A giant clam haul—which was worth over a billion pesos—was seized in Palawan last Friday, representing a persistent problem in marine life conservation.
Over the weekend, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) announced on Facebook that it helped seize about 200 tons of fossilized giant clam shells in Palawan, which roughly amounts to P1.2 billion. Known as taklobo here, the giant clams (scientific name Tridacna gigas) were poached by four men who were also taken into custody. According to the post, it is said to be the biggest clam shell haul in the province to date.
Within the last month, similar operations have been undertaken by the PCG, underscoring the continuous problem of giant clam poaching in the country. Earlier in the week, P57 million worth of taklobo in the municipality of Narra were seized. On March 5, on the other hand, it was an 80-ton, P160-million haul.
Under Section 102 of Republic Act No. 10654 or The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998, harvesting giant clams—which is considered a threatened species—is prohibited. Violators could be charged with a fine of up to P3 million, and could be imprisoned for up to eight years.
True to its name, Tridacna gigas can grow quite big, with the largest known of the species measuring at 4.6 feet. They can weigh more than 200 kilograms and can live up to 100 years.
When it comes to a marine ecosystem, giant clams take on several important roles, from shelter to food. They clean the water around them of harmful pollutants, and strengthen the structure of a reef’s framework. As a piece in Science Direct points out, Giant clams “increase the topographic heterogeneity of the reef, act as reservoirs of zooxanthellae (Symbiodinium spp.), and also potentially counteract eutrophication via water filtering.”
When a giant clam is poached, it not only robs the ecosystem of its function, the seafloor and reefs are messed up in the rough process of taking them. Around 40 square miles of coral reefs, a 2016 National Geographic piece reports, were destroyed by poaching as seen from satellite images.
But why exactly are they being poached? According to another NatGeo feature, it has something to do with its high demand in China. In the 1970s, Chinese demand for clam meat was high as it was considered an aphrodisiac. A decade later, the multi-colored varieties became particularly popular in the aquarium trade.
More recently, giant clam shells have found new popularity as a luxury material, used in carvings, jewelry, and décor.
An article on Wired argues that this was a direct result of the crackdown on the illegal ivory trade. With less attention given to the bivalves—and perhaps fewer repercussions on offenders—the poachers have gone after them.
Giant clams exist naturally in the Philippines, with a high concentration in Palawan. Some Filipinos used to eat its meat, but many—like one community in Samal—have taken to joining in the conservation work.
Efforts to boost giant clam production in the country have also been undertaken by interest groups and organizations. The Malampaya Foundation along with the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute held a spawning activity two years ago at the Western Philippines University (WPU) Hatchery in Puerto Princesa.
So, in case we come across giant clam shells in the middle of a trip or shopping adventure, let’s be mindful of its impact on our waters before we add to cart, so to speak.