Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi
Map of Tawi-Tawi with the Turtle Islands highlighted
|Region||Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)|
|District||Lone district of Tawi-Tawi|
|• Mayor||Mibaral Tang|
|Time zone||PST (UTC+8)|
Turtle Islands, also known as Turtle Isles, is a fifth class municipality composed of a remote group of seven islands in the province of Tawi-Tawi in the Southern Philippines. According to the 2010 census it has a population of 3,772 people.
The islands, together with Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi, were formerly held by the United Kingdom since 1885 which at that time administered the adjacent territory of a protectorate called North Borneo (present-day Sabah, Malaysia). Following the League of Nations treaty between the United States (which controlled the Philippines at the time) and United Kingdom on 2 January 1930 regarding territorial boundaries, the UK acknowledge seven of the Turtle Islands (including Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi) are part of the Philippine archipelago. The United States then was given a privilege to administer the islands anytime if a one-year notice was given to the United Kingdom and in 1932, a treaty was signed between them to let the United States to administer the islands. According to the treaty, Britain would fully hand over the administration to Philippine government when it gained its full independence from the United States on 4 July 1946. After achieving its independence, the Philippines expressed its interest to take over the islands. The British under the Crown Colony of North Borneo officially transferred control of the islands to the Philippines on 16 October 1947. The remaining three Turtle Islands which were not turned over by UK are now part of Malaysia, which formed the Malaysian Turtle Islands National Park.
Malaysian annexation allegation controversy
In 1988, the Manila press announced that Malaysia had annexed the islands. Three days of hype, supported by news maps showing the annexation, died away when it was revealed that the "annexation" was the result of the misreading of an American naval chart by a Philippine naval officer. The officer mistook a deepwater ship route for the boundary of Malaysia's new economic zone.
The islands are located within the Sulu Sea at the south-western tip of the country, at the edge of the international treaty limits separating the Philippines and Malaysia. The seven islands from north-west to southeast are:
- Sibaung is the westernmost island and is a small coral reef lying 4.5 miles (7.2 km) westward of the north part of Boaan Island. The island has an area of 0.1 hectares (0.25 acres) only. There are a few bushes 35 feet (11 metres) high on this reef.
- Boaan, also known as Boan, is the second largest island of the group with an area of 76 hectares (190 acres) with the highest elevation at 59 metres (194 ft).
- Lihiman is a mud and coralline island of about 29 hectares (72 acres). The island is noted for its explosive mud volcanoes extrusions (see below).
- Great Bakkungaan also known as Great Bakkungan is the third largest at 51 hectares (130 acres) with the highest elevation at 58 metres (190 ft).
- Langaan is a flat coral island of about 7 hectares (17 acres) and a perimeter of 458 metres (1,503 ft).
- Taganak is of volcanic origin and the largest island of the group with an area of about 116 hectares (290 acres) with the highest point at 148 metres (486 ft).
- Baguan is the easternmost of the islands and is also volcanic in origin. The bell-shaped island has an area of 29.1 hectares (72 acres) with the maximum elevation of 40 metres (130 ft).
In the Philippines, mud volcanoes are known to exist only on the Turtle Islands. Presence of these formations are evident on three of the islands - Lihiman, Great Bakkungaan and Boaan Islands. The hills on these islands are mostly mud volcanoes. On Great Bakkungan Island, grey mud quietly flows from the vent in a pulsating manner accompanied by gas bubbling. On Boan Island, mud extrusion have ceased for a number of years.
Compared to the other two islands, in Lihiman Island, a more violent extrusions of mud, mixed with large pieces of rocks occur that it has created a 20-m (66-ft) wide crater on the hilly part of the island. Such extrusions are reported to be accompanied by mild earthquakes and evidence of extruded materials can be found high up the surrounding trees because of its explosive character. Huge amount of materials are discharged from this volcano that drainage was cut on the northern slope of the hill to direct the flow to the sea. Submarine mud extrusions off the island have also been observed by local residents.
- Taganak Poblacion (2010 population: 2,430)
- Likud Bakkao (2010 population: 1,342)
|Population census of Turtle Islands|
|Source: National Statistics Office|
According to the 2010 census, the population of the five permanently inhabited islands is 3,772 people. With a land area of only 3.08 square kilometres (1.19 square miles), the islands have a population density of 1224.7 persons per km² – much higher than the national average of 276 persons per km².
Together with three islands of neighbour country Malaysia and the surrounding coral waters, Turtle Islands are one of the world's few remaining major nesting grounds for the Green Sea Turtles. In 1996, the islands were declared as Turtle Islands Heritage Protected area by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia as the only way to guarantee the continued existence of the green sea turtles and their nesting sites.
For the five islands, the Philippine government decided to create special protection zones, and within this zones, only scientific and conservation activities are allowed. In other zones, certain rules are adapted to prevent too much impact by people on the environment and the turtles. Visiting these zones is only possible with strict guidance and under supervision of the staff of the officials of the government.
For a successful conservation and protection program, the support of the locals was very important. Fishing, for most of them, is the most important activity and source of income. Hunting sea turtles and collecting the turtle eggs for food, had always been a possible source for additional income. From the end of August to December, turtles come by the hundreds from the surrounding coastal waters, to lay and dig their eggs into the sand. The staff of the conservation project were able to succeed in convincing the locals the need to minimise their collecting activities. Local men, women and children, are now involved, helping with the protection activities.
Access to the Turtle Islands is difficult, as there are no regular means of transportation to the area.
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- Geo-physical features of the six Philippine Turtle Islands". Ocean Ambassadors. Retrieved on 15 February 2011.
- "Lihiman Island". Ocean Ambassadors Track a Turtle. Retrieved on 5 October 2010.
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