The Sulu Sulawesi Seascape supports five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles – the green, hawksbill, loggerhead, olive ridley and leatherback. Of these, the green and hawksbill are by far the more abundant, with significant nesting and foraging assemblages. The leatherback was known as a transient feeder, the olive ridley is an occasional nester at many isolated sites in the Philippines in Malaysia, while the loggerhead does not nest in the SSS, but is a known transient.

Marine turtles in the SSS are threatened through extensive and uninterrupted egg harvests, direct poaching of adults for the meat and curio trades, mass poaching by distant nation fishing fleets, habitat loss and degradation, and accidental mortality commercial and artisanal fisheries.

The Marine Research Foundation was tasked with developing a network of protected areas which supported effective stewardship, lasting protection, restoration and an appropriate level of use of the region’s marine turtles and their habitats – both of which are significant natural and cultural marine resources, with due consideration of the interests of and implications for all stakeholders, particularly local communities.

The network will promote coordination and integration by supporting partnerships and coordination among federal, state, district and local MPA sites to reduce administrative costs. It will apply the best available scientific information from natural and social sciences, customary and local knowledge, and promote sound monitoring and evaluation protocols. It will also ensure that communication and outreach are cornerstone by raising awareness and knowledge of marine and coastal resources.

The network document outlines the process through which a design of a network of protected areas across the western seaboard of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape (SSS) was developed, and provides an initial listing of sites for inclusion in a network to enhance protection of coastal and marine habitats critical for the sustainability of marine turtle populations. The designation, establishment and management of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is a critical instrument to safeguard marine turtles and the integrity of ecological processes in the coastal and marine environment of the SSS. The MPAs listed in the network will range from areas of strict protection to areas zoned for multiple use and must be managed to maintain the full range of biodiversity, and safeguard habitats and processes needed by marine turtle genetic management units originating both within and outside of the region.

DSC_4753Conservation action is already underway and generally successful is many parts of the SSS. Legal structures exist to protect habitats and particularly nesting beaches, and government agencies and NGOs work hand in hand to enhance conservation schemes. But given the threats faced by turtles and their habitats, and the conservation opportunities a network of protected areas offers, a network of protected areas will represent a conservation value far greater than the sum of its individual parts (sites), and thus offers greater benefits beyond the conservation of a valuable natural and cultural resource.

The initial listing of site in the network included: El Nido Marine Reserve (PI), the Balabac Straits Corridor (PI), the Tun Mustapha Marine Park (MY), the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (MY), the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area (MY / PI), the Tun Sakaran Marine Park (MY), Sipadan Island Protected Area (MY), the Berau Marine Conservation Area (IN) and Bunaken National Marine Park (IN).

The design and development of the network of protected areas in the Sulu Sulawesi Seascape was funded by Conservation International Philippines.