Pawikans and Apo Island
Ah, Apo Island. Yet other place we fell in love with, and had to leave too soon.
It’s not for the claustrophobic, since it’s only 3 km around and 120 m high. Neither is it for the high maintenance type– the town collects rainwater for tap water, so lengthy showers are frowned upon. Not for well-connected folks, either, with only 3.5 hours of electricity each evening. No wi-fi and no fans, gasp! (i kid you not, mosquito net and lack of a breeze = torture).
There isn’t even a real beach, just a strip of white that looks like sand from afar but is actually chunks of dead coral (hell on the soles, y’all).
But, it was all so damn charming.
The idyllic lifestyle. The small village, full of friendly folks. The lush island. The gorgeous ocean. Some ah-mazing diving (so we were told) and snorkeling. And that’s not even the best part, y’all.
The reason we were there, and the reason Apo Island is quickly becoming famous, was lounging just inshore, an easy swim away. Befriending the pawikans made for an unforgettable experience.
Pawikans: Sea turtles. The whole island is a marine sanctuary, home to five marine turtle species— the leatherback, the loggerhead, the hawksbill, the olive ridley, and the green sea turtle.
The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) in particular is easy to find in the water in front of the coral beach. As herbivore grazers, they like to feed on algae; since sunlight promotes algae growth, it grows best in shallow water, so turtle-spotting is made even easier. You’ll only need snorkeling gear (we didn’t even need flippers).
We jumped into the water as soon as we secured a hotel room on our first afternoon, but didn’t find any turtles. Didn’t matter, the coral formations were incredible and so we kept swimming until the sun threatened to slip under the horizon.
Early the next morning we dashed to the coral beach and braved the chilly water. Not even a minute later and we’d already spotted two ginormous ones. Seriously. I was amazed at how big they were, like kitchen tables!
We saw more than just a few every morning, but I’m not sure how many times we actually saw the same one. At least 5 to 7 different ones, that much I know for sure.
The youngsters were easily scared off, so we mostly hovered around the indifferent elders, snapping a zillion pics as they blinked balefully at us for interrupting their breakfast. We were mindful of personal space and didn’t dare touch them, even though the turtles probably wouldn’t have reacted negatively if we did.
Sea turtles are an endangered species, and though Apo Island is now a home for many of them, the island has gone through some hardships over the years (a tsunami a few years ago wiped out a huge percentage of the coral reefs) so please, please be aware of the fragile ecosystem if you happen to visit. Educate yourself on the impact of tourism, be careful when interacting with the turtles and any other marine life, avoid causing any long-term effects on the island.