NOT A LOT of people know that hidden at the end of a coastal stretch along Matina Aplaya lies one of Davao City’s best-kept secrets, one that has surpassed centuries. The beach beyond Seagull, named after the birds that frequent the fishing ground, is home to critically endangered Hawksbill turtles locally known as pawikan.

Photos by Bing Gonzales

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ABOITIZ Power Distribution Group executive vice president and chief operating officer Jaime Jose Aboitiz checks the equipment at the Weather Station and Learning Center at the park.

Generation after generation of sea turtles have found their way to the beach and buried hundreds of baby turtle eggs, one day hatching, another day returning to the sea to repeat the process like the waves that carry them.

Unfortunately, only around 1% of every generation of turtles makes it to full adulthood. Along the way the turtles are likely to encounter natural predators as well as hazards like human trash. This means that for every hundred baby turtles that surf the seas, a lone battle-tested turtle will come back, thanks to instinct, and lay another batch of eggs. For the gentle sea turtles, it is eat or be eaten, or as has been the case sometimes along the gulf, eat the wrong thing.

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THE MANGROVE boardwalk with information tag about mangroves.

AboitizPower, through subsidiary Davao Light and Power Company, has recognized this, and in an act most noble endeavored to preserve one of nature’s best gifts to the city through the operation of a Cleanergy Park which opened Thursday.

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A TURTLE sanctuary view deck that can also view Samal Island.

The eight-hectare property is part of a 37-hectare marine protected area off the coast of Matina Aplaya that has officially been closed to the public, thanks to the law.

And with the operation of the Cleanergy Park, Aboitiz has decided to go sustainable.

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PLAYGROUND serves as holding area.

The park aims to be a center for environmental conservation and biodiversity enhancement, according to a statement by the company. It aims to “share and highlight the rich natural resources of the Davao Gulf.”

The property is home to several species of flora and fauna, both on land and underwater. Davaoenos of the 90s and the decades before that during a time when the simplest pleasures of going to the beach along the city’s 60.1 km coastline allowed residents to appreciate nature’s beauty with only a snorkel, a mask, and fins.

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FILE PHOTO. Personnel from DLPC documents the newly hatched hawksbill turtles before their release last July 22, 2014 at the Aboitiz Cleanergy Park.

Thanks to an intensive management of the biodiversity of the area, Aboitiz was able for years to keep outsiders from ravaging the area in search of food, while even the waters are off limits. And this is understandably so; it is a haven for various species of trees, birds, and fish through a mangrove forest and a coastal forest, a fish sanctuary, sea grass beds and coral reefs.

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NEWLY hatched hawksbill turtle on his way to the ocean during its release July 22, 2014.File photo

Aboitiz invested P5 million for additional infrastructure that would both help promote yet preserve the park’s natural wonders, building viewdecks for the turtle sanctuary so as not to disturb the hawksbills during turtle seasons, a mangrove boardwalk complete with labels and factoids on each tree, a weather station, as well as a botanical garden and seedling nursery.

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WEATHER Philippines Foundation president general manager Celso Caballero III briefs media on the installed automated weather station facility at the park Weather Station and Learning

“The Cleanergy Park represents the Aboitiz sustainability mindset: that we can do well by doing good, always making the right long-term decisions that balance the interests of people, planet, and profit,” Jaime Jose Aboitiz, AboitizPower Distribution Group EVP and COO, said.

“The turtles have been here for a long time, even before we were,” he added.

At this point, the step is one of many needed to still preserve the city’s coasts.

The 37-hectare area in Matina Aplaya, for example, is only a fraction of the 415 hectares of the city’s marine protected areas mandated by a 2009 ordinance.

Other coastal waters include those off Bunawan and Agdao Centro according ot the City Planning and Development Office. The areas along Sitio Bucana in Barangay Lasang up to Sitio Budbud in Tibungco have long been known to house “rare, threatened, endangered and ecologically and economically significant species.”

Aside from being a marine protected area, Matina Aplaya is also identified as a mangrove rehabilitation area.

According to the Department of Tourism, the Cleanergy Park has a lot of potential in changing the way the residents near the area manage their resources.

Matina Aplaya is known to have several fish cages. One can easily see these during the drive from the downtown area towards the site, some 40 minutes away. However, government agencies have warned the public about the effect of the activity to the seawater in the area. In the absence of a strong current, fish waste may have polluted the nearby beaches with e. coli and coliform, with levels beyond the acceptable standards according to a recent DOH report.

Roberto Alabado, DOT regional director, said the area could help reshape the community’s livelihoods, as the Cleanergy Park could drive tourism in the area. But this has just become an initial idea, with management of the park requiring prior notice before granting visitors access to the property. To help preserve the park, only around 15-20 people will be allowed within the property at any time. No walk ins would be allowed, according to Aboitiz sources.

With the establishment of the Cleanergy Park, Aboitiz, as well as the city, may well be taking a step in the right direction – the one that turtles point to the moment their eggshells are cracked. To the sea they call home.