The sea turtles no longer come to Punta Dumalag

PUNTA DUMALAG, Davao City – The summer heat on Saturday afternoon made the beach at Punta Dumalag, the coastal part of Barangay Matina Aplaya here, so enticing for some boys and girls to dive and frolic in the water.


It was the same shore that, in 2003, was discovered to be a nesting site of endangered Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), called pawikan in the vernacular. Marine turtles are known to return to and nest in the same place where they were hatched after about 30 years, when they reach maturity.


In the same year, the city government declared the area as a nesting ground for the turtles, and created the Task Force Pawikan Davao for the protection and conservation of the marine reptiles.


The creation of the sanctuary made Punta Dumalag a destination of thousands of visitors, pulling the city’s tourism sector a notch higher. But some changes have happened in this place, in particular the disappearance of what used to be its chief attraction – the pawikan.


Village chief Jimmy Poliquit said that as far as he can remember the turtles have been gone in Punta Dumalag since 2010.


Another nesting site was established in Daliao, a coastal village in Toril district, where turtles were later discovered too.


But the sanctuary in Punta Dumalag remains protected through a local environment program even if the turtles no longer come, Poliquit added.


“It’s different now. People rarely come here even on the weekends,” said Divina Estrera-Teves, whose parents own the Cloud Eagle Beach Resort, popularly called “Seagullid” (near the Seagull Beach Resort) since the 80’s.


Her parents have leased the land from the government since the early 90s, she said, adding that she and her family have resided there as early as the 1960’s.


She recalled that all 40 cottages used to be occupied by beach goers, most of them low- and middle-income earners, and students who wanted to see the pawikan.


The resort has only 20 cottages now, but they are hardly filled, especially during the last Lenten season, she told MindaNews while tending her small house inside the resort compound.


She confessed that she even yielded to customers who would bargain for an overnight stay in a cottage for P100 instead of P150.


“Business is so slow nowadays. We usually borrow money just to pay for our lease and business permit,” she said.


For her part, aside from the absence of the turtles in the sanctuary, the threat of tsunami since typhoon Ondoy in 2009 caused the decrease of the number of visitors in the area. She added the fear of tsunami grew after typhoon Pablo hit Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley last December.


Population growth, pollution


Poliquit also noted that fish catch has decreased in the area, and he attributed this mainly to pollution and a growing population. Punta Dumalag has around 1,000 households 30 percent of which rely on fishing for livelihood.


Bambam Gaspar, 50, said that at present he could barely catch five kilograms of fish a day when he could catch 10 to 20 kilograms before.


“Hinay na ang panagat karon (Fishing is less productive now),” he said while making a “bobo”, an indigenous fish trap made of plastic screen and bamboo slats to support the bottom part.


He said that since last year fishing has barely put food on the table for his wife and three kids, adding he does carpentry sometimes to support their daily needs.


Born in Punta Dumalag in 1963, Gaspar admitted that he was into dynamite fishing from 1981 to the 1990s.


The Department of Science and Technology has conducted several studies and water sampling in the area since it was declared as a mariculture park.


Since the results showed a high concentration of coliform and other pathogens such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) from animal and human wastes, the city government ordered 34 fish cage operators in Punta Dumalag to fold up last year.


Poliquit said a few operators have heeded the city government’s order, while some have continued to operate despite the expiration of their permits.


He said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has to strictly implement the order and dismantle the fish cages.


Still a summer spot


Estrera-Teves may be unhappy with how the Cloud Eagle Beach Resort has fared after the turtles vanished and other problems came to Punta Dumalag.


But neighboring Davao Seagull Beach Resort maintains its business and remains a summer spot for both domestic and foreign tourists, operations manager Bobet Laurel said. He said the reports on the presence of E. coli have not affected their sales.


“The beach is still safe for swimming,” he told MindaNews, adding the city government would inform them if the water quality became alarming.


He said they have an average of 500 customers a month, particularly between March and April this year.


He said all their rooms were occupied from Maundy Thursday to Palm Sunday. He noted that this was better that their sales performance for the same period last year.


Meanwhile, the people of Punta Dumalag have remained optimistic of development despite the environmental problems that have affected their livelihood.


“We still hope to solve the pollution in the sea through the cooperation of all constituents in the village and agencies in the local government,” Poliquit said. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)