La Union is considered as one of the jewels of the north. Tagged as “The Surfing Capital of the Philippines,” it welcomes neophytes, enthusiasts, and professional surfers from far and wide every year, giving the province’s tourism economy a boost.
As La Union makes its mark locally and globally, development is not far behind. Many real estate institutions have their eyes set on the opportunities that the La Union’s Urbiztondo Surfing Area offers. Progress in itself is good, however, it should go hand in hand with preservation.
More than just being a surfer’s haven, Urbiztondo is also one of the few nesting grounds of the Olive Ridley sea turtle. According Business Mirror, there are only seven species of sea turtles or pawikan in the world, and five of these can be found in the Philippines. These turtles usually nest in the latter part of the year, during night time, within a certain radius where they have been hatched. Nesting requires silence—something that is slowly becoming rare as more and more people flock to La Union’s shores without being educated about its other “residents.”
Tina Antonio of the La Union Soul Movement emotionally shared the possible dismal future of the province. “In the next two years, there is a high probability that you won’t be enjoying the surf, or the beach, or the fresh seafood… because with the boom of commercial development… We’ll probably say goodbye to the corals, and the turtles, and have jellyfish infested seas.”
The main food source of sea turtles is jellyfish, and with the rise of commercialism in La Union, these quiet-loving creatures will choose to nest elsewhere, leaving the jellyfish population in the area unchecked and making its waters less swimmable.
In the last year, only approximately 600 hatchlings have been set free by volunteer groups, which means that only five or six pawikan have come back to nest. In the past four years, the DENR has reported a continuous drop in sea turtle nesting, which has started to alarm marine conservationists.
Surfer and founder of Project Curma Toby Tamayo agreed with the report. “We had less sightings of turtle nests compared to the previous four years, because the temperature was unusually warmer… due to climate change.“
Climate change also pushed the pawikan to come to shore later than their monitored season, causing them to have unfortunate meetings with tourists.
"We had issues wherein guests that we had… witnessed mother turtles coming up to the beach to lay their eggs… and they all wanted to have selfies [with the them.] It disturbs [them]… We see tracks of mother turtles coming in and then scampering back into the ocean."
This is why Human Nature, in cooperation with Save Philippine Seas and environmental organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF Philippines), Project Curma (Coastal Underwater Resource Management Actions), La Union Soul Movement, and other local government units and volunteers have launched the very first SOS (Save our Seas) Coastival, an event that aims to bring awareness to beach goers about the importance of protecting marine biodiversity in La Union. Featuring a beautiful 180-meter sand art designed by AG Saño and created by many volunteers, it’s a call for help and awareness in saving the pawikan and in keeping La Union safe for these creatures.
“We want the message passed on,” stressed Mr. Tamayo. “Without the sea turtles, we won’t be able to swim out there.”
“We’re not going to stop developers,” Ms. Antonio noted. “What we want to do is provide them with an alternative means to co-exist. Our goal is as clear as crystal—it’s to keep our oceans alive so that our kids will experience the same things you’re experiencing now.”