By JOHNNY R. LEE, Ph.D.
In the previous article on the turtle group of islands, this writer barely touched on the economic importance of the area but more on the sustainability for its protection and conservation as the first trans-boundary protected area on sea turtles in the world. Six belong to the Philippines and only three to the Malaysia government.
Coming from the word of mouth of its inhabitants, some 10- 20% of turtle eggs collected are still being commercialized in the buying market to give in to the cultural practices and income to the needy residents whose income solely depend on it for their survival. Commanding a high demand for rare food delicacies and touted as ‘aphrodisiacs’ for men who understand its food and medicinal values, turtle eggs remained a highly-prized commodity.
But in totality, it’s the physical islands itself which include its pristine seawaters, white beaches, rich coral community and rare floras and faunas that draws in high-end visitors and tourists who are in search of paradise-like islands free from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Despite the disparity in numbers, the Malaysian side of Turtle Islands have maximized its potential as a tourist’s destination without jeopardizing the conservation and protection of the area specifically with regards to the turtles and its habitat.
For the Malaysian government, tourism brings a huge amount of income into the local economy in the form of payment for goods and services needed by the tourists. It generates opportunities for employment in the service sector of the economy associated with tourism that includes transportation services like mechanized banca, motor launch and fast crafts; lodgings that include homestays, hostels, resorts and renting out rooms; and venues like eateries and restaurants.
Practically all of these services and amenities are well-placed and has been established by Malaysian government taking advantage of their Turtle Islands as ‘magnets’ to tourists from all over the world because of its status as Heritage Site for Protection of Sea Turtles.
While their main site, named Silingan Island, allows only 50 guests per night of stay in their modest 25-room well-furnished villa, reservations or ‘waiting lists’ to visit the nesting site runs of to a year or two before one can set foot on the place. That is how strong the lure of these tiny islands are – for what they considered as ‘a journey of a lifetime’ to witness the nestling and egg-laying of this endangered species which has been around for over 100 million years.
What about the six islands on the Philippine side? In contrast to Malaysian side, our Turtle Islands have remained in their old form with almost nil in terms of tourism development. While there were past propositions, both from national and local governments to build ‘infrastructures’ to boost its economic potentials, none came into reality. Hopefully the BARMM government will seriously consider the development of these islands to duplicate the ‘good practices’ rendered by the Malaysian government to their islands. JRL