ANTIQUE, Philippines – The peaceful coastal barangay of Sabang West in the third-class municipality of Bugasong, Antique, became an instant marine hotspot when a number of sea turtles began laying their eggs in the seashore.
It was in the morning of December 19, 2014, when the first turtle was spotted by a villager about to attend the Simbang Gabi (night mass) in town.
“Nag bugtaw ako kang kaagahon nakita ko ang pawikan banda alas dos sa aga (I woke up around 2 am and saw the turtle),” said Gerry Mandolado.
“Masimba daan ako wara lamang eh. Ginbantayan ko lamang run hasta mangitlog (I was supposed to go to church but I no longer left. I waited for the turtle to lay her eggs instead),” he added.
The barangay immediately informed the Municipal Agriculturist Office (MAO) and secured the nest. MAO advised the barangay officials to enclose the nest with plywood and bamboo so that it would not be disturbed by the children and to avoid injuring the hatchlings. They also covered the nest with sand to facilitate the hatching of the eggs.
Based on studies, female sea turtles usually lay eggs during the warmest months of the year. The incident was a surprise since December is one of the coldest months in the country.
At dawn exactly 15 days later, January 3, 2015, a lot of villagers saw turtle tracks coming from the sea. They followed it and discovered a turtle in the process of laying eggs near the barangay’s sea wall.
This was followed by the discovery of another nest on January 17, the eve of Bugasong’s town fiesta.
“Tingala ako eh sa amo run ja edad ko kaja lang ako nakakita kang pawikan nga nangitlog sa tupad namun (I was shocked because at my age, this is the first time for me to see a turtle lay eggs here),” shared Mandolado.
According to Barangay Captain Raul Jauod, this is quite unusual for the barangay since as far as he remembers, the last time a turtle nested in Sabang West was way back in 1965, when he was still in Grade 2.
Forty-seven days after the first turtle laid its eggs, the mother came back and began digging around the nest. It was around 3:30 am of February 19 when Jauod himself saw the turtle. It was having difficulty digging since the nest is enclosed by plywood.
The barangay officials immediately informed the MAO who opened up the nest. They counted 110 turtle hatchlings – 105 survived but 5 were located in the bottom and were not as lucky, getting pinned down by the hatchlings on top.
Depending on the species, female sea turtles usually lay 50 to 200 eggs.
On February 9, another turtle went ashore. However, it was so early that a lot of villagers waited at the seashore, preventing the turtle from digging her nest.
To encourage the hatching, the villagers caught it and placed it in a makeshift nest. The turtle, however, went berserk so the villagers released it.
Jauod believes that the presence of the sea turtles might be due to the more or less 100 artificial jackstone-type reefs that they have installed courtesy of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on May 15, 2014. They have also installed an additional 200 units.
The artificial reefs serve as the spawning or breeding, nursery, and shelter ground for various marine life. It would also improve and increase fish production.
According to Jeane V. Nietes, Aquaculturist 1 of the Bugasong MAO, they have identified the turtles as green sea turtles.
They were not surprised by the sudden turtle activity in the area. Research states that most female sea turtles usually return to the very same area where they have laid eggs before and usually just a few hundred meters away from where they last nested.
One trait of a female sea turtle is that once she has left her nest, she never returns to take care of it. But studies also show that they usually return on the day the eggs are hatched as in the case in Sabang West.
Usually, incubation would take 60 days but since the temperature of the sand governs the speed at which the embryos develop, the hatching period can vary.The hotter the sand, the faster the embryos develop. Cooler sand tends to produce more males while warmer sand produce a higher ratio of females.
According to Nietes, the next step will be to conduct an education campaign. They will orient the villagers on how to take care of the turtles and be more responsible in the protection of marine wildlife.
With the influx of turtles in the barangay, many people are asking if Sabang West would be declared a marine sanctuary but for Nietes, this is not possible since the barangay is already very much populated.
On February 23, the second batch of eggs where hatched but unfortunately, the villagers were already too late because the hatchlings managed to break free from the nest and reached the sea. Only 35 hatchlings were left in the nest when the villagers arrived.
“Siguro fortunate man gid kami nga taga Sabang para mag host sa mga pawikan nga nangitlog ja (The people of Sabang are indeed fortunate to be hosts to these turtles who laid their eggs here),” Jauod said.
The third batch of eggs hatched on March 18 but the hatchlings broke out of the sand outside the enclosed nest before the villagers arrived. Only 7 hatchlings broke out inside the enclosure.
Jauod is thankful for the presence of the turtles in the barangay because “the people, especially the children also, became aware of the obligation to protect marine wildlife like these turtles.” – Rappler.com
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