Consider for a moment the turtle conservation in Bali – Indonesia

Consider for a moment the turtle conservation in Bali - Indonesia

Consider for a moment the turtle conservation in Bali - Indonesia

Wayan Raga can usually be found by the shallow turtle pool in his garden. The area is filled with dozens of turtles swimming in the pool or just lazing around the yard. Some are an inch in size, others measure a meter long.

“Here is a new hatchling, just one month old. That one there is four months old. The one in the cage next to it is four years old,” said the renowned Balinese turtle breeder.

“The 4-year-old, already quite large, is a favorite of the visitors who come here.”

From the care and attention Wayan shows the gentle sea creatures, you would never guess that he once made a living hunting and selling them for their meat.

“After 20 years of hunting and trading turtles, I now realize that there is something very wrong in the way we exploit nature,” he said.

Wayan established Citra Taman Penyu in 2001 at his home on Pulau Serangan, or Turtle Island, 250 meters off the southeast coast of Bali. It is an organization that works to protect and breed sea turtles, a job Wayan considers atonement for his past actions.

After he graduated from junior high school in Denpasar, Wayan decided to become a turtle-hunter.

At the time, in 1971, there were no restrictions on killing turtles and the work promised a good living.

Before the hunting of turtles in Indonesia was banned in the early 1990s, demand for their meat, for both consumption and ceremonial purposes, was very high in Bali.

“Anyone who had turtle meat for sale would always sell out very quickly, as the Balinese required a great deal of it,” Wayan said.

High demand for the meat was fueled in part by the Balinese Hindu’s belief that certain offerings to the gods are not complete unless they contain turtle meat.

After 10 years of hunting turtles, Wayan decided to give it up after he got married at the age of 25.

He returned to Pulau Serangan, his birthplace, to help his parents, who had started a turtle-selling business.

“My parents had many cages filled with dozens of sea turtles on display,” he said.

“Those who wanted to buy a turtle could choose for themselves — large or small, depending on their needs, to make banten [offerings] or just food for a special occasion.”

When Wayan managed the business throughout the 1990s, tourists from all over the world arrived via janggolan, a type of traditional boat, to see the turtles. Wayan said he usually sold about 10 turtles — which were kept in bamboo cages — per month.

“I was the first to make turtles into a tourist attraction there at Tunggak Tiing, on the southernmost tip of Serangan Island,” he said.

And while the visiting tourists paid good money to see and occasionally buy the turtles, some also made Wayan realize that the animals were on the brink of extinction.

“One time some of the tourists cried when they saw a turtle being slaughtered. They came to me and begged that the killing of the turtles be stopped,” he said.

After a lot of soul-searching and consideration, Wayan decided he had to stop killing the turtles for profit.

Sometime after that, environmental agencies such as the World Wildlife Foundation, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) and other non-governmental organizations started coming to Serangan to provide counseling about the importance of saving sea turtles.

They helped convince the islanders that they should be protecting the turtles instead of exploiting them.

Because of his experience with the sea creatures, the island’s community appointed Wayan head of the village.

“I used my position to improve the turtles’ situation, as a way to compensate for the time when I killed them for profit,” he said.

“It took a long time to bring about change, since people were accustomed to getting money from selling turtles, so I needed to find an alternative source of income for them.”

An investor came along who wanted to build a resort on the island.

The community liked the idea because they thought it would bring new jobs.

So they sold their land cheaply and put their future in the investor’s hands.

Unfortunately, the investor later went bankrupt.

Even more unfortunately, the investor had already started developing the island and his company’s land reclamation efforts had increased the island’s area from 100 to 500 hectares by redefining the coastline and destroying turtle nesting grounds.

As the coral reefs were blasted away to extend the shores, the natural fish habitats also disappeared.

Once the fish were gone, the turtles followed suit.

“When I protested against this brazen development, soldiers came and removed me from my position as village head,” Wayan said.

Luckily, his forced retirement gave him more time to develop a turtle-breeding program on the island.

He began to learn about how to create a sea turtle hatchery.

He traveled to Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan in order to obtain turtle eggs ready for incubation.

He taught the fishermen who searched for the eggs how to wrap them in paper and pack them in foam boxes to avoid cracking the shells.

Careful treatment of the eggs is very important because the way they are handled helps determine if the turtles will successfully hatch.

“Many people think baby turtles should be released into the sea immediately upon hatching, but that would be tantamount to killing them because the waves would wash them back to the beach,” he said.

“Turtles need time to adjust to their new environment. A river estuary is an ideal place for them to live as there are schools of baby shrimp and milkfish to feed on, and they are sheltered from predators.”

Wayan places the hatchling in separate bowls, where they can survive for a month without food because they still have some nourishment from the egg.

After the turtles reach one month of age, Wayan puts around 100 of them into a large plastic basin and they are fed baby milkfish and shrimp for another month.

When they are three months old, the turtles are once again moved to another basin, where they are fed seaweed.

After another month has passed, the turtles, which should by this time be about 20 centimeters long, are ready to be released into the sea.

By this time, they are strong and fast enough to avoid predators.

And amazingly, even though they have never swam in the ocean, they are instinctively able to negotiate the currents.

Turtles have to reach the age of 15 years before they can lay eggs, usually depositing around 100 eggs in a nest they dig in the sand.

Unfortunately, many of Bali’s beaches are now strongly illuminated by artificial lights and cleared of vegetation, so the turtles avoid them.

Despite their declining numbers, demand for turtle meat on the island still remains high due to religious beliefs.

In 2005, after years of persuasion by environment groups, the Hindu Dharma Council officially declared that the meat of endangered species, including turtles, could be substituted with other offerings in rituals.

However some Hindus argued that there were certain ceremonies that absolutely required turtles.

So in the interests of respecting religion, the government set up quotas and strict regulations to allow for the legal sale of turtles for religious purposes.

Citra Taman Penyu sells a very limited number of turtles for ceremonial use, and only to legitimate religious authorities.

Wayan sees it as necessary evil since it helps cut down on black-market sales of turtles.

Wayan said his mission now was to prove that, despite his history, he is truly dedicated to turtle conservation.

“I am still learning, but I want everyone to appreciate and love the turtles as I now do.”



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