Giant Clam Shells Worth $25 Million Seized in Record Haul

A massive seizure in the Philippines of 200 tonnes of illegally harvested giant clam shells has highlighted the growth of an illicit trade that has proliferated due to a crackdown on the sale of elephant tusks.

Authorities in the country, which is home to the world's giant tropical clam species, said shells worth around 1.2 billion pesos ($25 million) were found in the sting in the western province of Palawan on the remote Green Island in the Sulu Sea, local news outlet Rappler reported.

Four suspects were arrested, and the seizure included the tridacna gigas, the world's largest clam species.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) District Palawan commander commodore Genito Basilio said the raid, which took place on Friday, was the biggest ever in Palawan, according to Rappler.

This easily beat the previous record for a seizure in the province—a poaching hotspot—of 80 tonnes, worth around $3.3 million, which was discovered in a raid in nearby Johnson Island last month.

200 tonnes of illegally harvested giant clam shells seized in the Philippines

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Jovic Fabello, a spokesman for the province's council for sustainable development has described the taking of the giant clams from their natural habitat as "a form of inter-generational crime."

"These people are digging up giant clams and killing them," Fabello said, adding that such actions "will permanently affect the marine ecosystem and future generations will be deprived of the benefits accruing from it," Agence France Presse reported.

Most of the world's giant tropical clam species are in the Philippines. Giant clams, known locally as taklobo, can grow larger than three feet across and weigh up to 600 pounds.

The clams are considered to be essential to the local marine ecosystem, as they host algae that are a crucial food source for many of the fish species that humans eat.

But conservationists have raised the alarm over the spike in demand for the creatures due to an increased scarcity of ivory, following a crackdown on the global trade of elephant tusks. Clam shells are popular for their meat and are also used as an alternative to ivory for a range of products, such as earrings and chandeliers.

Punishment in the Philippines for killing an endangered species can be a fine of up to one million pesos ($20,000) and a 12-year jail sentence, the BBC reported.

In 2019, the Philippines protested against the harvesting of giant clams by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, Rappler reported.

Giant clam shells
A vendor displays decorated giant clam shells near Manila, the Philippines in this illustrative image from 2008. . There has been a spike in the illicit trade of giant clam shells in the country. Getty Images