If there’s one good thing about this lockdown, it’s that nature was given ample time to heal itself. For one, the number of critically endangered sea turtles and hawksbill in Apo Reef has doubled ever since the country’s tourism was put on hold amid the pandemic.
Just late last month, officials at the Apo Reef Natural Park reported a sighting of 29 hawksbill and green sea turtles thriving in the waters of Occidental Mindoro. This nearly doubles the recorded 15 in 2019.
According to Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) Krystal Dayne Villanada, the improved number of sea turtles can be associated with the decrease in the island’s tourism activities. It comes as the camping sites on Apo Island have become nesting grounds for sea turtles after the park was put under a temporary closure to give way to the community quarantine. (Read: Wildlife Trafficking and Fatal Diseases: Is nature punishing us with coronavirus?)
With such a positive turn out, park managers are now prompted to reassess the accessibility of the park to tourists and even consider the possibility of declaring the area as permanently off-limits.
Effect on Ecotourism
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the ecotourism activities of Apo Reef Natural Park. This led to its closure from outsiders and low IPAF (Integrated Protected Areas Fund) collection. However, this pandemic also made way for the island to rejuvenate,” Villanada said in a live discussion organized by the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB). (Read: Meet Pia Ocampo, A Diver Who Helps Turn Ocean Plastic Into School Chairs)
Apo Reef, which hosts the world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef and attracts divers around the globe, was reopened to local tourists on July 20. However, as of writing, no one has come to visit the island yet.
The PASu noted the speedy increase in the turtle population, saying that 21 of the turtles have already laid their eggs based on the tracks left by hatchlings returning to the sea.
The number of crown-of-thorns starfish, which feed on coral polyps, was also reduced. It comes as this species tend to reproduce faster when stressed or disturbed.
“We’ve had [an infestation] of the crown-of-thorns from 2018 to 2019 that rangers had to clean up 10,680 individuals. From February to March [this year], there were about 500 and nothing more since then,” Villanada said.