Out of the seven sea turtle species in the world, six of them inhabit the waters of Indonesia. All of them are either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. However, local Balinese and tourists are hoping to change that with education, law changes, and the help of the Bali Sea Turtle Society.
Bali faces many problems, including litter, beach erosion, and traffic jams. It also has a struggling sea turtle population that faces threats of its own. For every turtle that comes ashore to lay its eggs, it either becomes food or has its eggs stolen, swept away, crushed by beachgoers, or dug up by dogs.
While turtle killing, catching, or possession has been illegal since 1999, that still doesn’t stop poachers from selling the meat. It is still sold freely in many restaurants as well.
The processing of a turtle for sale is gruesome and inhumane. The turtle is butchered alive to stop the meat from sticking to the shell, and it takes around ten minutes. The butcher will cut off the flippers, separate the shell and meat, then remove the heart – often still beating.
This act of cruelty, coupled with the declining numbers, has meant authorities are cracking down. Raids are catching people in the act, and both smugglers and vendors are getting harsh penalties for selling and possessing turtles.
The race is on to save the sea turtles, and two Balinese locals are leading the way. I Gusti Ngurah Tresna (Agung), and Wiradnyana began saving turtles in 2001. They took eggs from a nest, hatched them, and released the babies back into the ocean.
The next year, they took eggs from two nests and repeated the process. Their efforts gradually grew, and they formed the Bali Sea Turtle Society. That society retrieved eggs from over 750 nests last year, releasing around 70,000 hatchlings into the ocean. By the end of 2019, they would have exceeded those figures.
The majority of turtles the Society are hatching are olive ridleys. This sea turtle breed tends to be more robust and less disrupted by tourist developments, litter, and noise. While their efforts are focused on all turtles, the other five species in Balinese waters are not thriving as well as the olive ridleys.
The society believes that developments, climate change, and beach erosion are all contributing to declining numbers. At sea, hunting and garbage are killing them too. For every 1,000 hatchlings the society releases, only around one turtle is expected to survive.
However, that’s not stopping locals from trying. Hundreds of people gather to help release turtles after they have hatched. The display is free, but tourists are encouraged to donate to support the efforts.
Sea turtle numbers are on the up and up thanks to societies such as Bali Sea Turtle Society, but there is still a way to go. The race is on to save the sea turtles.