PUERTO PRINCESA: Philippine police said Friday they rescued 120 protected sea turtles found hidden in a pen inside a mangrove swamp, apparently intended for sale to foreign traders.
It is just the latest case of sea turtles captured in the western island of Palawan where various species are known to congregate said local police chief Senior Superintendent David Martinez.
A police patrol in Balabac town on Tuesday came upon a huge pen containing 120 live sea turtles of various species and sizes hidden under the branches of mangroves, he said.
"They were just stored there in the swamp. The perpetrators probably just visited them occasionally when they added newly-caught turtles," Martinez told AFP.
The turtles were set free but no one was found tending the hidden pen.
Martinez said an investigation was ongoing to determine who captured and stored the sea turtles.
Such seizures of illegally-captured turtles are common in Balabac, located about 850 kilometres or 528 miles from Manila because the animals often congregate there, the police chief added added.
Sea turtles are protected under Philippine law and catching them is punishable by at least 12 years in jail.
In recent years, Philippine authorities have frequently caught foreigners, often Chinese, catching or buying sea turtles in the waters off Palawan.
Turtles are often sold as exotic pets, end up in food markets or are used by practitioners of traditional medicine. (AFP)