SAN NARCISO, Zambales: Gerry Grospe, 53, used to hunt pawikans and collect their eggs for food 8 years ago. Sometimes, he would even sell his catch in the public market.
“Turtle meat, although sold at very high prices, tastes better than beef, that’s why people love it,” Grospe said.
However, through the seminars and workshops of Katimpuyog Zambales in this town, Grospe is now a turtle conservation advocate and a pawikan ranger in Barangay La Paz.
“Our pawikan rangers are composed of local fishermen and farmers who used to be poachers but now protect and conserve not just our sea turtles but our natural resources as a whole,” Larraine said.
“He [Grospe] is one of those ‘transformed’residents who now patrol the seashore to protect the threatened marine creatures,” she added.
Grospe, together with other volunteers, now patrol the beach—a distance of more than 4 kilometers—everyday to locate nesting grounds of turtles and to collect their eggs for the hatchery.
The same community Purok 5, Barangay La Paz also recently released 65 Olive Ridley marine turtles hatchlings to the West Philippine Sea as part of Katimpuyog Zambales.
The eggs of the creatures were gathered and hatched at the Pawikan Conservation Center of this town last January 21.
SM Cares Foundation also supported the activity. Cheridel Alejandrino, known as elevator girl, together with SM’s executives,took part in saving these endangered marine animals from predators, as well as poachers and commercial traders in the area.
Larraine Sarmiento, officer of Katimpuyog Zambales, said the presense of pawikans had opened the eyes of residents to the need to conserve and protect these sea creatures. Now, she said, residents would inform them whenever they have sightings of mother “pawikan” laying eggs on the sand.
According to their records, there had been a total of 51 pawikan encounters this year, 18 were tagged while 33 were just traces of their nesting activities.
“Everytime we see them [turtles], we identify them with a tag from DENR bearing the code PHL which stands for Philippines,” Sarmiento said.
“However, since these animals are migratory, we often see other tags on their flippers from Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia,” she added.
Sarmiento, noted that these marine creatures usually take their time on the sand to get their bearings so that they can go back to the same place even after 25 years.
“After mating at sea, adult female sea turtles return to the exact same place where they were hatched to nest at night,” she explained.
Oilve Ridley turtles use their hind flippers to dig a circular hole 16 to 20 inches deep. The female will then deposit around 50 to 350 eggs, depending on the species.
Rene Sarmiento, former Comelec Commissioner and husband of Larraine, confirmed that three of the seven species of sea turtles in the world could be found here in Zambales.