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Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi


Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi

Turtle Islands
Region Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)
District Lone district of Tawi-Tawi
Barangays 2
 • Mayor Mibaral Tang
Time zone PST (UTC+8)
Income class 5th

Turtle Islands, also known as Turtle Isles, is a fifth class municipality composed of a remote group of seven islands in the province of Tawi-Tawi in the Southern Philippines. According to the 2010 census it has a population of people.[2]


  • Geography 1
    • Mud Volcanoes 1.1
    • Barangays 1.2
  • History 2
    • Malaysian annexation controversy 2.1
  • Demographics 3
  • Turtle sanctuary 4
  • Accessibility 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The islands are located within the Sulu Sea[3] at the southwestern tip of the country, at the edge of the international treaty limits separating the Philippines and Malaysia.[4] The seven islands from northwest to southeast are:[5][6]

  • Sibaung is the westernmost island and is a small coral reef lying 4.5 miles (7.2 km) westward of the north part of Boaan Island. The island has an area of 0.1 hectares (0.25 acre) only. There are a few bushes 35 feet high on this reef.
  • Boaan, also known as Boan, is the second largest island of the group with an area of 76 hectares (190 acres) with the highest elevation at 59 metres (194 ft).
  • Lihiman is a mud and coralline island of about 29 hectares (72 acres). The island is noted for its explosive mud volcanoes extrusions (see below).
  • Great Bakkungaan also known as Great Bakkungan is the third largest at 51 hectares (130 acres) with the highest elevation at 58 metres (190 ft).
  • Langaan is a flat coral island of about 7 hectares (17 acres) and a perimeter of 458 metres (1,503 ft).
  • Taganak is of volcanic origin and the largest island of the group with an area of about 116 hectares (290 acres) with the highest point at 148 metres (486 ft).
  • Baguan is the easternmost of the islands and is also volcanic in origin. The bell-shaped island has an area of 29.1 hectares (72 acres) with the maximum elevation of 40 metres (130 ft).

Fresh water is reported available from shallow groundwater on the last six islands.[7]

Mud Volcanoes

In the Philippines, mud volcanoes are known to exist only on the Turtle Islands. Presence of these formations are evident on three of the islands - Lihiman, Great Bakkungaan and Boaan Islands. The hills on these islands are mostly mud volcanoes. On Great Bakkungan Island, gray mud quietly flows from the vent in a pulsating manner accompanied by gas bubbling. On Boan Island, mud extrusion have ceased for a number of years.

Compared to the other two islands, in Lihiman Island, a more violent extrusions of mud, mixed with large pieces of rocks occur that it has created a 20-m (66-ft) wide crater on the hilly part of the island.[4] Such extrusions are reported to be accompanied by mild earthquakes and evidence of extruded materials can be found high up the surrounding trees because of its explosive character. Huge amount of materials are discharged from this volcano that drainage was cut on the northern slope of the hill to direct the flow to the sea. Submarine mud extrusions off the island have also been observed by local residents.[8]


Turtle Islands are politically subdivided into 2 barangays.[2]

  • Taganak Poblacion (2010 population: 2,430)
  • Likud Bakkao (2010 population: 1,342)


The islands, together with Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi, were formerly held by the United Kingdom which at that time administered the adjacent territory of North Borneo (the current Sabah state of Malaysia), as a British Protectorate. Following the League of Nations Treaty between the United States, which controlled the Philippines, and United Kingdom on January 2, 1930 regarding territorial boundaries,[6] the UK turned over seven of the Turtle Islands (or Turtle Isles as the UK call it) and Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi to the United States in 1930.[9] The islands came under Philippine sovereignty with the recognition by the United States of Philippine Independence on July 4, 1946. The remaining three Turtle Islands which were not turned over by UK are now part of Malaysia, and are now the Malaysian Turtle Islands National Park.

Malaysian annexation controversy

In 1988, the Manila press announced that Malaysia had annexed the islands. Three days of hype, supported by news maps showing the annexation, died away when it was revealed that the "annexation" was the result of the misreading of an American naval chart by a Philippine naval officer. The officer mistook a deepwater ship route for the boundary of Malaysia's new economic zone.[10]


According to the 2010 census, the population of the five permanently inhabited islands is people. With a land area of only 3.08 square kilometers, the islands have a population density of 1224.7 persons per km² – much higher than the national average of 276 persons per km².

Turtle sanctuary

Together with three islands of neighbor country Malaysia and the surrounding coral waters, Turtle Islands are one of the world's few remaining major nesting grounds for the Green Sea Turtles. In 1996, the islands were declared as Turtle Islands Heritage Protected area by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia as the only way to guarantee the continued existence of the green sea turtles and their nesting sites.[11][12]

For the five islands, the Philippine government decided to create special protection zones, and within this zones, only scientific and conservation activities are allowed. In other zones, certain rules are adapted in order to prevent too much impact by people on the environment and the turtles. Visiting these zones is only possible with strict guidance and under supervision of the staff of the officials of the government.

For a successful conservation and protection program, the support of the locals was very important. Fishing, for most of them, is the most important activity and source of income. Hunting sea turtles and collecting the turtle eggs for food, had always been a possible source for additional income. From the end of August to December, turtles come by the hundreds from the surrounding coastal waters, to lay and dig their eggs into the sand. The staff of the conservation project were able to succeed in convincing the locals the need to minimize their collecting activities. Local men, women and children, are now involved, helping with the protection activities.[13]


Access to the Turtle Islands is difficult, as there are no regular means of transportation to the area.


  1. ^ "Official City/Municipal 2013 Election Results". Intramuros, Manila, Philippines: Commission on Elections (COMELEC). 1 July 2013. Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2011. . Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. P. Saundry & C.J. Cleveland. Washington DCSulu Sea
  4. ^ a b "Philippine Turtle Islands". Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  5. ^ U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. "United States Coast Pilot, Philippine Islands, Vol.2", pp.309-310. Washington Government Printing Office, 1921.
  6. ^ a b Convention regarding the boundary between the Philippine Archipelago and the State of North Borneo, United Nations Treaty Collection, January 2, 1930, and July 6, 1932  .
  7. ^ Geo-physical features of the six Philippine Turtle Islands". Ocean Ambassadors. Retrieved on 2011-02-15.
  8. ^ "Lihiman Island". Ocean Ambassadors Track a Turtle. Retrieved on 2010-10-05.
  9. ^ United States. Dept. of State; Charles Irving Bevans (1968). Treaties and other international agreements of the United States of America, 1776–1949. Dept. of State; for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 473–476. 
  10. ^ Monmonier, Mark (1996). How to Lie with Maps (2nd. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 44.  
  11. ^ Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area". Ocean Ambassadors Track a Turtle. Retrieved on 2011-02-15.
  12. ^ "Turtle Islands Memorandum of Agreement between Governments of Philippines and Malaysia". Ocean Ambassadors Track a Turtle. Retrieve on 2011-02-15.
  13. ^ "Turtle Islands in the Philippines". Retrieved 2008-03-01. 

External links

  • One Ocean, the Philippines' coastal and fisheries management information.
  • Ocean Ambassadors is a page about marine species found in the Philippines and the effort to conserve them.
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