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.
A few years later, the Pawikan Festival began in Morong, and was later participated in by other municipalities in Bataan.
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.
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.
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.
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 participating officials then initiated a ceremonial release of pawikan hatchlings.
After the ceremonial turtle release, Bataan’s different municipalities performed their pawikan-themed street dances.
The festival also had competitions like mural paintings, sand sculpture, among others events.
After sunset, a new batch of hatchlings were released.
The festival was capped with a beach party and evening performances.
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.