The call I got on my cell phone one early morning some weeks ago in Lianga was urgent as it was emphatic. Jun Lala, the town’s young Vice-Mayor was on the line. He told me to get myself and a digital camera as quickly as possible to a government owned research fishpond on the southern outskirts of the town. He wanted to show me something that was both rare and unusual.
Intrigued, I hustled over and got to the site in five minutes. I got out of the car, got to the side of the main building in front of the fishpond complex where a group of people were huddled around something big lying on a wet wooden plank on the ground.
It was a huge sea turtle, obviously more than 100 kilos in weight and it was dead.
The Vice-Mayor told me it had been discovered in the shallow coastal waters of Barangay Diatagon, some 9 kilometers north of Lianga the day before and was clearly already very weak and in obvious distress when found by local residents. Rescuers soon detected a small but deep puncture wound on the back of the turtle’s neck which could have come from a fishing spear or harpoon of some sort.
Volunteers with the help of the Vice-Mayor decided to transport the marine animal to the fishpond complex in Lianga for observation and treatment but it eventually expired most probably as a result of the wound inflicted on it. The local official had already asked local fisheries experts about the possibility of preserving the rare sea turtle for educational purposes.
The same experts have tentatively identified the animal as a variety of the seldom seen and obviously endangered leatherback sea turtle. They pointed to the much narrower, dark colored, tough and rubber textured shell on the animal’s back which was in contrast to the usually wider and multi-colored back covering of the more common species of sea turtle.
But this turtle was huge, much bigger than any of its kind that I have seem. The small bullet shaped head and enormous teardrop shaped body looked bulky and ungainly but upon reflection it was clear that in the water this would have been an animal in its natural element.
It must have something to see in its natural habitat, completely adapted, graceful and streamlined in its movements, its ponderous weight rendered light by the water’s natural buoyancy. It must have been, when it was still alive and well, a thing of wonder and beauty to behold as it moved confidently through the clear waters of the ocean sea.
But it was now dead probably because of a wanton, cruel act of man.
I looked at the huge animal and touched its already dry, leathery skin. I looked at the wet smear of salty tears below the closed eyes (for turtles do indeed cry salty tears) and wondered if the man, whoever he was, who laid such a cruel hand on this gentle creature of the sea will ever realized the enormity of the senseless crime he has committed on this one of the most docile, harmless and benign of God’s creatures.
It has been said that man is the only creature that is capable of, knowingly and with consummate arrogance, violating and defiling what is beautiful in nature. The wounding and eventual killing of this sea turtle is simply another clear visceral proof of the undeniable truth of that unfortunate fact.