GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Region 12 has stepped up efforts to protect and conserve marine resources in the critical Sarangani Bay following the recorded stranding and deaths of various species in the area these past months.

Joy Oloquin, area superintendent of the Sarangani Bay Protected Seascape (SBPS), said Thursday they have created an inter-agency task force to intensify the monitoring and implementation of protection measures for the bay.

Dubbed SBPS Megafauna Response Team, she said the special body is composed of private companies, local government units and other local volunteers.

She said the move was in response to the recorded deaths of several marine animals, especially turtles, in the area these past months.

"The DENR is really alarmed on the reported stranding of marine animals, not only turtles, but as well as dugong and other marine wildlife,” Ologuin said in a statement.

Earlier this month, at least three marine turtles were found dead in the shores of this city and Kiamba town, Sarangani.

The SBPS Megafauna Response Team said an Olive Ridley turtle was found lifeless Barangay Suli, Kiamba, with an "open wound in the base of its left fore flipper."

A female green sea turtle that was already in the state of decomposition washed ashore at the Queen Tuna Park here and its "right fore flipper was missing and intestines came out of the opening."

A male turtle, believed to be an Olive Ridley, was also found dead in Baragay Bula here that was then "very emaciated and the carapace was heavily covered with algae."

Nilo Tamoria, DENR-12 regional executive director, said he ordered their personnel to intensify the monitoring activities in Sarangani Bay to avoid the recurrence of these kinds of incidents.

“The presence of the pawikan (marine turtle) is a manifestation of a rich and a clean marine environment and their death may signify that there is something wrong in the marine ecosystem,” he said.

He said there is a need for them to conduct massive information and education campaigns along coastal communities in Sarangani Bay to ensure that residents will not violate the provisions of Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

RA 9147 prohibits the maltreatment or killing of endangered species like the whale shark. Violators may face a fine of as much as PHP1 million and imprisonment of up to 12 years.

Tamoria urged local government units to educate residents in coastal communities on proper solid waste management.

“Trash may not be the sole cause of death of marine animals but it surely affects the health of the marine ecosystem,” he said. (PNA)