Bataan Pawikan Festival: Sending Sea Turtles Home with Love

Guiding newly-hatched Olive Ridley turtles to sea since 2001, the annual Pawikan Festival held at the Pawikan Conservation Center in Barangay Nagbalayong, Morong, Bataan has become an important representation of environmental awareness pertaining to marine life. Most especially to these lovable creatures teeming with delightful qualities, but is now considered as an endangered species. Experiencing this unique festival centering on environment conservation, particularly the marine life, has made me more aware about the dangers that many creatures of the sea face each day.

A baby turtle crawls to the sea
Crawl to your home, little one

“The Pawikan Festival is an annual event held to continuously raise public awareness about Marine Turtles. The Province initiates the drive to educate the locals and everyone in the world of the threats they face, their protection and conservation through various activities, presentations and exhibitions. Among the seven species of marine turtles, three can be found in Bataan, making it a prime location for the Pawikan Conservation Center where the festival is celebrated.” Bataan Tourism staff member Leslie Jorge tells us.

Pawikan Festival First-Timer

Being my first time to witness this event, I steadily sat on the fine gray sands of the beach clutching my camera as I eagerly awaited the arrival of the cute little ones. Brimming with excitement and at the same time riddled with concerns about the challenges that awaits them in the wild sea, I recited a brief prayer asking the heavens to guide them, as they set off on their own.

Only a small percentage of Olive Ridley sea turtles survive after being hatched. From a total of more than three hundred eggs an adult turtle lays every year, only less than a hundred of those will achieve a successful hatching. Add to the survival equation, the presence of a number of natural elements such as irresponsible human interventions, animal predators and vultures in the open sea, the survival rate of these sea turtles, nosedives to a mere five percent. It is believed that only one sea turtle out of three hundred hatched eggs, will reach adulthood and sexual maturity.

The goal of the Pawikan Conservation Center in Morong, Bataan is to increase the chances of the Olive Ridley sea turtles at survival. Former poachers of sea turtle eggs are now employed and trained to spot newly hatched eggs by going on ‘night patrols’ during the hatching season.

During these night patrols, they spot sea turtles that come to shore to hatch eggs. Afterwards, they carefully collect the eggs and bring it to the conservation center for proper incubation and ensure its hatching forty five days later. Because of this, the Pawikan Conservation Center has already increased the chances at life of the sea turtles by guaranteeing that all of the laid eggs will hatch and bear a new life.

Street Dance Competition, Art Fest and Introducing the Bangkal Bigkin Children’s Choir

A staggering display of colorful costume designs, stunning sets and impressive choreography proceeded the release of the sea turtles, as more than ten contingents from various towns in Morong, participated in a street dance competition.

Centering their routines on the depiction of the plight of sea turtles, the performers wowed the audience one after the other with their poetic body movements against thundering drumming beats. Sea turtle inspired artworks were presented on the grounds as various artists exhibited their creations through body art and sand sculptures – all presenting the splendor of the sea turtles, which helped reinforce the resolve to help in their conservation, throughout all the attendees.

Sea turtle inspired artworks were presented on the grounds as various artists exhibited their creations through body art and sand sculptures – all presenting the splendor of the sea turtles, which helped reinforce the resolve to help in their conservation, throughout all the attendees.

We were also serenaded by a group of young Aetas comprising the talented choir called Bangkal Bigkin Children’s Choir. As their angelic voices reverberate throughout the open air of the beach, a solemn atmosphere lingered, as we all watched in delight, astounded by their magical performance.

The highlight of the day was watching the sea turtles crawl enthusiastically towards their home. Flapping their flippers endlessly as soon as they were all laid out on long rectangular sandboxes, while a horde of spectator battle for position to catch a clear glimpse of them, I snapped a few photographs capturing the look of exhilaration on their tiny features. It was like they can sense what is about to happen — the realization of both their own freedom and survival.

The moment the caretakers took off the lid from the sandboxes, one by one as if racing against each other, guided by the gleam and phosphorescence from the ocean, the sea turtles walked towards the direction of the sea, advancing as if an imaginary yell of “to freedom” by Braveheart’s William Wallace encouraged them to proceed.

What I witnessed at the Pawikan Festival left me feeling a bit emotional. I saw the culmination of a beautiful life cycle of endearing creatures, and what a wonderful thing it was.

Fast Facts on Sea Turtles:

Average life span in the wild: 50 years
Size: 2 to 2.5 ft (62 to 70 cm)

Weight: Olive Ridleys can grow up to 100 lbs

Did you know? One can distinguish the male Olive Ridleys from the females just by spotting their tails that stick outside their carapace.

When is Bataan Pawikan Festival held: It is held every last week of November at the Pawikan Conservation Center in Morong, Bataan.

Pawikan Hatching Season: October to February. The eggs hatch after 45 days.

Can Tourist Visit Anytime: Yes, visitors are encouraged to visit the Pawikan Conservation Center and are also invited to watch the scheduled releasing of sea turtles to the sea.

This article was first published in TasteCompany on February 2017