After years of being invited to Anvaya Beach and Nature Club’s Turtle Release project, I finally made it! Thanks to my Tita Lisa who is a member of Anvaya Cove, I was part of the 2016 event that aims to bring awareness about turtle conservation.
Every year, female pawikans (Olive Ridley sea turtles) dig a hole in the sands of Morong Beach at nighttime to lay their eggs before returning to the ocean. Trained Anvaya employees and members of environmental groups would build a protective net around the nest and wait for the eggs to hatch. The hatching usually happens around February, and by that time Anvaya club members may come to watch as the baby turtles return to the ocean.
The event used to be called “Adopt a Turtle,” where each guest is assigned one turtle that they can name as they please before personally releasing the turtle to the shores. This year they have a stricter policy where only trained volunteers are allowed to touch the hatchlings, while the guests can only watch from a barricaded section.
While some guests are disappointed at this stricter scheme, I’m relieved at Anvaya’s more responsible eco-tourism. I remember an environmental article I read that said something to the likes of: “If you—without proper volunteer training—can easily pay to handle an endangered plant or animal, then that’s irresponsible tourism.” I’ve heard of personal stories where members have accidentally dropped a hatchling and caused it injury, or children mishandling the fragile baby turtles.
According to Bataan’s Bantay Pawikan Conservation Center, only 1% of the hatchlings will survive. As they crawl to the ocean, their developing brains will imprint the magnetic signals of the sand, which will lead the female survivors to return to the exact same spot in 25 years in order to lay eggs.
Would you want to be the person responsible for decreasing their chances of survival—all for the sake of getting a selfie with a baby sea turtle?
Even if the guests could no longer “adopt” a turtle, I could hear people naming the turtles as they waddled towards the water. We had Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo as a nod to the TMNT. Others named them after pop culture references like Han Solo.
When I spotted two feisty turtles seemingly battle towards an imaginary finish line, I silently named them Myrtle and Channing Turtle. I pray they are part of the 1% who would come back to this exact same spot in 25 years.