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Palawan tightens watch vs sea sponge trade

Environment authorities in Palawan are tightly monitoring the illegal collection and trading of multicellular parazoan organisms or natural sea sponges, which are important sources of nutrients in the marine ecosystem.

Although there is no definitive study that says their survival is endangered, critical, or threatened, Jovic Fabello, spokesperson of the environment policy coordinating body Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS), said Tuesday that its collection and trade should still be strictly monitored to prevent any potential damage to the aquatic ecosystems where they play important roles.

“They have marine ecological functions… they are also food to some marine animals like fish and sea turtles so, there is really a need to strictly monitor their collection and trading, especially when those who trade them have no permits,” Fabello said.

Sponges, he added, are major constitutes of coral reefs and deep sea communities. Since coral reefs are considered the tropical forests of the sea that are habitat to marine wildlife, the sea sponges are also part of that and therefore, have importance.

When dried, they are made into bath sponges, used as cosmetic component, and reusable feminine hygiene products.

Fabello made the statement following the arrest on Sept. 27 of a certain Rizalina de Juan, who was found in possession of eight sacks of sea sponges that were reportedly harvested from the waters of the southern Palawan town of Bataraza.

“We’ve already warned them before that getting them would be illegal without wildlife permits, collection permits, and transportation, but they did not heed,” Fabello said.

De Juan, he said, was arrested by the PCSDS’ enforcement team with the PNP-Irawan at the RORO Bus Terminal in Barangay San Jose, where she was supposed to transport the sacks of sea sponges to Roxas town in northern Palawan.

“When we asked her, she said she has a buyer from a mall in Puerto Princesa,” he said.

De Juan was charged with violation of Republic Act 9147, otherwise known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

Celeste Anna Formoso / PNA