Giant clam shells illegally harvested in the Philippines

Giant clam, photo: NOAA on Unsplash
Giant clam, photo: NOAA on Unsplash

Philippine authorities have seized illegally harvested giant clam shells worth $3.3 million. Smugglers are turning to the endangered creatures as a substitute for the illegal ivory trade.

Marine troops, the coastguard and local conservation officials raided local homes on Johnson Island in the western archipelago of Palawan.

They discovered more than 300 clam shells with a value of around $3.3 million on the black market, officials said Friday.

Among them was the Tridacna gigas, the world’s largest clam, which can grow a shell of up to 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) long. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers Tridacna gigas a “vulnerable” species.

The Philippines is home to most of the world’s giant tropical clam species, which are considered threatened in the country as poaching increases. Giant clams are important for coral reefs.

Conservationists say their shells are used as an alternative material for ivory. Since the global fight against the illegal trade in elephant tusks, poachers are looking for alternatives.

The island’s village chief will be charged with poaching for supervising the illegal collection, said Jovic Fabello, spokesman for the Palawan government’s conservation council. “This has been our biggest haul so far,” he said.

Palawan is considered the last frontier of the Philippines’ rich biodiversity, but is also a hotspot for illegal wildlife trade, with pangolins, marine turtles and wild birds poached and sold.

The offenders can face up to eight years in prison and fines of up to three million Philippine pesos ($61,000).

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