Harry’s Two-Meter Walk to Freedom
Nathaniel T. Dela Cruz
Animal Scene Magazine
Harry blinked, adjusting his cute little eyes from the rays of the red-orange sun now almost ready to laze at the horizon as his small, nearly obscure turtle feet seem to move excitedly, feeling a new-found sensation in the small grains of sand.
He paused, perhaps acquainting himself with the new surrounding that will be his new home so long as mortality permits him, the vast open sea which seemed to intimidate Harry at first, before his natural affinity for water took hold.
It was twilight on the tranquil shores of Barangay Nagbalayong in Morong, Bataan, and although it was the rising, not the setting, of the sun that brings new promise and hope, Harry and his fellow several-days-old olive ridleys set free today will be safe from the dangers that once terrorized his predecessors just years ago.
Before the Pawikan Conservation Center was created in 1999, poaching was a rampant and financially rewarding business for the local townspeople.
The husband and wife tandem of Jose and Nida Valdez, along with other couples who foresaw the dangers of not protecting the turtles in the area, took active measures that resulted in the decline and now, near nonexistence of poaching in the barangay.
They patrolled the sea even in the darkest of nights, built hatcheries and attended to the turtle eggs with utmost care. They visited every barangay, school, community, carrying with them their paraphernalia composed of videos, maps and charts and pictures of the turtles, giving lessons on the importance of saving the turtles anywhere as long as there are those willing to listen.
All of those are tasks delegated to a grown man, an action that cannot be done by someone as small as Harry.
But the conservationists don’t seem to mind the work. As the visiting Haribon Foundation sat with them during the groups cross visit in Bataan, members of the conservation army took time out to discuss their business – saving turtles.
“Presently there are various types of turtles which can be found in the country. Olive ridley, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback and green turtles,” explained Boy Llanares.
He also gave some basic information about the different types of turtles, classroom style complete with the huge poster filled with pictures of each of the turtles.
“Olive ridleys are the most common found here while logger heads are those with really big heads, mala troso,” Llanares said.
“Hawksbill is considered the prettiest. It is one of the most expensive turtles and it is used to make accessories, even guitars. Green turtles can be found laying their eggs in rocky parts of the beach while leatherback is the biggest of them all.”
Boy Valdez then explained the rudiments in maintaining a hatchery fit for this nestling turtles.
Among the many pointers he discussed is the importance of not having dried leaves or roots around the area and that the place is not reached by salt water.
“Dried leaves result to rotting of the eggs while sea water can make drastic changes in the temperature which is hazardous to the eggs.”
Olive ridley eggs are buried 30 centimeters in the ground while green turtles require a deeper hole at 90 cm.
And how did they know that Harry is a fitting name for the turtle, gender-wise?
“Female turtles have shorter tails and higher temperature while male turtles have longer tails and lower temperatures,” explained Nida.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if its Harry, Tom or Dick. It is not important if it’s a female or male turtle. What’s important is that they helped another creature enjoy the God-given gift of living a life in freedom.
From a distance, the group just looked like the typical out-of-towners enjoying the warm afternoon sun, soft cool breeze and the gentle rolling waves.
Standing two meters away from the shore so that the turtles can be able to imprint the area in their systems by crawling the shore distance before swimming in the salty waters, Haribon members along with representatives from its partner organizations and members of the Pawikan Conservation Center released the baby turtles.
Harry bobbed his head from the lapping waves, as if giving one last look but not bidding goodbye, just saying thank you.
Or perhaps, see you soon!