PALAWAN, Philippines – Palawan authorities are investigating an incident involving a group of still unidentified tourists who were photographed hurling live starfish into the air in a beach in the province.
The Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) said on Wednesday, November 14, that the members of the group may be held liable for violating Republic Act No 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Protection and Conservation Act.
The PCSD said the probe would seek to identify and penalize those behind the incident. The tourists were alleged to be teachers, but this would still have to be verified, a council official said.
“We still need to identify those persons, and if indeed they are teachers, we will coordinate with the Department of Education (DepEd) for proper action,” PCSD spokesman Jovic Fabello told Rappler.
Fabello said that under the Wildlife Resources Protection and Conservation Act, “any person who inflicts injury which cripples and/or impairs” the wildlife species will be fined P30,000 to P300,000.
In Palawan, it is the intergovernmental and multidisciplinary PCSD that is primarily tasked to enforce the RA 9147.
The incident reportedly happened in Barangay Rio Tuba in Bataraza town, late last month.
The photos have gone viral after and earned jeers from netizens after they were shared Monday, November 12, by Facebook page Palawan Supernews. It was no longer accessible as of Wednesday morning, though it was posted in the Facebook page of Project Alagalaan, which also called out the tourists for the act.
The owner of the photo had yet to be traced.
Starfish role in seabed
Fabello explained that starfish maintains “balance of food chain under the seabed.” “They are detritivores that are responsible for breakdown of dead biological materials in seabed,” he said.
“They also help in population control of marine species as they mainly feed on clams, oysters, sea urchins, as well as small fishes and crustaceans,” he continued.
Fabello added that starfish has “its hard dorsal exoskeleton that mainly protects its soft underside from harm and injury.”
“If found on beachfront, leave them alone. They might be feeding or doing other biological processes essential to their survival,” he urged the public.
Fabello said the PCSD will conduct an information campaign about the need to respect the starfish and other wildlife, even as he urged public schools to strengthen even more the integration of wildlife conservation awareness into their curriculum.
Meanwhile, DepEd Palawan chief Servillano Arzaga told Rappler they are “still confirming the veracity of the news if they are actually DepEd teachers.”
Arzaga said his office has no authority to issue any disciplinary actions if those involved would be proven to be public school teachers.
He said he could “only recommend to the DepEd regional director, the disciplining authority, appropriate administrative sanctions to be imposed for those involved.”
“The incident happened outside the school premises; therefore, civil cases, violation of environmental laws may be applied to them if found guilty,” he said in a separate interview. – Rappler.com