a wound from the arrow of a spear gun that was used by the suspects to hunt it down underwater.

Col Genaro Sapiera, chief of the Regional Maritime Unit (RMU) in Central Visayas, said their group was conducting a maritime patrol near Lapu-Lapu City’s Caohagan village when they saw the suspects dispose of the turtle as their boat approached the suspects’ motorised outrigger.

“While the team approached the said pump boat, they saw the suspects throw a turtle into the sea. That was the time the team proceeded to the direction where it was thrown and found the dead turtle floating,” the daily Sunstar Cebu quoted Sapiera as saying.

Photos of the dead green sea turtle with an arrow wound at the carapace were taken by the regional maritime police and published on the Sunstar Facebook page.

It’s not known if the fishermen will be formally charged. Under the country’s environmental laws, hunting and capture of animals categorised under “endangered” and “critically endangered” are punishable with imprisonment.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the green turtle is one of the largest sea turtles and the only herbivore among the different species.

“Green turtles are in fact named for the greenish colour of their cartilage and fat, not their shells,” WWF said, adding that green turtles are classified as endangered, and are “threatened by overharvesting of their eggs, hunting of adults, being caught in fishing gear and loss of nesting beach sites.”

“They migrate long distances between feeding grounds and the beaches from where they hatched,” it said.

The Philippines’ Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) said green sea turtles provide valuable contribution to the ecosystem.

The BMB, an agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said: “Green turtles graze on seagrasses and algae, which maintains the sea grass beds and makes them more productive [much like mowing the lawn to keep it healthy].”

“Seagrass consumed by green turtles is quickly digested and becomes available as recycled nutrients to the many species of plants and animals that live in the sea grass ecosystem. Seagrass beds also function as nurseries for several species of invertebrates and fish, many of which are of considerable value to commercial fisheries and therefore important to human food security,” it added.