Good Friday last week brought satisfaction to a team from the Virac local government as it successfully released to the wild 79 Hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings, the first for the critically endangered species in the capital town.
Japhet Caranza, Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Officer-designate, and agricultural technologist Abraham Tablizo picked up the hatchlings one by one from an aluminum basin in the morning of April 8, 2023 in a coastal village and gently laid them on the sandy beach.
The hatchlings crawled briskly to the sea and disappeared into the shallow water, to which the females would come back three to five years later to lay eggs like their mother.
“This is the first time for Virac to release Hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings as majority of those released in the past were those of Green sea turtles,” Caranza said.
The local government began its effort to preserve and conserve sea turtles in 2016 during the first term in office of Mayor Samuel Laynes, who allotted an annual budget for the program starting that year.
He disclosed that the 83 eggs were laid by a female Hawksbill on the beach on Jan. 31, 2023 and hatched on April 8, with two hatchlings already dead and two eggs were stale or failed to hatch.
Joint personnel of the MENRO led by Caranza and the Municipal Agriculture Office, headed by municipal agriculturist Jimma Tadoy, are in charge of record-keeping and documentation of the sea turtle egg laying and hatchling release, relishing their first time to have an actual footage of the critically endangered sea turtle species.
They are likewise closely guarding three more clutches of sea turtle eggs, one of which is scheduled to hatch in the last week of April.
Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are carnivores that live in the sea from 30 to 50 years and grow to a size of 24 to 45 inches long, weighing between 100 to 150 pounds (45 to 70 kilograms).
Their carapace, or upper shell, is heart-shaped while they are young and it elongates as they mature. The serrated carapace is strikingly colored, making them particularly attractive in the tortoiseshell trade in the world and prized among humans since the time of ancient Egypt.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that millions of hawksbills have been killed within the last hundred years for the tortoiseshell trade although the legal international hawksbill shell trade officially ended 20 years ago.
The hawksbill turtle’s name comes from its tapered head, which ends in a sharp point resembling a bird’s beak. Distinguishing it from other sea turtles is a pair of claws adorning each flipper, with male hawksbills having longer claws, thicker tails, and somewhat brighter coloring than females.
Found throughout the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, Hawksbill sea turtles avoid deep waters, preferring coastlines where the sponges they like to feed on are abundant, and sandy nesting sites are within reach.
The highly migratory reptiles are omnivorous but will also eat mollusks, marine algae, crustaceans, sea urchins, fish, and jellyfish. They help maintain a healthy coral reef ecosystem
While their hard shells protect them from many predators, they still fall prey to large fish, sharks, crocodiles, octopuses, and humans.
Like others of their kind, hawksbills make long migrations, moving from feeding sites to nesting grounds, with females returning to the beaches where they were born to nest every two to five years.
They emerge from the sea usually at night, dig a pit in the sand where they lay 130 to 160 eggs and then cover it before leaving and returning back to the sea.
The eggs hatch in about 60 days, with the hatchlings facing the most dangerous time of their lives as crabs and birds try to snatch them for food during the brief scamper to the safety of the sea.
Fortunately, there were no such predators during the Virac hatchlings’ run to the sea last April 8 under the watchful eye of their human caretakers.