Some 107 kilometers away from General Santos City going to the west is the quaint town of Maitum, Sarangani. In its coastal areas, where mangroves still abound, you can find endangered marine turtles hatching their eggs.
“All our coastal areas are nesting place for pawikan,” Danilo C. Dequiña told us during our visit two weeks ago.
Pawikan is the local term for marine turtles. Hawksbill (Eretmocheyles imbricata), Olive Ridley (Lepidocheyls olivacea), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), and Green Sea (Chelonia mydas) are the marine turtle species that have made the Sarangani shorelines as their egg-laying sanctuary.
All these species are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as endangered, which means “they are in danger of extinction and whose survival is unlikely if the causal factors continue operating.”
Experts say marine turtles spend most of their lives in the sea and get all the things they need there. They even mate in the open sea. But when the time comes to lay their eggs, the females return to the shore, usually in the same place where they were hatched.
Thanks to the initiative of Dequiña, marine turtles are given the chance to multiply again. “I never thought pawikan are endangered species,” admitted Dequiña, who has been helping the local government protect the remaining patches of mangroves in the municipality.
It wasn’t until he attended a meeting-cum-training conducted by the local government and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that he came to realize about the status of marine turtles.
To save marine turtles from extinction, Dequiña started a pawikan hatchery as a hobby in his home just a few meters away from the fishing village of Pawikan Beach. He also placed marine turtle posters on the door of his house and in the hatchery.
“My neighbors started to change their attitudes towards marine turtles,” he said. In fact, there was a husband who tried to butcher an adult marine turtle but the wife rescued the animal. She told him about the importance of endangered species as explained to her by Dequiña. The couple turned over the marine turtle to the hatchery.
“My neighbors also quit gathering marine turtle eggs,” Dequiña reported. “Some of them came and saw what I was doing. They were also enthralled when the see and touch marine turtle hatchlings.”
People from neighboring areas and even foreigners have come to the place to see what he was doing. Many are surprised by the initiative he does for the endangered species.
Since 2003, when he started the initiative, the hatchery has freed over three dozen of adult marine turtles. More than 8,000 hatchlings have been released to the ocean. “I am told that only one out of every 100 hatchlings survives to become an adult,” he said.
The odds are certainly against any individual marine turtle. Experts say they are preyed upon by numerous natural predators including crabs, birds, dogs, fish and marine mammals.
Despite this fact, Dequiña is never discouraged. “I am very happy to see children asking questions,” he said, who conducts trainings and gets invited as speaker in some gatherings. “I know that in my own way, I have contributed something for the protection and conservation ofpawikan. If we don’t do something now, they may be gone from our waters soon.”