by CHRISTINA ALPAD, LIFESTYLE AND ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER (The Manila Times)
Tina Antonio of La Union Soul Movement joined “SOS: Save the Seas Coastival”—dubbed the green alternative to the famous “LaBoracay” Labor Day weekend in Boracay—but she was not there for the sea breeze, fresh seafood and the surfing waves of San Juan town.
She was there as the harbinger of alarming news: That La Union’s once healthy sea is about to vanish in the next two years.
“I am sorry but I have to break this to you—in the next two years, there’s a high probability that you won’t be enjoying the surf, the beach or the fresh seafood we have here because in a couple of years, there will be a boom of commercial development in the area,” Antonio told the Coastival guests, mostly from Metro Manila.
She was referring to a huge company plan to develop 20-hectares of La Union’s coastline.
“This serenity that you are experiencing right now may be your last time to enjoy it. We’ll probably be very similar to Boracay, so we’ll have party places here. We’ll probably say goodbye to the corals and the sea turtles, or pawikan,” the advocate further warned, noting that the commercial property will rise right in the middle of the pawikans’ nesting ground.
The Philippines’ rich ocean is a favorite among sea turtles, so much so that five out of their existing seven species can be found in the Philippines. Among them are the Green Sea, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Olive Ridley—the last having a huge population in La Union.
According to Antonio, sea turtles’ diet includes jellyfish, algae, and sea grass. Thus, the specie is key in maintaining the balance in the ocean. She noted, “Technically, they are one of the reasons why we have less jelly fish—they control jellyfish population.”
To help her in her endeavor, Antonio tapped the help of the community, other environment conservation groups like Project Curma (Coastal Underwater Resource Management Actions) and the local government, among others, to build a community-driven eco-tourism movement.
For Project Curma, one unique feature of sea turtles is their loyalty—so to speak—to their birthplace.
“Mother turtles would lay their eggs where they are born; and where the turtles are eventually released is the place where the mother turtles would come back to lay their eggs again approximately 20 years,” said Toby Tamayo, this time of the pawikan conservation and protection group.
Unfortunately, only one percent of hatchlings can survive and return to their birthplace to mate and lay their eggs. Having disturbed hatchings will also be deterrents.
“For many years the turtles have been coming here. They are attracted to the sand dunes, this is a perfect place to be nested. But, with the buildup of tourists who we have seen taking out their phones to take photos and selfies with the mother turtles about to lay their eggs and disturbing them, we also saw tracks of mother turtles coming in and then scampering back to the ocean,” Tamayo detailed.
Project Curma warned that if in the next hatching season more mother turtles are disturbed by human activities in the nestling areas, the Philippine ocean might forever lose them. As a result, aside from the thriving of jellyfish, 40 percent of sea life would die.
“When the developers start their project—because we are not going to stop them since it’s business—what we want to do is provide them with an alternative means to co-exist with these creatures,” Antonio said.
“Our goal is clear as crystal—it is to keep our oceans alive so that our kids, your grandkids, will experience the same experience that you are experiencing. But we want this to be a shared responsibility not just for the people to who live here, but for of everyone who eats seafood, who enjoys the beach, the wildlife, the water sports,” she concluded.
To do so, the two conservation groups together with Save the Philippine Seas, World Wide Fund for Nature and pro-environment enterprise Human Nature launched the Save Our Seas Coastival.
By showing some of the things people can enjoy in the beach, spotlighting its tranquil environment, and giving space to a 180-meter long sand art pioneered by by celebrated muralist and climate justice advocate AG Saño, Antonio and Tamayo hopes the May 1 weekend revelers truly heeded the call to save the seas.