By Abigail Javellana
The Pawikan Festival is held yearly at the Pawikan Conservation Center in Morong, Bataan. The main activity here is the releasing of the baby pawikan, which are hatched in the conservation center.
Every year, during the festivities, they invite visitors and thousands of students from the provinces to promote awareness and also be treated to some street dancing, sand sculptures, a showcase of local products, and witnessing how the hatchlings go back to the sea.
Pawikan Conservation Center, Nagbalayong, Morong
Mobile: +63917 6716995
The festivities are held annually on the last Sunday of November at the Pawikan Conservation Center in Morong, Bataan.
Be sure to arrive as early as 7:00am to get a good parking spot and to not miss the chance to see the hatchlings.
How to get there:
By car, from Manila take the NLEX to the San Fernando Exit.
Why Care About The Pawikan?
The pawikan is now endangered. This means, that in can soon go extinct! But why is it so important for us humans to care about this? The pawikan is part of two ecosystems- the beach or dune system and the marine system. all parts of the ecosystem are important. If we lose the pawikan, this will not only have an impact on the rest of the marine life but also on us humans.
The pawikans keeps seagrass beds healthy. The sea floor is covered with a carpet of lush green leaved called seagrass. This grass is a vital part of the ecosystem, and without it, many marine animals that we humans harvest will be lost. They provide food and shelter for marine animals, stabilizes sea bottoms and maintain water quality. Seagrass beds also act as a nursery, where many species of reef and deep-sea fish lay their eggs. Young fish hide in the blades of grass for protection until they are big and strong enough to leave. Seagrass needs to be cut to maintain productivity and nutritional value. Turtles perform this function, being one of few animals to eat grass. Their waste also serves as nutrients and fertilizer for seagrass beds.
The pawikan lay their eggs from September until February. The best time to visit is in November where you can witness both the laying and the hatching of the eggs!
The night before the festival, visitors are welcomed at the conservation center as they wait for night patrollers to report turtles giving birth.
We didn't mind waiting for hours, as we were continuously entertained with shows and talks, all promoting the awareness of these sea creatures.
Only 25 people are allowed to watched the process.
Beaches should be clean and safe to ensure safe passage. Turtles mate near the nesting grounds where they hatched decades ago.
Turtles can lay as many as 190 and as few as 40 eggs. They look like mini pingpong balls!
They are transported to the hatchery for a better chance of survival. They are buried in a 30-inch deep pit surrounded with cylindrical mesh to keep out predators.
One of the unique characteristics of the pawikan is the imprinting. Sea turtles appear to have an inbuilt compass that directs them to beach where they were born.
So 25-30 years from now, those hatchlings will come back to their nesting grounds and lay their eggs and continue the cycle.
Pawikan are very loyal. You can't get a pawikan from another place to repopulate in a different nesting ground. That's why it's important to maintain these coastal areas.
Before, many pawikan poachers would take the eggs and eat them. Because of the programs of the conservation, the same poachers have now become volunteers. They make sure the practice of eating pawikan eggs are not done anymore. In fact, they are the ones initiating the campaign not just for the people of Bataan but also for everyone in the Philippines and the world.
The hatcheries help protect the baby turtles from natural predators such as reptiles, ants, and poachers.
The baby turtles will hatch from their nests after 40-75 days.
They are released immediately after coming up from the nest. The releasing is usually done before sunrise or after sunset to minimize threats.
Their sex is dependent on the temperature of the sand. A difference of only 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit can result to an all male or all female batch.
The females are placed in direct sunlight while the males are in the shaded area.
The pawikan only have a 1% or less survival rate, even with the help of the conservation. That means out of 100 hatchlings, only 1 or none survives.
The releasing of the baby pawikan starts at around 8am to 9am.
So excited to see these little creatures return to the sea!
A hatchling waving goodbye as it starts its new journey!
Humans are the worst threat to Pawikan. Luckily, humans are also the best ones to protect them.
Fun Fact: Pawikan are some of the animals that have been here since the age of the dinosaurs. That's more than 200 million years!
The are only seven sea turtle species in the whole world. The Philippines has five namely the Green Sea Turtle, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and the Leatherback Turtle. The other two are the Kemp's Ridley and the Flatback Turtle.
There are plenty of educational materials and shows where students and visitors can learn more on how to save the pawikan.
They have an aquarium where you can find injured turtles that were rescued.
As part of the festivities, they invite each town to a street dance competition where in the theme is "the pawikan conservation."
We loved the storytelling and choreography put into the performance.
There's also a Sand Sculpture competition...
...and bodypainting and kite flying.
You can also find local products from different towns, each promoting their signature products. Here's our favorite bagoong.
We love the Pawikan Festival! It's a great venue to witness and learn more about the Pawikan--from the process of giving birth, to hatching and watching the hatchlings as they return to the sea.
The festival helps by providing awareness not only in Bataan but also to visitors from around the world as we continuously take care of the environment and the ecosystem where they thrive.
What You Can Do Yo Help The Pawikan
- Don’t buy or sell any pawikan (dead or alive), its eggs, meat, or any other by products and derivatives
- Immediately report illegal activity against pawikan to law enforcement agencies or the nearest local DENR Office, Wildlife Resource Division, Biodiversity Management Bureau.
- Stop destructive fishing practices
- Keep our beaches and marine waters clean
- Support local pawikan conservation initiatives--consider volunteering!
- Establish a network and participate in marine turtle sightings survey in your locality
There are many other ways you can help, like participating in coastal cleanups and doing night patrol by the shores. For more information, you can contact the Bataan Tourism Facebook Page.
Pawikan Conservation Center Nagbalayong, Morong
Mobile: +63917 6716995
Live an Awesome Life,
ABI and NICO of Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: We were guests of the Tourism Office of Bataan. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.
P.S. I wish the visitors would be more responsible in throwing away their waste. :(