Thursday, September 4, 2014

Coconut Crab now Endangered in Batanes

As everyone who has visited Batanes knows, a traditional delicacy there is coconut crab (Birgus latro), locally called tatus.  In the past the population of tatus used to be high, but today such population is now small.  This has prompted the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to craft measures to conserve this species of crab.

Birgus latro is a species of the terrestrial hermit crab, which is also sometimes called robber crab or ganjo crab (palm thief).  According to our friend Wikipedia, Birgus latro is the largest land-living arthropod in the world and is said to be one of the largest terrestrial animals with exoskeletons.  It can grow to as large as 4 kilograms in weight and measure about three feet from tip of its right leg to tip of its left leg.  Of course, I haven’t seen this size but this is a scientific observation.

Through its semi-annual publication, KALAP, BFAR Region 2, said that Birgus latro is an endangered species that’s listed under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).  A quick check with the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicates that Birgus latro is considered data deficient and, therefore, could not be accurately classified in terms of its conservation status.  Since BFAR has classified Birgus latro as endangered species, it should coordinate with the IUCN and provide that international organization with the complete accurate information about the species.

It is entirely possible that being data deficient, Birgus latro may be endangered in some areas while it still remains abundant in other areas.  I believe that BFAR may be right in declaring tatus as endangered in Batanes given that currently it is no longer easy to catch large coconut crabs there. 

I’m not informed about the coconut crab conservation practices that BFAR has put in place in Batanes, but I do have a suggestion.  It is, of course, possible that this suggestion may have been considered by BFAR, but until now I have not heard of it yet.  Of course, I am aware of the DENR Order prohibiting transporting tatus out of Batanes.

Conservation Action for Tatus

My suggestion for the conservation of tatus in Batanes is simple and doable.  The province of Batanes, through the assistance of the BFAR, as well as DENR,  should declare a coconut crab sanctuary in the province.  Perhaps Dinem Island would be a perfect sanctuary for tatus.  Another island that is perfect sanctuary is Mavudis (this used to be haven for tatus in past years), although poachers from Taiwan are always on this island today. 

The sanctuary, naturally, would be off limits to anybody and should be guarded by the Coast Guard.  The island of Dinem has no beach and is surrounded by high cliffs of rocks.  The island is actually a very steep mountain.  It is said that the slope of this island is so steep that one would practically “kiss” the heels of the person climbing ahead.  I know that on the island of Dinem, coconut crabs are large and difficult to catch, although every now and then people from Itbayat Island would try their lack in catching tatus in Dinem, which is about 10 kilometers away from Itbayat Island.  Those who have been lucky to catch crabs have been able to catch crabs as heavy as 3 kilos per piece.

Sanctuaries should also be declared on Itbayat and Sabtang Islands.


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