CEBU, Philippines - The Philippines on Monday said it would form a special task force to go after restaurants selling the meat of protected sea turtles.
The eight-member team was created after news reports revealed the proliferation of roadside restaurants in the central island of Cebu serving dishes made from the government-protected marine animals.
"The task force is created to pursue and initiate an aggressive protection and conservation movement of the endangered marine turtles which are now on the verge of total depletion," regional environment chief Maximo Dichoso said.
The team was instructed to investigate the trading, hunting, sale, and killing of marine turtles in the area, the environment department said.
News reports said numerous small eateries in a coastal district of Cebu City were serving dishes made from sea turtle.
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama conceded that the practice had been going on for a long time but there had been no concerted effort to stop it.
Those caught trading, hunting, collecting or killing sea turtles, which are considered an endangered species, face a fine of P100,000 ($2,350) and one year in jail.
The discovery of Chinese fishermen catching sea turtles and other protected marine species in the South China Sea last month triggered a high-profile maritime standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships.