2017 Pawikan Festival in Bataan | Celebrating Sea Turtle Conservation

Sunday, January 07, 2018

While everyone else in the country is busy with Christmas shopping, the people of Morong, Bataan is celebrating the Pawikan Festival, an annual celebration held at the Pawikan Conservation Center in Barangay Nagbalayong. I have attended this festival last year, and 2017’s festival was much bigger in terms of the number of audience and corporate sponsorship.
2017 Pawikan Festival Dance Competition 
The annual Pawikan Festival celebrates the community-based conservation efforts to save the pawikans (sea turtles) and commitment to environment protection of the province of Bataan. Founded in 1999, the Pawikan Conservation Centre and the former poachers turned Bantay Pawikans continuously fight for protection of sea turtles. Because of Bataan’s contribution to the environment, the province received the Best Tourism Event (Provincial Category) of the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines (ATOP) – Department of Tourism (DOT) Pearl Awards in 2016.

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“Walk for a Cause” and other festival activities 
Hundreds show up for the ‘Alay Lakad’ walk for a cause, which was the first activity of the Pawikan Festival. Various activities were also lined up for that day, such as trade fair, sand sculpture contest, body painting, and mural competition. Unlike last year, the much-awaited Street Dance Competition, participated by 12 towns of Bataan, commenced at around 10 AM. Dancers in pawikan-inspired costumes performed their routines with confidence as they thumped their feet on the sandy beaches under the scorching heat of the sun.The festival ended with the Street Dance Competition Awarding Ceremony, followed by the Sunset Concert  and Beach Party featuring local artists.

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Releasing of Pawikan Hatchlings
Senator Cynthia Villar, joined by Bataan Governor Abet Garcia, Mayor Cynthia Estanislao and Bataan Tourism Council Foundation Chair Vicky Garcia, led the annual releasing of Pawikan hatchlings into the sea, which was the highlight of the whole-day festivities. Less than a hundred Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings were released to the sea, which delighted the locals and tourists. Unlike last year’s releasing, it was a bit chaotic that day because of the large number of excited visitors trying to get a glimpse or a few snapshots of little pawikans making their way to the ocean.

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Why is it important to save the sea turtles?
While I know that Pawikans (sea turtles) are endangered species before I went to Bataan last year, I did not know it then that they play important roles in marine ecosystems. On last year’s festival, I learned that around 100 eggs per nesting were laid by each female pawikans but only with one percent survival rate. Illegal fishing methods, destruction and disturbance of their natural habitats, and poaching by local and foreign fishermen are the primary reasons of the decline in the sea turtle population.

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How can we help?
As tourists, there are plenty of ways we can save sea turtles from extinction. By following these simple steps, we can make sure that our next generation can still see these adorable marine creatures: 
  1. Do not leave garbage on the beach. If you can, pick up trash and dispose it yourself in the garbage bin.
  2. Volunteer and participate in beach clean-up events.
  3. Avoid using single-use plastics. 
  4. Don’t disturb nesting females and minimize beach lighting.
  5. DO NOT buy or sell pawikan (dead or alive). This is a crime! Violations should be reported to DENR and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources under the Department of Agriculture.
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Some photos during the whole-day festivities
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Travel Notes:
  1. Best time to go - According to Manolo Ebias, head of Pawikan Conservation Center, November to February is the best time to see the pawikans in Morong, Bataan. These months are their “peak season” as female sea turtles go back to the shore to lay their eggs.
  2. How to get there - Pawikan Conservation Centre is located in Barangay Nagbalayong in Morong, Bataan. From Cuba EDSA, take a bus (Bataan Transit, Genesis Bus or Victory Liner) to Balanga, Bataan. From there, take another bus or jeep to Morong, Bataan. You may hire a tricycle to get to the Pawikan Conservation Center. Estimated travel time is 3 to 4 hours.
  3. Where to stay - There are many types of holiday accommodation in Bataan, from luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation like guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. If you’re on a budget or you want to camp out while waiting for the sea turtles to hatch, you may stay at one of the rooms available for rent at the Pawikan Conservation Center.
  4. Other attractions in Morong - Aside from the beaches and the Pawikan Conservation, Morong boasts a few other attractions like Bataan Technology Park (the former Vietnamese Refugee Camp) and Loleng's Hu Tieu-an (known for their Pinot-Style Vietnamese Hu Tieu-an).
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Contact Information:
Bataan Tourism Office
Roman Super Highway, City of Balanga, Bataan, Philippines
Telephone Number: (047) 237 4785
Email Address: bataan_tourism@yahoo.com
Twitter: @1Bataan
Instagram: @BeholdBataan and @1Bataan
Facebook: @bataan.tourism
Official Website: http://www.bataan.gov.ph/tourism


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Special thanks to Bataan Provincial Tourism for making this trip possible!

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