Authorities seized 123 endangered sea turtles or pawikan from allegedly Chinese-backed poachers in Balabac, Palawan, the Navy said Friday.

The turtles – six of which were already dead – were found inside three cages made of mangrove branches that were submerged at the shore of Sitio Dunglog, Brgy. Caguisan, Navy spokesman Col. Omar Tonsay said.

The cages were hidden among mangrove trees and the area had four nipa huts believed to serve as observation posts against authorities, he said

Members of the Naval Forces West and the local government carried out the operation around 10 a.m. Tuesday, after receiving reports that poachers were “collecting sea turtles for eventual sale to allegedly Chinese-financed buyers,” Tonsay said in a statement.

Six unidentified persons, believed to be poachers, fled the site on two boats when they saw the operatives approaching their location, he said.

The 117 live turtles, most of which weigh 50 to 60 kilograms, were released on Thursday at Roughton Island, a designated sanctuary for maritime species, Tonsay said.

The dead turtles were buried at a beach near the area were the live ones were freed, he said. (John Roson)

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