BAGUIO CITY (July 23, 2021) — Local fisherman Arnel Ebreo was on his way to fish last Monday morning when he noticed familiar looking tracks on the shoreline in Pandan, Bacnotan La Union.
It were the tracks of a mother Olive Ridley turtle, which has nested 97 eggs on a safe area.
But according to the SIF-CARE assisted Coastal Underwater Resource Management Actions (CURMA) coordinator Carlos Tamayo, whose family had been pursuing the sea turtle conservation program in La Union for more than a decade now, “it is unusually early”.
Nesting season for Olive ridley turtles here starts September and ends March. “We still do not know yet what caused the abnormality of the season,” Tamayo admits, while hinting, it could be another “blessing in disguise” amid the pandemic.
CURMA, a Science of Identity Foundation (SIF-CARE) assisted pawikan conservation and protection program, released over 7,000 hatchlings last March. In 2020, only 38 nests (3,362 hatchlings) were freed to the sea.
In 2017, volunteers freed 8,700 hatchlings. In the 2009-2010 laying season, almost 15,000 hatchlings were freed in the sea. The next season, 12,000, then 9,000, then 6,000.
CURMA’s founder, Carlos’ father Toby, a former professor at the Philippine Military Academy, a veteran environmentalist and an accomplished beekeeper of the famous Tobees Apiary in Baguio City explains, “sea turtles are a keystone specie”. Sea turtles, especially green sea turtles, are one of very few creatures (manatees are another) that eat sea grass. Sea grass needs to be constantly cut short to help it grow across the sea floor. Sea turtle grazing helps maintain the health of the sea grass beds.
Sea grass beds provide breeding and developmental grounds for numerous marine animals. Without sea grass beds, many marine species humans harvest would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain. The reactions could result in many more marine species eventually becoming endangered or extinct.
Sea turtles feed on jellyfish. If they become extinct, the deadly jellyfishes will multiply exponentially.
Sea turtles come back to where they were freed 25 years after, to lay their own eggs exactly where they hatch and freed when they were still hatchlings.
There are 7 species of sea turtles and all, including the olive ridley, are listed on the IUCN Red List as either critically endangered or vulnerable.
Marine biologists have yet to shed light why there seems to be a tremendous hike in the nesting especially since the pandemic. Though Tamayo himself suspected, “most likely (the cause is) tahimik at madilim ang beaches” ngayong Covid19 times”.
Mother Olive Ridley turtles lay their eggs on dimly-lit and undisturbed shores.
Weather and wave patters may have contributed to the hike in the number of nests last season, Tamayo said, but the present issue on why this early? “We are still puzzled,” he said, “though amazed.”
The Bacnotan local government unit and CURMA volunteers have carefully relocated the fresh nest of 97 eggs, soon to be 97 healthy hatchlings after two months, to the hatchery in San Juan.
Since CURMA had partnered with local fisherfolk, who are constantly on the beach as “round-the-clock sea turtle watch”, conservation efforts remained uphill in La Union, Tamayo admitted. Local government units are our constant partners in this, he beamed.