Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Free the baby Pawikans

"What will you name your turtle, Papa?, " Lucas asked as we drove to Bataan, excited about the prospect of participating in a Pawikan release activity in Anvaya Cove.

"I'm calling mine Pokerface, Iya's calling hers Jelly, Ate will call hers Pesto, and Mommy's will be called Wikan....what'll you call yours?"  I thought for a moment and said, "I'll call mine 'Goodbye.' "

The day of the release activity, we went to the beach and there was a small crowd, mostly seated waiting for the ceremony to start.  It was sunny but the oncoming summer's stifling heat had, thankfully, not yet arrived. There was a light westward breeze and a whisper of excitement in the air as Moms and Dads, kids of different ages eagerly awaited the arrival (or departure?) of the little turtles.  It was an event we thought might be educational and fun....and we were NOT disappointed.

After the customary greeting by the designated hostess for the event, the main speaker was introduced  - Mang Manolo Ibian, who was part of the Pawikan Sanctuary of Morong, Bataan.  He was a simple man, with a simple the turtles.

There are 5 varieties of turtles in the Region -  Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Olive Reedley and Loggerhead.  In Bataan, the Olive Reedley was the local species.  The egg laying season starts in November and ends in February.  Each turtle comes back to within 20 kms of the original beach from which they hatched and went out to sea.  Each female will lay about 100 to 150 eggs during the season and will not do it again until after 2 years.  Studies have shown the probability of turtle hatchling survival to full adulthood is 1 out of 100 owing to many natural predators as well as  one unnatural one...yes his name is Man.  

All this information can be found on the internet but what we found really educational and inspiring was the story of the men and women who volunteered their time and effort to ensure the continuity of the program and perhaps the species in this little corner of the world.

During the entire egg-laying season, volunteers walk along 7 kilometers of coastline twice a night, checking for nests.  When they find a nest, they have 2 hours to transport it to their protected sanctuary and 'plant' them in protected nests to develop.  After 2 hours, the turtle fetus begins to develop and locks in on the magnetic coordinates of the place to ensure they will know where to come home to lay eggs.  If the eggs are not 'settled' within 2 hours, the egg will likely abort.  

The volunteers make sure that half of the eggs are exposed to the sun and the others are protected by a layer of sand or are in the shade.  Apparently temperature dictates temperatures beget females and cooler climates beget males...hence the expression 'you're a cool-headed turtle boy.'

Over the past 10 years this particular pawikan sanctuary has been in existence, the volunteers have covered a distance equivalent to the distance from Manila to Sao Paolo, Brazil and have successfully released close to 57,000 turtle hatchlings.

So I thought about walking 14 kilometers a night for 4 months, sometimes finding eggs, many nights coming up empty handed but just the same, caring for the eggs and ensuring they are protected.   But why?  Well, why not?  What a life, what a calling.

The lecture finished with an open forum which Mang Manolo ably managed, answering questions with the relaxed and confident certainty of a man who has affirmed his place in Mother Nature's commando army.  Applause and congratulations were followed by careful instructions on how to hold the hatchlings (with the fingers on either side of the shell, firmly but carefully)...before gently putting them down on the sand, facing the horizon.

We all lined up behind the roped off area on the beach beyond which our little friends were to scurry across the sand and swim out to whatever or wherever their energy, the current, the wind would take them.  The little ones were in styrofoam ice chests....  ..the same kind, ironically, that fishermen used to store their fresh catch.  We took one turtle (turtlet? turtling?) each and, as instructed, held them gently and, for a few seconds, we all hoped for some maternal, paternal or fraternal imprint to register in the the tiny creature's brain before we were encouraged to put them gently down on the sand, facing the sea.

The hatchlings scurried out, at what appeared to be varying levels of excitement and enthusiasm.  On one end were the laid back dudes, enjoying the scenery, relishing the trip and on the other end, the Type A turtles...sprinting in a race to the water.

Everyone then began to individually encourage their little wards. Isca and the the kids were shouting out to their own little turtles..."Go Poker face!.....Let's do it, Wikan....Move it, Pesto....Move, Move, Jelly"

Me?  I was just saying..."Bye-bye, Goodbye, Goodbye,  Goodbye" until he reached the water.

He was a 'he'..I'm sure...  Cool, like his father.....and his father's father.

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