By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has released more than 500 hatchlings of threatened marine turtle or pawikan in the waters of Saranggani Bay.
DENR-Soccsksargen executive director Nilo Tamoria led the release of 528 hatchlings of Olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) in Barangay Lumasal in Maasim town last May 16.
He was accompanied by Community Environment and Natural Resources Officer (CENRO) of Kiamba forester Jesus Boja, chief of Coastal Resource and Foreshore Management Section (CRFMS) Felix Robles, and personnel of the municipal environment and natural resources office of Maasim.
Tamoria called on the coastal communities of Saranggani to help in the protection and conservation of the coastal areas and be responsible with their wastes to protect the population of pawikan in the Sarangani Bay.
Olive ridley is vulnerable to extinction thus its possession and deliberate killing is punishable under Republic Act 9147, also known as the Philippine Wildlife Resources Protection and Conservation Act.
“It is important that we take care of our marine ecosystem. I call on the communities to help us in protecting and conserving our coastal areas. Let us be responsible in managing our respective wastes. There are several reported stranding of pawikan and this indicates that there is something wrong with our coastal environment,” Tamoria said.
He also explained that the release of the hatchlings in the late afternoon was to provide them a greater chance of survival.
“Accordingly, only one percent of the released sea turtles are expected to survive into adulthood,” he said.
Belonging to the species of Olive ridley, the baby pawikans, all 528, were hatched at the Maasim Pawikan Hatchery in Maasim town, constituting the biggest number of hatchlings ever recorded since the hatchery’s establishment in 2015.
Tamoria also told the local residents who came to witness the activity that the journey of the young sea turtles is “not easy” as these are threatened not only by the presence of predators in the ocean but also by pollution and plastic wastes.
“They may be eaten by big fishes and sharks, or they may ingest plastic waste thrown into the ocean,” he said.
Robles said the female pawikan usually returns to its birthplace to lay eggs in the next 20 to 25 years.
“We let pawikan hatchlings to crawl into the sea. This will help them remember where they come from. They imprint on the unique magnetic field of their birthplace and the female ones use this information to return to their birthplace to nest,” he explained.
The shores of Barangay Lumasal and the nearby communities are known nesting sites of sea turtles.
Olive ridley, also known as the Pacific ridley, is the second smallest and most abundant species of sea turtles in the world.
It thrives in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.