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Views to Ponder: Saving giant clams from extinction

by Admin-Phmp

Our waters, like the tropical rainforests we have, are teeming with biological diversity. Unfortunately, some of these marine species are now being threatened; some of them in fact are facing extinction.

Imagine the new generations of today’s younger generations may no longer see those species in their original habitat. Worse, some of them may already be extinct so that future generations get a glimpse of these species only in photographs or in films.

Such is the case of our giant clams, locally called taklobo. They are not yet facing extinction, but the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed them as vulnerable species. A species is considered vulnerable if its population has declined at least 50% and the cause of the decline is unknown.

Perhaps one of the best ways to save the giant clams from becoming extinct species is to allow fisherfolk involved in protecting them from poachers. In order for them to discourage the giant clams from being harvested, educate them the importance of the marine species and how giant clams help the fishing industry.

That’s what the Adecor United Fisherfolk Organization is doing. This group of fisherfolk based in barangay Adecor in Kaputian District of Island Garden City of Samal (IGACOS), with more than a dozen members, are the caretakers of the giant clams thriving in its waters.

The Marine Reserve Park and Multipurpose Hatchery, as it is called, is under the supervision of the local government unit of IGACOS. The original giant clams were transplanted by the Giant Clam Stock Enhancement Program of the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI). It is now a project of the Davao del Norte State College.

Aside from preventing the disappearance of giant clams in the country’s waters, the organization also helps in raising awareness of the importance of giant clams – which now number to more than 2,000 giant clams of different species – and providing livelihood to members.

The members do this through the two-hour Taklobo Tours, which includes an hour of snorkeling in the area. Visitors are brought by means of a motorized banca from the seashore to the floating cottage, where they are oriented about the importance of giant clams. The carrying capacity of the docking area is 30-35 persons while only 10-15 persons are allowed in the viewing deck.

After giving some instructions, the visitors are told to wear a life vest and given snorkel and mask to those who are interested. Then, they swim to the area where the giant clams are being raised. As the water is clear, they can see the endangered species up close. Touching the giant clams is strictly not allowed.

Started in 2013, Taklobo Tours is now one of Samal’s most popular activities for tourists. “Awesome and inspiring marine sanctuary that protects several species of giant clams,” commented one tourist who has visited the place. “With our snorkel masks on, we were led underwater by a certified guide to witness firsthand these amazing sea creatures.  We also learned about their habitat, life cycle and feeding. A definite must-see.”

Officials from the Davao del Norte State College said the 14-hectare giant clam sanctuary helps empower and capacitate locals to become tourist guides and conservation warriors. “The success of the program proves that responsible tourism can flourish in a protected area for environmental conservation,” they said.

Joel Gonzaga, a member of the organization, agrees. “We raise awareness by informing the people who come how endangered these giant clams are and that there are now laws regarding its preservation,” he said. “It is now prohibited to harvest them and there are some consequences if they do so.”

When the program started, there was resistance from the community as giant clams had long been a source of food and income for most of them. With Taklobo Tours becoming popular, they are happy that they have supported the initiative.

The giant clams, known in the science world as Tridacna gigas and considered the true giant clam, can grow larger than 4 feet across and weigh more than 180 kilograms. Actually, there are actually 12 species and eight of them can be found in our waters.  

“While giant clams are still prevalent in the Philippine reefs, their overall abundance and diversity remain low,” wrote Patrick C. Cabaitan, Roger G. Dolorosa, Girley S. Gumanao, and Cecilia G. Conaco in their collaborative report, “Giant Clams in the Philippines: Prevailing in a changing ocean through research and conservation.”

“Overharvesting, poaching, habitat destruction, and bleaching remain among the major challenges against the giant clam populations,” the four authors wrote, adding that they have found some areas which are still home to an abundant and diverse community of giant clams.

To help bring back giant clams in areas where they have become vulnerable, the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (MSI) established giant clam cultures in the 1980s, where cultured giant clams were restocked nationwide.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST), through the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) financed a giant clam program that revisits giant clam restocking sites to assess the current giant clam diversity and abundance.

The study showed that 8 of the 12 species are still found in the country.  Surveys from 2018 to 2021 revealed “high densities of restocked giant clams at several study locations.” In addition, “the presence of T. gigas recruits indicate that restocked clams are naturally spawning and producing new giant clams that may eventually grow into adults.”

“We need to do something now before giant clams become extinct,” urges Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, a fishery expert and an academician with the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).

Dr. Guerrero, however, believes there’s still hope for giant clams. “To save our giant clams, we should protect them in the wild from poachers (particularly foreigners) and promote their sea farming,” he suggested. 

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