11 December 2012

All for the Love of Sea Turtles

Barely a day old! Olive Ridley hatchlings kept in a moist
container before being released to the sea :)
Around 6 P.M. on Nov. 30, 2012, I got to share with my boys for the first time a most precious experience: releasing sea turtle hatchlings to the ocean.  I've become a wide-eyed fan-girl of these marine reptiles ever since our first experience of swimming with a large adult green sea turtle in Apo Island a couple of years back, and moreso when I learned that sea turtles "imprint".

Imprinting happens as hatchlings clamber quickly to the sea. Along the way, they remember details about the sand and the beach where they were born. This memory is what guides them back to the same area 20-35 years later when it's time to create the next generation of sea turtles. Isn't that amazing?

Did you know that sea turtles are also like the "gardeners" of the sea?  They promote seagrass cultivation and keep the populations of sponges and jellyfish in check.  This way, they protect corals and other smaller sea creatures, giving them a chance to thrive.  Recently, I learned that even the way they nest contributes to the health of beaches and sandy ecosystems.

But there are so many threats to the survival of sea turtles, both natural and man-made.

One of the things we've been keen about in Save Philippine Seas is adherence to laws and guidelines when it comes to the proper handling of marine wildlife. It's part of why we started the "Blue Tourism" infographic series -- descriptive and colorful posters promoting responsible tourism.  The first set we did is for sea turtles, called "Where Are Your Turtle Manners?" (view it here). Here's the poster about the correct way to release sea turtle hatchlings. It definitely proved useful when we released those hatchlings that Nov. 30 night.  I was so thankful that we did things the right way.

Apart from the infographics, we've also been constantly sharing both good and bad news on our Facebook page related to sea turtles, and vigilantly reporting violations to PAWB (now known as DENR-BMB).  Recently, we talked with PAWB about doing something more proactive. That led to the creation of "Pawikan Watchers". In a nutshell, it's a training program that aims to equip would-be sea turtle protectors in their own communities.

One thing for sure about Pawikan Watchers is that it will need a lot of funding. We're so thankful for the people and groups who have donated or are helping us raise funds. Here is one of them: "End Danger".  It's an art exhibit and music festival fundraiser that will benefit Pawikan Watchers.  The organizers, Artists for Nature (responsible for the impressive "Sa Asul o Sa Itim" exhibit fundraiser last May), said that "End Danger" will feature "mixed media artworks...that calls attention to the growing problem of animal endangerment in the Philippines and encourages the community to get involved in conservation and protection efforts." 

UPDATE Oct. 12, 2016: We were able to launch the pilot phase of Pawikan Watchers in January 2015 because of the many donations, sponsors, and volunteers who believed in our humble vision. The pilot team was composed of 7 very enthusiastic, bright, and open-minded young people (6 Filipinos & 1 Swiss national) who were wholly responsible for answering questions around practicality and methodology for a program like Pawikan Watchers.

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