BUTUAN CITY — Amid the lockdowns brought by the coronavirus disease, the small coastal town of Magsaysay, Misamis Oriental province has recorded the largest number of hatchlings released into the sea, while an upsurge of hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) nests were also observed for the first half of the year.
Rolando Pagara, a village council member who leads the community turtle conservation in Candiis, pointed out that during the enhanced community quarantine in March and general community quarantine in June, the team was able to document three separate nests in Barangay Candiis and another nest in Barangay Bonifacio Aquino.
“If we combine the numbers of turtle hatchlings release on May and June, which is about 573, we can say that this is the largest number of hatchlings released over the past five years and we are just in the first six months of 2020,” Pagara said.
The releases were documented by the villagers of Barangay Candiis with around 144 hawksbill turtle hatchlings released on 1 May, 155 hatchlings on 12 May and around 138 hatchlings on 16 May.
On 13 June, another 110 turtle hatchlings were released in the nearby village of Consuelo, while 136 hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings were released on 21 June.
Last year, the town released only 315 turtle hatchlings from five nesting grounds while in 2018, there were six recorded nesting sites but with only 364 hatchlings released as less than half of the eggs successfully hatched. The lower hatching incidence was said to be brought about by rising sea levels which causes eggs buried on the beach to spoil.
Pagara also observed a faster incubation period on the hawksbill turtle eggs this year compared to the previous years.
“Usually, a hawksbill turtle egg would hatch between 60 to 65 days after they are laid in the sand. But the 1 May hatchlings were nested on the beach on 17 March, or just 46 days of incubation. The same was true for all the other eggs that hatched in May and June,” Pagara said.
He believes that there might be other areas in Magsaysay where hawksbill turtles have nested and laid their eggs, but with the present situation it was hard for him to monitor them all.
Uriel Yhapon, a secondary teacher at Consuelo National High School, got his first experience in releasing turtle hatchlings when they discovered several of them slowly crawling out of the sand in front of their private beach on 13 June.
“We’ve only bought this part of the beach here in Purok Mindalag, Barangay Bonifacio Aquino. I was shocked and amazed that for the first time we saw small turtles crawling out of the sand, we immediately gathered them and then released them together,” Yhapon shared.
Pagara explained that the situation in Barangay Bonifacio was one of the cases that they were not able to monitor the turtle nests and that they only found this out after residents reported the release of the hatchlings.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the hawksbill sea turtle as critically endangered, with its population declining by as much as 80 percent in the past decade. In the Philippines, this turtle species is among the most trafficked on the black market, coveted for its shell which is usually carved into ornaments and baubles.
Magsaysay is home to a 612-hectare site declared as the Magsaysay Critical Habitat for Hawksbill Turtles via Department for Environment and Natural Resources Administrative Order 2016-02 as the town has several nesting sites in the barangays of Candiis, San Isidro and Damayohan.