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Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary

Date of Submission: 20/03/2015
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Philippines National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Sulu, Province of Tawi-Tawi
Coordinates: N 4 30 and 5 20 E 199 25 and 121 25
Ref.: 6008
Word File Word File

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Turtle Islands is part of the Sulu Archipelago which is composed of approximately 400 islands of varying shapes and sizes. It is located at the southwestern tip of the Philippines, about 1,000 km southwest of Manila. The Protected Area is situated between coordinates 4º 30’ and 5º 20’ North Latitude and 199º 25’ and 121º 52’ East Longitude.  On the west and north, it is bounded by the Sulu and Mindanao Seas, and on the east and south, by the Celebes Sea.The group of Islands, namely, Boan, Lihiman, Langaan, Great Bakkungan, Taganak, and Baguan. It has a total aggregate area of 241,495.92 hectares of which 298.27 hectares correspond to the land portions of the Sanctuary. The smallest Island, the Langaan measures about 7 hectares, while the largest, the Taganak Island, is about 124 hectares. Generally, the TIWS topography ranges from flat, low hills and plateau, to high topographic relief features reaching as high as 150 meters above sea level.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

It was proclaimed as Wildlife Sanctuary under Proclamation No. 171 on August 26, 1999 and identified as Extremely High (EH) for biodiversity conservation. The only major nesting habitat of Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas)  in the Philippines and the only major nesting ground in the whole ASEAN Region and the 11th major nesting site in the world. Marine Turtles play an important role in marine ecosystem as it maintains a maintains a healthy coral reefs and sea grass that serves a breeding ground for fishes and small crustaceans. On May 31, 1996 a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of Malaysia was signed declaring Turtle Islands as Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA), the first trans boundary protected area on sea turtles in the world aiming for the conservation and protection of the area. During peak season, 80-150 turtles laid eggs every night   from May-July. The Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) also occur but with a low density nesting in contrast to the Green Turtle. On flora diversity, 200 species have been identified, of these, 10 mangrove species have been seen growing in Boan and Taganak Island, while 19 species of ferns are found in all the six islands. Thirty-four avian species have been observed to occur in the entire Turtle Islands.

Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary was included in the launching of Model Marine Protected Area Network (MPA network) on May 14-15, 2014 at Manado Indonesia. It aims to safeguard Marine Turtle and their habitats. Working on connectivity and operating cooperatively in the Coral Triangle Initiative CTI), Sulu Sulawasesi Marine Ecoregion (SSME).

Criterion (ix): outstanding example representing significant ongoing ecological and biological processes.

Criterion (x):  contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Turtle Islands was declared as Turtle Island Heritage Protected Area (TIHPA) through a MOA between the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of Malaysia on May 31, 1996. It was proclaimed as Wildlife Sanctuary under Proclamation No. 171 on August 26, 1999 and identified as Extremely High (EH) for biodiversity conservation. Thousands of nesters were recorded annually. On 2012 there were twenty one thousands (21,703) of nesters recorded, the highest since 1988 where monitoring has started. However, on 2013 there was a decline in the population of nesters to 17,290 because of poaching from other neighboring place and countries. Worldwide, marine turtle populations have critically decline hence the CITES-IUCN has declared all species of marine turtle endangered.

Comparison with other similar properties

Locally, the Apo Reef, Occidental Mindoro- proclaimed marine and national park possess a wide array of habitats which are valuable for scientific studies and a perfect destination for environmental tours. Numerous species of fauna and flora are discovered inhabiting the sandy beaches, beach forests, coral reefs, algae flat, mangroves and sea grass of the reef. The reef's underwater terrain boasts for its unique coral walls, caves and drop offs. They are home to some species of mantas, sharks, school of jacks and snappers, and groups of tropical aquarium fishes and hundreds more marine species. The island as well serves as a nesting ground for numerous species of migratory and resident breeder birds, and a rich territory of endemic wildlife and plant life species such as Nicobar pigeons, sea turtles, sea grass and algae.

Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary was also recognized internationally in the Coral Triangle Initiative which was rated category 4 as Flagship Regional Site like the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park. It has given a high rate as part of the CT6 countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. In Turtle Islands, several  tracks of turtles and thousands of tracks of hatchlings would would be seen early morning.