The Pawikan's Cry for Help

By Marianne R. Mallen
Miriam College High School




Ever wonder where the likes of Pong Pagong came from? How about giving acknowledgment to our very own green turtle or in Filipino, the pawikan. These critters are considered as the most valuable of all the reptiles. Even as I write this article, more of them are being hunted and killed, well on their way to extinction. These creatures survived with little change since the Upper Triassic and their future existence remains, only menaced by the activities of man. Scientists believe that if people continue to hunt them down, you can be sure that you're children won't be seeing any in the future...

We have to put a stop to these actions because a lot of other sea creatures would be affected by the pawikan's loss because this would break the food chain in the sea. As they say, everything is connected to everthing else.

Characteristics

The pawikan, Chelonia mydas, is not green because of its skin rather because of its fat. It has been one the most thoroughly studied among the turtles because of its economic importance. There are records saying that they can weigh up to 700 pounds or more. But now, even a 300 pound green turtle is considered rare. They can grow a shell 38 to 46 inches long. The pawikan exclusively lives on sea plants but occasionally feed on crustaceans and small mollusks. They can be kept in captivity like the other sea turtles with the exception of the leatherback.

The pawikan produces the most number of offsprings in reptiles. They are capable of producing over 100 eggs and there has been a record for laying 200 eggs. It is the only known reptile to migrate long distances. When the breeding season comes, they leave the waters to travel 2000 miles to the breeding grounds. Mating seems to take place only within the nesting beach. Scars are evident on nesting females made by the claws of the males on the front of their shells. They usually lay their eggs during the summer season. The pawikan's eggs are white and elliptical in shape but some are spherical like pingpong balls.

The Pawikan's Habitat

Now that you have an idea of what the green turtle looks like, let's find out where these creatures can be found in our country. The pawikan lives in warm seas like those in the Philippines. Its main diet are marine grasses and algae which explains why they thrive in shoals and lagoons. They enjoy staying under the sun for long hours with nothing else to do.

There is a place protected by the World Wildlife Fund called Turtle Islands Group of the Philippines and Sabah, Malaysia. In the Philippines, they are located at the southwestern tip our country. The island group is composed of nine islands, six owned by the Philippines and three belonging to Malaysia. The islands that make the Philippine Turtle Islands are: Boaan, Langaan, Lihiman, Great Bakkungan, Taganak and Baguan. Currently, Baguan island is the only managed marine turtle sanctuary in the Philippines. This island group serves as a natural laboratory where marine turtle scientists can conduct scientific researches on most aspects of the biology and ecology of green turtles all year round.

Why are they hunted?

Have you ever seen a pawikan up close? Well, look again or you might regret it. What I'm saying is take the time to observe these creatures because very few can be seen in our region of the world. Hunters are everywhere killing them. Why?

Collecting marine turtle eggs has been a traditional source of livelihood because people think it has some medicinal value and they don't realize that these resources are exhaustible. Since 1951, there has been an 88% decline in egg production and this would mean the hastening of extinction of the species.

The heartless fishermen who use cyanide and dynamite for fishing are unaware that this declines their fish catch. This forces people to hunt down the green turtle as a source of food.


Save the Turtles!!!

A lot of moves are being done to save the green turtle from extinction. But it would be nice if people like us know what we can do to help environmental organizations. An organization named Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas has a project called "Live Food Fish Collection as an Alternative Conservation Strategy in the Turtle Islands". This project involves the environment-friendly method of collecting ornamental and live food fish to lessen and hopefully eradicate the use of cyanide and dynamite for fishing.

There are also researches done in the Baguan Island Marine Turtle Sanctuary which is said to be the most significant turtle nesting site in the Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area. The objective of this research is to address the concern on the lack of available information on the ecology and environment of Baguan Island.

Last year, a Trainors Training and Information and Education Campaign was done by the World Wildlife Fund so that locals from the Turtle Islands would be given an idea about the conservation of green turtles.


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