MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government expressed outrage on Wednesday at the plunder of corals and turtles that may have destroyed thousands of hectares (acres) of precious reefs.
President Benigno Aquino's spokesman also vowed to step up marine patrols following this month's seizure at Manila's port of 158 stuffed sea turtles and about 124,000 pieces of coral, which were valued at about $80,000.
"(We are) appalled because the plundering of our marine resources shows much remains to be done to safeguard our marine biodiversity," spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a statement.
"The monetary value of the black coral and sea turtles confiscated in the Port of Manila is tiny compared to the ecological devastation they represent -- hundreds, possibly thousands, of hectares of coral reefs and all the ecological complexity they represent, either killed or seriously damaged," Lacierda said.
The corals and turtles were apparently stolen from the pristine waters of the Moro Gulf and the Sulu Sea off the main southern island of Mindanao, according to Lacierda.
"It is our duty to safeguard these areas," he said, adding that the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard would step up patrols to protect the nation's coastline from such plunder as they acquired more modern vessels.
The dead turtles and corals, as well as 209 boxes of shells, were misdeclared as "rubber" and hidden inside two huge containers that had been shipped from the southern Philippine city of Cotabato.
Customs officials said they were still tracking down the owner of the shipment, who could face up to four years in jail.
It is illegal in the Philippines to gather and sell endangered coral, although other countries allow it to be traded.