Fun under the sun: let’s shell-ebrate!

The SeaLifeBase Blog
6 min readFeb 29, 2024

It’s been a while since I last went on a trip to La Union — it was a memorable experience since it was one of the few times I was able to travel with friends from university purely for the sake of having fun. We ate, surfed, drank and made merry, away from the hubbub of school life and personal responsibility. For a trip that far, it only made sense to immerse ourselves in the culture that La Union was known for.

To say that I was delighted when another chance to visit Elyu came up is an understatement. 2024 just started but it already felt like an eternity; paired with looming dread because of things to do at work, I was counting down the days until I went on this journey with a new set of friends.

Sunset at the beach. What more could you ask for?

It takes more than 300 kilometers to get to Elyu from down south, so we did our best to leave by morning light. Our trip took around half the day to complete, and by the time we arrived everyone was exhausted. There wasn’t an itinerary, so it was a relief to bring our stuff down and get a nap in. After about an hour, we made our way to the beach right beside our lodging. I prepared myself for a crowded beachfront but there were surprisingly less people than I expected. Wonderstruck, I took a moment to breathe in the chilly air and listened to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. It was calm, it was bliss — it felt like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. And we’d only just arrived!

Regaining my composure, we continued to walk along the stretch of beach, sand beneath our feet. The weather was perfect: not too sunny with a strong but genial breeze. To the west from where we were, there was a peculiar structure that piqued our interest, so with nothing else to do we went ahead and walked towards it. The construct was made from a combination of recycled plastic, bamboo, and some other materials I don’t recognize. I was excited to try and enter it since it had stairs leading up, but by the time we arrived it was already closed to the public. We ended up taking pictures and decided to head back. It’s only as I write this that I discovered that the building is an art installation known as Mebuyan’s Vessel by Filipino artist Leeroy New. Today I learned!

Mebuyan’s Vessel. I thought the blue lines were slides!

Soon after we started walking back, we got a notification about the main reason why we went to La Union in the first place. The announcement had us scampering eastward and it was there that we waited for the event to begin. At approximately 5:30 PM that day, turtle hatchlings were getting ready to break free from their shells and scurry to the sea!

So adorable!! Please don’t touch them as they’re very sensitive.

I had the chance to talk to a representative from Project CURMA, a local conservation group that manages the turtle hatchery, and he explained that the species being released were olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea). There could be thousands of them during hatching season; our current batch had around thirty or so individuals by my count. Newly hatched are then placed in a box and transported halfway through the shore to the release area. After a brief explanation by a representative, the hatchlings are finally released into the wild. Lucky toddlers were called up close to help open the gates and let the turtles waddle free!

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Turtles emerge from their nest and go as a group to increase their survival¹ supporting each other, just like brothers and sisters;
  2. Crawling on the beach allows them to imprint the area to memory so that they can return once they’re ready to reproduce and have their own hatchlings²;
  3. They use light and beach orientation to lead them to the sea³ as if they had their own GPS. This is extremely delicate so the volunteers made sure to put up a perimeter to prevent external stimuli that could interfere with this process from affecting the hatchlings; and
  4. They consume their energy reserves to successfully get into the water and enter a “swimming frenzy,” where they swim continuously for 24 hours⁴ until they reach their first feeding habitat⁵.

These were just some of the lessons I learned in that short while. It’s during these times that I grow even more fond of the work I do, because I’m only a hop, skip and a jump away from comparing information I read from books to real life interactions.

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Now if only we had more time — which is just another way of saying that I’m definitely coming back to re-experience the whole thing.

Their energy is infectious! Swim strong little buddies!

Another encouraging fact I learned was how CURMA provided security for the turtles. Due to the presence of humans in their nesting grounds, the group works to ensure the safety of the hatchlings by having protected areas around turtle nests. They do this with the help of local poachers-turned-conservationists who, after being educated by the group on the importance of protecting the turtles, use their skills to find and defend our shelly friends instead of hunting them. It was an inspiring story to hear and reinforces the idea of education being a critical tool for change.

The crowd continued to watch until the last hatchling swam away; it took no more than an hour for the whole event to finish. As we waved goodbye to the baby testudines, the sun had already set, and it was on to dinner next.

There’s not much else to say for the rest of our stay. Eat. Beach. Sleep. Repeat. While we were hoping for another announcement from the local conservation group regarding a hatchling release, it was only after we left La Union did the next one occur. I made the most of my vacation by gorging on local food, letting my mind wander as I gaze at the blue horizon, and enjoying the company of my friends. Elyu is about being present in the moment; I don’t think my story gives justice to the joy I felt in that quick excursion. That trip was something one had to experience, not read. It takes around 15 years for turtles to return to their place of birth — me going back to La Union, won’t take half as long.

This one was taken from our side trip on the way back. I like the colors.

Written by: Jasper Mendoza, Research Assistant

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[1] Martins, S, Sierra, L, Rodrigues, E, Oñate-Casado, J, Galán, IT, Clarke, LJ, Marco, A. Ecological drivers of the high predation of sea turtle hatchlings during emergence. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 2021;668:97–106.

[2] Lohmann, KJ, Lohmann, CM, Brothers, JR, Putman, NF. Natal homing and imprinting in sea turtles. The Biology of Sea Turtles. 2013;3:59–78.

[3] Salmon, M, Wyneken, J, Fritz, E, Lucas, M. Seafinding by hatchling sea turtles: role of brightness, silhouette and beach slope as orientation cues. Behaviour. 1992; 122(1–2):56–77.

[4] Wyneken, J, Madrak, SV, Salmon, M, Foote, J. Migratory activity by hatchling loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta L.): evidence for divergence between nesting groups. Marine Biology. 2008;156:171–178.

[5] Kraemer JE, Bennett SH. Utilization of post-hatching yolk in loggerhead sea turtles, Caretta caretta. Copeia. 1981;406–411.



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