Women’s plastic recycling livelihood saves green turtles

Women and youth are playing a major role in efforts to save green turtles in the Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary (TIWS), Tawi-Tawi. TIWS is part of the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area, which is Southeast Asia’s largest remaining nesting site for green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

The green sea turtles are threatened by large-scale illegal harvest and trade of turtle eggs, coastal erosion, and dumping of garbage along the shoreline.  Left unchecked, these will lead to the further depletion of hatchlings. Among those that survive, majority will be female since rising temperatures result in the birth of more female than male turtles.

One major cause of depletion is that residents traditionally collect, sell, and eat turtle eggs even if these acts are illegal.

turtle eggs
Threatened treasures. Turtle eggs produced in TIWS are still being collected for trade which is a major threat to the species.

“We have to give them options aside from egg poaching and fishing,” said Raul Roldan, Deputy Team Leader for the Philippines of ADB and GEF-funded Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle Southeast Asia (CTI-SEA). In TIWS, the project aims to address major threats to turtles, particularly human poaching. Fish catch in the area is dwindling and it is not easy to make people give up traditional practice,” said Roldan.

To give people an alternative to egg poaching, CTI-SEA has partnered with nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to provide existing people’s organizations (POs) with alternative livelihood support. This will not only help them earn but also ensure their food supply and conserve the turtles.

taganak women buyers club
Sustainable business. Members of the Taganak Women Buyers Club show their ingenuity through their recycled accessories

Since October 2014, CTI-SEA has supported two groups, the FRIENDS Youth Club and the Taganak Women Buyers Club, through alternative livelihood programs. It provides supplies for their t-shirt project and bag, wallet making, and keychain project, respectively. Both POs, which were organized under an earlier Coral Triangle project, are based in Taganak, which has the largest land area and population among the sanctuary’s six islands.

The women use recycled plastic from garbage left on the beaches to create wallets and purses.  “We collect plastic sachets collected along the coastline of Taganak for the wallets and purses that we make using a pattern called lupi-lupi (a Tausug term which means “fold-fold”),” said Enelita Bungay, president of the TWBC. The club also makes woven turtle keychains out of plastic yarn from recycled plastic, all of which make good conversation pieces.

Eco-friendly purses. Souvenir items made by the women from recycled plastic contribute to turtle protection

Less garbage will reduce the chances of turtles eating plastic. A cleaner beach will also help nesting turtles find a safe place to lay their eggs.

So far, business has been brisk. As of July 2015, the FRIENDS youth club has recovered its principal of P10,000 ($210 USD) in two months, ahead of projections. They also managed to expand the business.

TWBC received an additional interest-free loan of P60,000 ($1,261 USD) payable in six months. The recovered principal will be distributed to other members who can use it to expand their bag making business or venture into other small enterprises.

Friends youth club
Creative spirit. The Friends youth club members show their talent through turtle-inspired designs on the t-shirts.

The Turtle Conservation Society of the Philippines (TCSP) and LAHAT, a community empowerment NGO, are currently advising TWBC on how to enhance and market their products. CTI-SEA and its partners are helping build the skills of FRIENDS and TWBC so that they can provide better quality souvenirs. This will serve as support to the national and local government’s plan to prepare TIWS for tourism, a plan that can potentially be rolled upon the ASEAN integration.

“These products not only help the turtles in the area by reducing threats from marine litter, the products also incorporate the local tradition and design of the local Jama Mapun and Tausug in the area,” said Kester Yu of TCSP. The organization taught the women how to create bags and crocheted products in 2011-2012.

key chain
Turtle power. Women from TWBC make these colorful crocheted turtles made of plastic for keychains that are sold to tourists.

CTI-SEA will also construct a materials recovery facility in the Turtle Island National high school and the municipal proper together with TCSP. They also plan to conduct an organic farming training in Taganak Island that will also be piloted in the local school this year to help provide nutritious food for the residents. A hand-on training on solid waste management and installation of materials recovery facility are also lined up in 2015.

The project is collaborating with development partners in setting up a network of protected areas in the sea turtle corridor that spans Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines and which covers roughly 7.8 million hectares.

It also aims to address the issue of coastal erosion, which  forces the turtles to nest further up the shore, where the vegetation makes it harder for them to create 1m deep nests.  CTI-SEA will consult with partners and concerned government agencies to identify actions to mitigate shoreline erosion.

CTI-SEA will likewise assist in updating the general management plan of the turtle sanctuary by sharing the vulnerability assessment that results and hazard maps developed from a survey of five inhabited islands last year.

Struggling for survival. Climate change will affect the population of turtles in Baguan Island in TIWS, disrupting the ratio of male to female hatchling


First published in Rappler on 3 October 2015.
(Exchange rate: 1 USD = 47.56 PHP as of February 18, 2016)