More than 200 tons of fossilized giant clam shells, worth nearly $25 million, were seized in a joint law enforcement raid in the Philippines' province of Palawan Friday. The Philippine Coast Guard said the haul was the largest to date in the province.
The Tridacna gigas, better known as a giant clam, or taklobo in the Philippines, is the largest living bivalve mollusk. They can grow larger than 4 feet across and weigh more than 400 lbs. It's also considered an endangered species by the Philippines' Department of Agriculture.
Four suspects, ranging in age from 40 to 54, have been taken into custody for violating the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. They face up to eight years in prison and a fine equivalent to more than $62,000.
This was the third clam bust for the coast guard in just over a month. Another 18 tons was seized earlier in the week. The sum of that raid was just under $1.2 million. And in early March, another bust amounting to $3.3 million in value.
It is illegal to catch, gather, sell, purchase, possess or transport taklobo or any other protected species, the Philippines state news agency said.
It takes giant clams many years to reach full size, but they can live 100 years. Their shells provide a home to billions of algae, which give the clams' mantle such brilliant colors. They also filter out excess nutrients and pollutants while filter-feeding on plankton.
The Nanyang Technological University says poachers harvest the clams by dredging along the ocean floor and destroying coral reef systems with boat propellers. The shells are seen as a status symbol and can be used as ornaments, jewelry, tableware and even floor tiling.