Yesterday we visited the Pawikan (sea turtle) Conservation Center just a short drive from my home in Sabang. The center was founded in 1999 by Kuya Manolo Ibias (photo below), a former sea turtle egg consumer who came to recognize the importance of marine turtles within the ecosystem and organized local community members to assist in turtle conservation. We got to see a baby olive ridley turtle (the first olive ridley I have ever seen because they are not found in the Atlantic) as well as a hawksbill and a green sea turtle.
Sea turtle nesting occurs from mid-September until mid-February here in the Philippines. During these months the 16 volunteers at the Pawikan Conservation Center patrol 6 kilometers of beach 2xs every night in search of mama sea turtles which crawl up the beach to lay their eggs. A mama turtle will typically lay an average of three clutches in a given season with just over 100 eggs per nest. After about 60 days the eggs hatch and baby turtles crawl to the surface and into the ocean. Light pollution is a significant threat to baby sea turtles, which use the glimmer of moon light off the water to orient themselves towards the ocean. Thus if you leave the back lights on at your beach house you might cause a baby green sea turtle to crawl in the direction of human development rather than out to sea.
Olive ridley sea turtles are most common along this beach. Last season Manolo and his team excavated 191 nests. The volunteers have chosen to dig up each nest they locate and transport the eggs to a hatchery at the conservation center to protect the baby turtles from various predators including dogs, crabs, birds and poachers. The hatchery consisted of a large enclosed sand pen. Half of the pen was shaded, while the other half was exposed to sunlight. Because a sea turtle’s gender is determined by the temperature of the egg during development, this hatchery design provides cooler temperatures for the shaded nests generally yielding male turtles and hotter temperatures for the sunlit nests, which tend to produce more female turtles. When transporting the eggs volunteers must move quickly because within a few hours of being laid the turtle embryo will attach itself to the egg shell at which point any rotational disturbance of the egg may kill the developing baby. New nests are dug by volunteers within the hatchery pen and monitored until the baby turtles emerge and can be released into the ocean.
Want to see a mama turtle nesting and help with nest transport yourself?! Manolo is always looking for new volunteers. Why not spend Christmas in the Philippines on the Pawikan Conservation Team?!? I will even pick you up at the Manila airport.