IN PHOTOS: Turtle release, celebrations at Bataan’s Pawikan Festival 2017

Rhea Claire Madarang

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IN PHOTOS: Turtle release, celebrations at Bataan’s Pawikan Festival 2017
Release of newly-hatched pawikans, sea turtle-themed performances and art exhibits, sand sculptures, and more

Colorful street dances and events like pageants and art exhibits are typical funfare for Filipino festivals, usually in honor of a patron saint. A festival in honor of pawikans (marine turtles), though, is not usually heard of. Held every November during the pawikan nesting season in Bataan, locals celebrate the Pawikan Festival not just for colorful merrymaking but also to raise awareness on the endangered pawikans. 

Decades ago, locals themselves poached pawikan eggs for food and livelihood. But when Barangay Nagbalayong in Morong was identified by the Department of Natural Resources and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement as a pawikan nesting site, locals began to understand the value of the pawikans. Among the 7 species of marine turtles in the world, 5 can be found in the Philippines. Three of them are in Bataan: the olive ridley, green turtle, and the hawksbill.

The Pawikan Conservation Center was established in Morong in 1999, where former poachers-turned-Bantay Pawikans (Sea Turtle Patrol) hatch sea turtle eggs and release the hatchlings into the sea. Occasionally, they also rescue injured pawikans. The conservation center also displays information, communication, and education materials on pawikans. 

CONSERVATION CENTER. The Pawikan Conservation Center is where turtle eggs are kept, hatched, then released. Rescued turtles are also brought here. You can also find informative materials about pawikans here, like this diorama on the life cycle of a pawikan.

A few years later, the Pawikan Festival began in Morong, and was later participated in by other municipalities in Bataan.

 PROVINCE-WIDE FESTIVAL. Pawikan Festival, which began in Morong, eventually became a province-wide festival. Portrayed here is the dance by Samal municipality.  

At the forefront of each festival is the protection and conservation of the pawikans. Even street dances are not just celebratory street dances, but portray the threats faced by the sea turtles, as well as messages encouraging conservation.

Marine turtles around the world have a low survival rate, with as little as one in 1,000 reaching adulthood. Among the threats marine turtles face are predators, climate change, human intervention, and more. 

PAWIKAN THREATS. The dangers pawikans face, like being caught in fisherfolk’s nets, are also depicted in street dances.

MESSAGES OF CONSERVATION. Dancers also usually show messages urging people to act for pawikans.

This year, the Pawikan Festival weekend kicked off early morning of November 25 with a 3-kilometer “Walk for a Cause” for pawikans, which eventually ended at the Pawikan Conservation Center. The shore fronting the center was the venue of the festival’s performances and highlights.

WALK FOR A CAUSE. Students, government agencies, civil society, among others, took part in the three-kilometer walk for pawikans.

END DESTINATION. The walk ended at the Pawikan Conservation Center.

MARCHING BAND. Student performers made music while festival goers waited for the official program to start.

BAMBOO BAND. PUP Bataan Banda Kawayan kept performing before, in between, and after the program.

CHILLING. Around the beach festival goers relaxed while waiting for the program to start.

FEET DIP. Some even dipped their toes into the water.

FOOD STALLS. There is also a variety of food available along the beach.

SOUVENIRS. Meanwhile, as part of the festival’s trade fair are pawikan souvenirs outside the conservation centers

STUFFED TOYS. There are even stuffed pawikans!

Before the program, students sang the upbeat Pawikan Festival theme song, which is easy to remember.


The program began with speeches by local government officials and volunteers, followed by guest of honor Senator Cynthia Villar. 

Bantay Pawikan chair Manolo Ibias encouraged locals to keep protecting marine turtles. As of 2016, he said, the Pawikan Conservation Center has released over 140,000 hatchlings. Bataan is also working with Zambales and Cavite provinces in their pawikan conservation efforts. 

CONSERVATION ACHIEVEMENTS. Bantay Pawikan Chair Manolo Ibias talked about milestones in pawikan conservation.

Villar echoed this call to protect sea turtles, and also zeroed in on the problem of plastic in oceans, and how it impacts not only turtles but also other marine life and the livelihood of fisherfolk. She recalled that the Philippines is one of the world’s top 3 countries in terms of polluting oceans with plastic. (READ: PH among top nations dumping plastic into seas)

THE PLASTIC PROBLEM. Senator Cynthia Villar, also the chairperson of the Senate of the Philippines’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, underscored the problem of plastic in oceans.

INTERMISSION. The speeches were followed by songs performed by the Koro Bangkal Magbigkin, an Aeta singing group from Abucay municipality.


The participating officials then initiated a ceremonial release of pawikan hatchlings.

FOR RELEASE. These hatchlings were all later released in the ocean.

TINY. Hatchlings are usually smaller or no bigger than a fist. When female pawikans reach maturity in 25 or so years, they will return here, the shore they were born, to lay eggs.

INDEPENDENT. The hatchlings can leave their boxes alone with no assistance. Bantay Pawikan Chair Manolo Ibias discourages touching the hatchlings to prevent stress.

JOURNEY TO THE SEA. The hatchlings have their own internal compasses and eventually make their way to the sea.  

After the ceremonial turtle release, Bataan’s different municipalities performed their pawikan-themed street dances.

JOURNEY TO THE SEA. The hatchlings have their own internal compasses and eventually make their way to the sea.

STARS. Pawikans are the stars in each performance.

CONSERVATION CENTER. The Morong group of course portrayed the Pawikan Conservation Center in their area.

ONE BATAAN. Many of the performers also showed all the municipalities in their provinces, to show Bataan is united in pawikan conservation.

PHOTO OP. The performers from Orani post for a photo.

The festival also had competitions like mural paintings, sand sculpture, among others events.

MURALS. Some of the entries to the mural painting competition. Painted outside the Pawikan Conservation Center.

EXHIBIT. There is also a visual arts exhibit inside the conservation center.

PADDLE PAINTING CONTEST. Boat paddles were also painted on.

BODY PAINTING CONTEST. Bodies were painted with turtles.

SAND SCULPTURE. Pawikans were also sculpted from sand. Photo by Juliana Comiso

After sunset, a new batch of hatchlings were released. 

SUNSET. Sunsets are visible at Pawikan Conservation Center’s shores, making it an idyllic festival venue come late afternoon.

SECOND RELEASE. Festival goers moved close to turtles as they were released into the water.


The festival was capped with a beach party and evening performances.


LIVE BAND. Evening performances like this kicked off the beach revelry.


FIRE DANCE. There was also a fire dance performance.


To find out more about visiting the Pawikan Conservation Center to release hatchlings, visit this link.

Claire Madarang is a writer, researcher, and documenter whose work and wanderlust takes her to adventures like backpacking for seven weeks and exploring remote islands and bustling cities alike. Follow her adventures, travel tips, and epiphanies on her blog Traveling Light and on her Instagram.

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Rhea Claire Madarang

Claire Madarang is a traveler, writer, biodiversity communications practitioner, and facilitator of nature play activities. Follow her adventures, travel tips, and reflections on her blog Traveling Light and on her Instagram