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Pawikan Conservation

Posted by on Nov 14th, 2009
Filed Under: Conservation, Featured

The ultimate patriots, the Pawikans (Filipino for Marine Turtles) return after 25-30 years and go back to where they were hatched to lay eggs. This cycle remained unbroken for ages until recently when these beautiful sea animals have become highly threatened for extinction, due to poaching and hunting- their numbers are alarmingly dwindling. The time is now to take action. Read on and learn how you or your organization can help.

Philippines Pawikan Conservation Center

About 4 hours away from Manila is the sleepy fishing village of Nagbalayong in the town of Morong on the Bataan Peninsula. Along a patch of sandy coastal road a tiny place fenced with aged bamboo and a driftwood sign with the name Pawikan Conservation Center written on it greeted us. The coastline where Pawikan Conservation Centre sits is home to the original nesting sites of the Olive Ridley turtle species. We were greeted by Mr Manolo Ibias one of the center’s leaders, who is a former poacher himself but now one of the staunchest defenders of the pawikans. We were then introduced to a gathering of some of the volunteers having after dinner rounds of local whiskey mixed with congenial and spirited conversations about the challenges of turtle conservation, community development and environmental protection. And thus, counting the hours away before we would join them doing night patrolling the beaches, we listened to their stories.


Philippines Pawikan
The Pawikan
Photo by Racaza

Called as Pawikans in most local dialects in the Philippines, the marine turtles are reptiles related to snakes, lizards and dinosaurs. Being cold-blooded creatures, their body temperatures fluctuate with the environment and they have a pair of lungs that need to breathe every few minutes while swimming unknown distances in the vast seas. Marine turtles have powerful flippers which help the pawikans navigate but cannot retract into their protective shells called carapace which sets them apart from their freshwater relatives that can easily hide their heads and legs inside their bony shells.

Most marine turtles (especially the male ones) spend their entire lives at sea while the females come to their nesting beach during the coldest months of the year to lay their eggs (which look and feel like soft and leathery ping-pong balls). If the clutch of eggs is lucky enough not to be eaten by many predatory animals like lizards, crabs or taken by poachers, these eggs will hatch after 40-60 days depending on the temperature of the sand. The volunteers and Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR) regularly patrol the beaches at night (as this is the time when turtles lay their eggs) to gather them and bring them to the centre’s hatchery where they are more protected until they hatch and are subsequently released back into the sea.


Philippines Pawikan Conservation Turtle eggs being buried in sand at the Bantay Pawikan Hatchery
Turtle eggs being buried in sand at the Bantay Pawikan Hatchery
Photo by Dave Ryan

During the Pawikan Festival which is usually held every end of November, involves the release of these super cute baby turtles racing into the sea where they will feed, grow and explore the vast oceans only to return one day back to the beaches where they were hatched when they are ready to lat their own eggs. However, this would have been a perfect scenario if not for the years and years of poaching and gathering of eggs and killing these gentle creatures for meat as a staple for the people of these coastal villages – not only in Nagbalayong in Morong, Bataan but all throughout the world. Likewise, the shells and skins have been used for many illegal by-products like combs, guitars and other ornaments. It is no secret as well that a lot of the Taiwanese, Vietnamese and Chinese regularly poach in Philippine waters and they do so with so much impunity. Sadly, such activities have received a lukewarm response from the Philippine government like the case a few years ago where a boatload of Chinese fishermen were caught entering Philippine waters illegally and fishing in the protected and UNESCO World Heritage area – the Tubbataha Reef. Because of severe pressure from powerful Beijing, these criminals were released with nary a punishment or even an outcry. Next time you sit down in a restaurant in Hong Kong or wherever around the world- remember that the turtle soup or the sharks fin soup that you are having for dinner meant that you are part and complicit in the tacit rape and murder not only of Philippine seas but our Mother Nature as well. With the survival of these creatures already challenged with a lot of these turtles falling prey to birds, crabs, sharks and many other natural predators, the thought of someone having turtle eggs for their misconceived aphrodisiac is just totally sickening.


Philippines Pawikan Conservation Bantay Pawikan Inc.
Bantay Pawikan Inc.
Photo by Dave Ryan

Because of this only 1-3% of baby turtles ever reach maturity. Since 1999 when a Bataan community organization called Bantay Pawikan Inc. (a duly registered people’s organization) was initiated in the town of Morong with just 28 men composed of former egg poachers and sellers, over 40,000 turtles were successfully released into the sea. The program was met with opposition at first, with the local community thinking that this was one of Manila’s antics of taking over their community. Gradually, people were able to realize that this was a valid initiative and that the turtles are one of the major lynchpins in the entire ecological cycle. Soon enough, with the help of the provincial government of Bataan (which I say is doing an awesome job initiating environmentally friendly tourism projects) as well as the United Nations, Pawikan Conservation Unit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, other communities and groups in neighboring towns followed suit and replicated the conservation efforts.

Today, many challenges remain, though never insurmountable. The group still needs a regular veterinarian, and the costs of medicines for rescued turtles as well as maintenance of the center which could use a facelift. There is also a need for increased support to the communities through better access to livelihood programs and better education for its populace. I hope that by raising awareness about the plight of these marine turtles as well as the communities that protect them, everyone could take positive action and help out in preserving not only the pawikans, or our national marine heritage, but our environment as well.


Philippines Pawikan Conservation
A very sick turtle which is a recent rescue
Photo by Dave Ryan

How to Help

Share this webpage around. Blog it. Link back. Volunteer. If you are a company, you may want to include Bantay Pawikan in your Corporate Social Responsibility projects. Donate in cash or in kind.

Donations

You may deposit it through this bank account-
Landbank of the Philippines- Balanga City (Bataan) Branch
Bank Account Name : Bantay Pawikan Inc. Livelihood Project
Address: Purok VI-Aplaya, Nagbalayong, Morong Bataan
Account Number : 0441-1942-26

More Information

Bantay Pawikan Inc. – (Nida- +63.928.7185721/ Manolo- +63.906.6155546) bantay_pawikan@yahoo.com ; or if you wish to visit the centre and don’t know how, the lovely folks at Bataan Tourism can certainly help you (+6347.2374476/+6347.2374785) – tourism_bataan@yahoo.com.

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24 Responses to “Pawikan Conservation”

  1. Diane says:

    hey I really love animals and I would really love to help out and volunteer. Is that possible?

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Diane!

      Yes, it is possible but I would like to encourage you to visit the center first and talk them. Bring friends with you, the more people who are aware, the better. There are contact details posted on the article as well as how to donate. If you are going to the Pawikan Conservation Center, you might as well check out our Bataan travel guide as well (Check it on our Destinations List). There is also birdwatching in Balanga. :) Let me know what else I can help you with.

      Cheers!

      Ryan

  2. Ed Jacob says:

    We have a place in Cagbalete island, Mauban Quezon where Pawikans are also on extinction. The local folks are aware of the prohibition of catching these species but still some pawikans are being made as “pulutans” by local fishermen.

    If Pawikan conservation will be extended to this place, we can help avoid the further extinction of these species. Just let us know how we can assist in the Pawikan conservation. Thanks.

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Ed,

      You may try contact the people at Pawikan Conservation to check of how to learn to organise and adopt some of their best practices. The people at DENR has a Pawikan Unit but I highly doubt it if they have enough people or even resources to support it. There are several sites across the Philippines where Pawikans nest. There should be a stronger cooperation and massive education drives to the local communities. They should understand the consequences of their actions and how rare these species areand how important they are to the entire marine ecosystem. There should be strong policing as well and a way for the people in Cagbalete to have other sources of food and livelihood. They should also be made aware that tourists actually go to areas where the environment is protected – if there are turtles in Cagbalete, that too can boost local tourism and have people earn more.

      Just a suggestion and I hope it really helps. There are contact numbers on this article that you may find helpful. You can also blog about the Pawikan poaching in Cagbalete or you may even forward a copy of this article to the different government officials, offices and community leaders in the area. Let me know what else I can do to help.

      Cheers!

  3. Mark angelo says:

    meron po ako dito baby pawikan… im here at olongapo binigay sakin ng kaibigan ko kaso nakukunsenhsa ako… gusto ko i balik or alagaan ko muna tapos ako n lang mag papakawala sa kanya.. anu ba po kinakaen ng pawikan and ilan Months bago pakawalan…

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Mark angelo,

      Pawikans are not meant to be pets. Please take your pawikan to the Pawikan Center in Morong and you can even get more information about Pawikans there. Unfortunately, I actually forgot to ask them what baby pawikans eat- but you can send a text to Kuya Manolo and Ate Nida (their phone numbers are listed above). I would really recommend you to come over to the center. I think you are a good person, and you will do the right thing. :)

      Cheers!

      Ryan

    • Jim says:

      Hi. I hope hindi pa namatay ang pawikan mo sa gutom..hehehe Pwede sya pakainin ng isda, kong maliit pa sya hiwain mo ng maliliit ang isda bago mo ibigay sa alaga mong pawikan. kumakain din sya ng dikya 0 jelly fish kung malaki na sya..pero its hard to find ang makati sa balat. kung walang budget pwede rin ulam or kanin..hehehe sge goodluck sana buhay pa ang pawikan mo and hope mapakawalan mo rin pag laki.. chao!!!

  4. Ma. Joselita V. Baltazar says:

    Good day… I am one of the Bataan Peninsula State University (BPSU – Balanga Campus) student who had the chance to visit the Pawikan Conservation Center under the supervision of Mrs. Carina C. Batol. I was amazed when I saw a pawikan personally as well as their eggs and the youngs. I acquired so much knowledge about pawikan after that Tour. Now, I know how can I differentiate pawikan from turtle as well as to identify the male pawikan from female pawikan. Thank you for that.

    Now, I am a fresh education graduate and I will do my best to help your group. God bless. Hope you will not get tired in conserving pawikan. Thank You.

  5. couchnomad says:

    Finally! Something positive. I truly appreciate that they are making an effort to save the pawikans. I applaud the people who have initiative and “heart” to do this and I give bigger kudos to those who have the drive to keep this going. I’m adding this to my itinerary and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this in person.

  6. Rusty Madison says:

    Hi, I am planning to go to the Philippines in November 2010 for a visit. A friend told me about this event – Pawikan Festival. Canyou please let me know when is this event going to be held this year -2010. I would like to be there.

  7. Nicole says:

    Hello,

    I see this was published in 2009. Is there additional ways to donate money?

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Nicole,

      You may want to contact those people listed on the article if there are other ways to donate. :)

      Ryan

  8. Marcus Luna says:

    Hi i’m planning to go here for Holy Week :) I would like to ask what is the entrance fee for the center and I am really looking forward to adopting a turtle so I would also like to ask if turtle eggs will be hatching on Holy Week? :) thanks!

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Marcus,

      AFAIK, there were no entrance fees. But that may have changed. Donations are encouraged. I am not sure if Holy Week would be the best time for turtle hatching, you may want to check with the conservationists listed.

      Kudos for your thoughts however. I hope you can come and visit them!

      Ryan

  9. Bobby G says:

    Thank you Manolo and the rest of the staff! We enjoyed our stay! Really inspiring and heartwarming to experience the kind of accommodation you all extend to your visitors human or otherwise.

    Godbless!

  10. Emma says:

    Hi.. Is it possible that you rescue 3 Pawikans from Davao City? as an MS Biology student taking up conservation biology this summer, part ng plans namin is to visit a so-called pawikan conservation site. However, i was emotionally torn nung pagdating namin sa site, seeing three SMALL dirty pools of pawikan. one of them is cleary very sick. The project was supposedly handled by some local politician na nakausap namin recently. Pero the MOA for the conservation of these turtles has already expired, at sobrang isang taon nang walang bundget na nakalaan para sa welfare nung tatlong turtles. imagine, they are being held captive by a local barangay, whose officials are fond of the icon na nagcoconserver sila kunwari ng pawikan. sobrang naiiyak ako knowing that nagrerely lang sila sa mga volunteers at donations bago mapakain ng matino ang turtles. so ibig sabihin, habang walang nagdodonate, wala ring makain ung mga pawikan. and their pools are never cleaned regularly. sobrang kaawa-awa knowing that they are in an almost anoxic water environment na mabaho. we tried talking to the barangay officials na kung pwede sana i-acclimatize nila sa dagat since iilang meters lang naman ang layo nung pools nila from the sea. ayaw nilang maniwala samin because wala raw protocol at papatayin lang daw ng mga local residents ang pawikan. hindi kaya na mas morally matatanggap pa nating mamamatay yung pawikan because of ignorance, kesa naman they’ll die in captivity or some politician??? :( this is so sad.

  11. zherie mae says:

    sir ryan,this is Mae Esperancilla,researcher from TV5,I have seen your photos in this website and I would like to ask for permission if we can use your photos in our show TeknoTrip which is aired in Aksyon TV 41

    Our episode for this week will be promoting the province of Bataan and since the Pawikan Conservation center is part of the tourist attractions in Bataan this will serve as a a great help in featuring the place

    We will appreciate it much if you will give us the permission to use your photos with an inclusion of your name as the provider of the images

    It will be much better if you also have photos of the adopt a turtle and the releasing of the turtles

    Thank you very much

    Mae Esperancilla
    Researcher-teknoTrip
    0905-296-3232
    zhemhaye_esperancilla@yahoocom

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Mae,

      Go ahead, you may use the photos. The group shot of Bantay Pawikan Inc, isn’t mine however but it came from the Pawikan Conservation themselves.

      I will check if I have other photos, will let you know. Sorry, for the delayed reply.

      Ryan

  12. blairdelacruz says:

    good day!

    sir, were planning to have a seminar regarding community based eco-tourism and were planning to go in pawikan conservation center. my alam po b kau n pwede nmin mging guest speaker para sa event nmin? or ung pwedeng mag lecture about sa pawikan conservation center?

    thank you po in advance…

    • Ryan says:

      Hi blairdelacruz,

      Please contact the people from Bataan LGU or at the Pawikan Centre. For other ecotourism destinations, you may want to contact El Nido Resorts as well, they have a pretty good track record being a true ecotourism destination. :)

      Regards

  13. CESAR "TETAL" SISON says:

    GOOD MORNING/AFTERNOON/EVENING!

    I SAW A TURTLE OR TORTOISE ( CAN’T DISTINGUISH THE DIFFERENCE) IN MY FRIEND’S POND NA NAPULOT LANG DAW. ANG SHELL OR BAHAY NIYA AY NOT MATAMBOK PARANG IT WAS DESIGNED FOR AERODYNAMICS. ANG NAPANSIN KO LANG AY MATULIS ANG NGUSO NIYA NA PARANG ANTEATER AND IT’S AGGRESSIVE. DOES IT BELONG TO RARE SPECIES? WALA KASI AKONG CAMERA KAYA HINDI KO NAKUNAN. THE PLACE IS SAN ISIDRO, NUEVA ECIJA.

  14. joy says:

    hi, will we be able to see eggs and hatchlings if we go there during the end of oct?

  15. Hi Ryan,

    I see that this was published way back 2009. I’m planning to go on a trip to Bataan and of course visit the Pawikan Conservation center and would like to see if I could in some way volunteer and learn more about the pawikans and the center. I’d just like to know if the contact details posted are still working? I may also need help for directions getting there. Thank you.

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