Waking up at 3 in the morning on a Saturday was hardly my way of starting a weekend. But
this day was different; I would join a group of young professionals from various fields on
a trip to Bataan to visit a turtle conservation project. We left Manila around 5AM and
arrived at Subic Bay a little past 8.
The first stop was a visit to the Wildlife Center. Here we were guided by the head
veterinarian, Dr. Richard Encomienda. on a tour of its facilities as well as some of the
animals they rescued. Next we visited Haribon’s Gubat Learning Center for a short film
feature on the Philippine Eagle. After lunch along the famous Subic Boardwalk area, we
headed towards the turtle conservation site.
Barangay Nagbalayong is a small fishing village located in Morong, Bataan. Being one of
the nesting sites of marine turtles in the Philippines, the location is now a community-
based livelihood and a sea turtle conservation project. Started in 1999, after concerned
environmental group composed of people from the Department of Natural Resources (DENR),
Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), and Bantay Kalikasan discovered that
fisher folk and farmers supplement their earnings by gathering turtle eggs.
The eggs, pale white and around the size of golf balls, were being sold at 5 to 8 pesos
Alarmed over this poaching of turtle eggs, the group organized meetings with the local
fishermen. An information campaign on the importance of turtles in marine and coastal
ecosystem was mounted. Local fishermen were being educated and Bantay Pawikan Inc. was
formed. Poachers then became volunteers in turtle protection. This 180 degree-turn-around
was further strengthened in 2001 with the funding for the community’s conservation work by
the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
In June 2005, the Embassy of Japan in Manila under Ambassador Ryuichiro Yamazaki signed a
US$52,311 grant to the Bantay Pawikan project. The grant enables the purchase of a rescue
vehicle, the construction of a storage facility, and the acquisition of assorted fishing
equipment for the Otoshi Ami or Lambaklad fishing method.
The volunteers comb the beach at night during the nesting season of September to February
- locating nests of newly deposited turtle eggs and transferring them to protected
hatching sites. Once the young turtles emerge from the sand after 45 to 60 days, they are
then released back to the sea.
Of the seven turtle species in the world – namely the Olive Ridley, the Hawksbill, the
Green Turtle, the Kemp Ridley, the Flatback, the Loggerhead, and the Leatherback – 5
species are known within our archipelago. Out of those 5 species, two frequent the shores
of Bataan as their nesting grounds, the Olive Ridley and the Hawksbill. Being the smallest
of the turtle species, Olive Ridleys are on the top of the endangered list.
Being slow and nearly defenseless, marine turtles can easily fall prey. They have swum the
world’s oceans for over 100 million years, but recent human activities have taken great
toll on their survival. Slaughtered in the millions for their eggs, meat, skin, and
shells, their already reduced populations still suffer from poaching and over-
exploitation, as well as incidental capture in fishing gear and habitat loss and
Today, Mr. Manolo Ibias, chairman of Bantay Pawikan Inc. faithfully continues the work
they started years ago. The project has saved and released about 40,000 live baby turtles
Turtle releases are usually done late in the afternoon, to minimize predators such as
crabs, birds, and other fishes that are active during daytime.
As the hatchlings slowly make their way into the water at sunset, they get an imprint of
the surrounding magnetic field in their brain. After 30 to 50 years, the turtles come back
to more or less the same location of its birth, to mate and lay eggs and start a new cycle
With a worldwide survival rate of less than 1%, marine turtles get little help in its
struggle for survival; a living testament that with the right education and training,
local communities can be a great ally in environmental and ecological conservation.
The annual Pawikan Festival is usually slated in the peak nesting season; tourists both
local and foreign visited the sanctuary to get a chance to see adult turtles coming ashore
to lay eggs. Visitors also get to participate in the project’s “Adopt-a-Turtle” program.
For about 250 pesos, one gets to personally hold and release a baby pawikan into the sea.
You also receive a souvenir t-shirt. The funds are channeled back in order to sustain the
project and help in the livelihood of the fishing community.
You may get in-touch with Bantay Pawikan Inc. thru its chairman Mr. Manolo Ibias at
mobile number 0917-9001648. For comments on this article, the writer can be reached at
On October 2007, I visited the Pawikan Center again and took these 2 additional VRs: