A visit at Maitum’s Pawikan Nesting Sanctuary

A swim to life, a baby turtle struggles to wade into the sea, waiting for the waves to come and bring it out to the world

Mindanao, the Philippines’s second largest island has a veil of mystery draped around her. Feared by the uninformed but loved by those who know her true worth and beauty. This series is my tribute for Mindanao, where I’ve been crisscrossing over the years and where a part of me also comes from. The baby turtles were just at the holding pen, about three inches long, 15-20 individuals. Some were sleeping with their front flappers conveniently resting atop the carapace while some biting on a blanched but definitely dead fish floating on the surface.

The first time I saw these animals, I was just beaming with joy, smiling in between taking photographs, shooting like crazy. But who wouldn’t be drawn to such cute animals? Looking at these will definitely melt your heart, much more when you learn their facts of life: only 1% in a clutch of a 100 eggs make it to adults, or return to the same beach where they were laid.

Danilo Dequina, the pawikan man, started the sanctuary by gathering eggs, the size and shape of ping pong balls, in the beach and transferring them to guarded nesting sites

Nesting sites 'fenced' with plastic netting

Maitum’s Pawikan Nesting Sanctuary was the effort of one man, Danilo Dequina, who helped the local government establish the sanctuary. As a child, he used to collect turtle eggs with his father and, like his neighbors, cook these for food. Now, he is the prime mover for the conservation of the marine turtle species that make the beaches of Maitum primary nesting grounds.

According to Danilo, the beach is home to around five species of marine turtles, almost all are endangered: olive ridley, hawksbill, green turtle, loggerhead and the leatherback, the biggest of its kind but one that was last seen ten years ago.

The sanctuary is just a few meters by the beach area and at any given time, there are baby turtles at the holding pen. At a small sandy clearing, fenced and protected from animals, are plastic netting encircling a tiny patch of ground. Here, turtle eggs wait it out until hatched.

Baby pawikans swimming at the holding pen

The sanctuary shack

It can take from 40 to as much as 70 days before these turtles wriggle out of their shells and a day or two before breaking out of the sand and catch a glimpse of the world. These are then transferred to the holding pens where they are fed and later on, at the right time, are set free at the beach.

My unforgettable moment? Setting free a few baby turtles out into the open and praying that they will brave the harsh conditions of the sea and be able to evade predators to live to adulthood and, for the females, to eventually come back to Maitum and lay their eggs after a journey around the oceans of the world.

To reach the Pawikan Nesting Sanctuary, ride a habalhabal from the town proper, if you don’t have your own private vehicle, to Old Poblacion, Maitum. Drivers know where this place is. A donation is very much appreciated at the sanctuary.

Visit Maitum now and explore this wonderful municipality rich with natural, cultural, historical and natural wonders that will surely make your visit worthwhile. Contact the municipal tourism office via tourism officer Arlex at +63 919 373 8007.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications.

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces.

I’m open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

10 Comments

  1. Lakbay Philippines
    December 26, 2011 @ 16:09

    i’m hunting for pawikans here in cebu too. though i don’t know of any hatching places, looks like boljoon is a great place to hangout for these cute, shy, sea creatures.

  2. » Maitum, not just any other town in Mindanao | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    December 26, 2011 @ 16:11

    […] But what makes Maitum special for the traveler is its good mix of tourism sites that includes cultural by way of the Tbolis, anthropological/historical with its prehistoric anthropomorphic burial jars, adventure via water tubing, great hiking destinations, caves, waterfalls, forest exploration and a pawikan nesting sanctuary. […]

  3. Estancabigas
    December 26, 2011 @ 17:53

    naa kaha diri bai? basi wala na kay nahurot 🙂

    might ask around camotes

  4. journeyingjames
    December 26, 2011 @ 20:22

    what an experience bai! been wanting to do the same…

  5. Anonymous
    December 27, 2011 @ 8:20

    Meron din sa bataan na gusto kong puntahan

  6. Gay Aida
    December 27, 2011 @ 14:01

    One of the pet I use to want when I was young is this…

    But then I found out through Discovery Channel that when they’re that small they can go and swim into the sea but 50/50 chance of living because there’s a great possibility that they’ll be just eaten by big fishes in the sea. T,T

    I hope I could visit this place too..weeee…!

  7. » Why visit Maitum in Sarangani? | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    February 6, 2012 @ 2:17

    […] Pawikan Nesting Sanctuary Ever since Danilo Dequina helped organized the sanctuary way back in 2003, the place has been an […]

  8. » Part 1: Going to a Maitum wild adventure | Langyaw: Sojourns and Off-the-Beaten Path Travels
    June 11, 2012 @ 15:09

    […] is not only pawikan sanctuary, water tubing, rubber trees and, what’s its best known for, the anthropomorphic burial jars found […]

  9. Swim for life in Maitum's pawikan sanctuary » langyaw
    May 4, 2014 @ 8:40

    […] Read more about Maitum’s turtles. […]

  10. Maitum , Sarangani,province Touristspotlight – Invironment
    November 4, 2016 @ 8:33

    […] Pawikan Nesting Sanctuary Ever since Danilo Dequina helped organized the sanctuary way back in 2003, the place has been an […]

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