528 marine turtles released to the wild in Sarangani

A child helps release a newly-hatched Olive Ridley turtle at the pawikan hatchery in Maitum, Sarangani during World Environment Day, 5 June 2018, MindaNews photo by BONG SARMIENTO

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 May) – Efforts to conserve and protect the endangered marine turtles in Sarangani Bay received a major boost with the recent release of 528 baby turtles into their natural habitat.

Nilo Tamoria, regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Region 12, said in a report released on Tuesday the Olive Ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) “made their way back home” last Friday, May 16, from the shores of Barangay Lumasal in Maasim town, Sarangani.

He said the baby sea turtles were hatched at the local government-run Maasim Pawikan Hatchery and Learning Center located in the same village.

“This is the biggest number of hatchlings recorded since its (hatchery) establishment in 2015,” said Tamoria, who led the release of the turtles.

The release was facilitated by the DENR-Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (Cenro) and the Maasim Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office (Menro).

The official said they released the turtle hatchlings late in the afternoon to ensure better chances of survival as studies showed that only one percent of those released usually survive into adulthood.

He noted that the journey of baby sea turtles “is not easy” as they are threatened by the presence of predators in the ocean like big fishes and sharks as well as pollution, especially the “presence of plastic wastes brought by humans.”

Forester Felix Robles, chief of DENR-12 Coastal Resource and Foreshore Management Section, said they let the turtles crawl from the shores to eventually help them remember where they came from.

He said female turtles that were released usually return to their birthplace to also lay their eggs in 20 to 25 years.

“They imprint on the unique magnetic field of their birthplace and the female ones use this information to later return to nest,” he said.

The shores of Barangay Lumasal and nearby communities had been declared as nesting sites of sea turtles.

Maasim town’s Pawikan hatchery currently caters to thousands of sea turtle eggs that were collected at the site.

Since 2015, the facility has helped hatch and release back to the sea around 19,000 Olive Ridley hatchlings.

Alejandra Sison, acting head of the Maasim-Menro, said local residents are now more aware of the presence of the sea turtles in the area and has been helping the protection and conservation efforts.

She said they are mainly aware of the importance of the sea turtles to the coastal ecosystems.

“The (turtle) eggs come from the adjacent Baranggays. Our community is aware that if they see turtles laying eggs, they immediately send the eggs to the hatchery so that the caretakers could handle them properly,” Sison said.

Tamoria said he has directed personnel of the DENR-Cenro to conduct regular information and education campaigns among coastal residents, specifically on proper solid waste management.

He said there had been documented stranding and deaths of sea turtles and other marine species in the Sarangani Bay due to ingestion of plastic wastes.

“It is important to take care of our marine ecosystem. We need the help of local communities in protecting and conserving our coastal areas,” Tamoria said.

“Let us be responsible in disposing our wastes. The cases of pawikan stranding indicate that there is something wrong with our coastal environment,” he added. (MindaNews)