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Sorsogon surfers create safe community for sea turtles

By Jam Escandor


Gubat, Sorsogon --- As a small community of surfers whose lifestyle is connected to the sea, the Gubatnons for Adventourism, Inc., the group that operates Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp has witnessed the dwindling of sea turtles or pawikan population along Gubat bay where they also do surfing activities.


The group says that these marine creatures either get stuck with fishing nets and rods, called bycatch, or intentionally poached by people, through the years.


Being a small group, they say that having environmental advocacies such as marine life conservation and protection are like making whispers in the wilderness in this age.


Though initiatives may not have a huge impact yet, they also believe in the old saying that no amount of effort is rendered small when done with passion and diligence to bring about change in the world, or in this seaside town at least.


The surfers’ group wants to forward the advocacy of protecting and conserving marine life by involving the community – make them own these advocacies.


Incentivizing surrender of pawikan


The surfers’ group call their initiative “Kunserv”, an incentive program conceptualized by Noli John Mercader, the Operations Head of Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp that they implement for six years now.


It is an incentive-based program of the surf camp that encourages people and the community to take part in preserving the sea turtle population by not disturbing their nesting ground and surrendering these marine creatures to proper authorities and eventually freeing them to the sea.


For every sea turtle surrendered to the authorities and released to the sea, the surfers’ group grants incentives such as a reward of P500.00 and/or 2 kilos of rice.


With the sea turtles thriving in Gubat Bay in the past, some locals have long practiced sea turtle poaching for years, mainly for consumption of their meat and selling their shells, Mercader shared.


Alarming as it sounds, the lack of care for these creatures is rooted from economic necessities, absence of or minimal institutional policy interventions, and lack of awareness and education of the community as to the importance of every marine life in the biodiversity and people.


According to Mercader, the incentive program seeks to ease these problems by addressing the community member’s urgent monetary needs, and also, to bring education and awareness to the community.


Since the program’s inception in 2016, Gubat, Inc., together with Gubat’s Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office were able to free a total of 27 sea turtles or pawikan, mostly hawksbill sea turtle species, to the waters of Gubat Bay.


On January 22, 2023, the MENRO released an adult female green sea turtle to the sea, trapped in the fishing net of Raymond Donor, a local fisherman from Barangay Bagacay, also in this town.

An adult female green sea turtle accidentally caught by a fisherman from Barangay Bagacay, Gubat, Sorsogon, was surrendered to the authorities and released to the sea. Photos by Gubat MENRO


Nesting ground


With sea turtle sightings and constant bycatch incidents, Gubat’s Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer Lea Santos said that Gubat Bay, especially Barangay Buenavista’s shore, could have been a nesting ground of sea turtles in the past, particularly the hawksbill species.


The sea turtles or pawikan (Eretmochelys imbricata) is considered one of the critically-endangered marine species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.


Santos explained that sea turtles are migratory marine creatures that could survive for hundreds of years, if left alone. After hatching, these marine creatures would crawl their way to the beach and the sea to join the migration tour.


They are known to go back to the nest where they hatched so they can lay their eggs at the same nesting ground, she added.


Some bycatch incidents, as Santos shared, could also be due to disorientation as sea turtle hatchlings swim towards the light.


“They have the inherent instinct to follow the brightest horizon, which for them only occurs over the ocean”, Santos said.


“They could get attracted by the artificial lights coming from small fishing vessels or the lights coming from surrounding beach resorts”, she added.


Santos furthered that the Gubat-MENRO envisions bringing back the shore of Barangay Buenavista as the nesting or breeding ground of sea turtles.


The LGU likewise plans to tap other groups especially the fisherfolks of Gubat in the conservation efforts started by the youth surfers, and will further seek their help in assessing other nesting grounds of sea turtles along the 12-kilometer stretch of Gubat Bay that skirts 13 barangays.


By knowing the accurate location of these nesting or breeding sites, the local government can accelerate the implementation of necessary policies for the conservation and protection of sea turtles in this coastal town, she added.

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