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.
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.
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.