Baby sea turtles head off
on a big adventure

Bon voyage: A child watches as baby Olive Ridley turtles head for the ocean after being released on Tuesday at Sunrise beach on Nusa Penida’s Lembongan island. JP/Niken Prathivi
Bon voyage: A child watches as baby Olive Ridley turtles head for the ocean after being released on Tuesday at Sunrise beach on Nusa Penida’s Lembongan island. JP/Niken Prathivi

“Are those black turtles?” a participant in a sea turtle release tour casually asked her girlfriend, who replied, “They certainly look black.”

Well, they are black – but definitely not black sea turtles, girls.

Please meet the rather elegantly named Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) also known as or penyu sisik semu (fake fish-scales turtle), one of Indonesia’s sea turtle species and one of a
total of seven living species around the world.

Five of the others are green sea turtles (Chelonia midas), leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) and flatback turtles (Natator depressus). The seventh, Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), can only be found in the Atlantic Ocean.

What those two girls were taking part in, on a recent sunny Tuesday afternoon, was a special day in the turtle calendar. About 100 adopted baby Olive Ridley turtles, packed into a white styrofoam box, were about to go home to where they belong: the ocean.

Hours before, they had been sent all the way from the Kurma Asih Foundation, a local turtle support community, at Prancak beach in Jembrana to Nusa Penida’s Lembongan island — some 22 kilometers east of the Bali strait from Benoa harbor in Badung regency.

Local and international tourists seemed to enjoy the experience on the island’s quiet Sunrise beach, as they released those little creatures for their great adventure in the sea. Smiles and chummy gestures between the tour participants and the turtles made their way onto many digital cameras.

Not all was smooth though. One participant, engaged in seeking the best photographic angle, accidentally trod on a released turtle, drawing a squeaky scream from a Japanese tourist, if not from the trampling victim itself. That little fellow proved it was not a big deal, swiftly getting back its “swimming frenzy”. The remorseful stomper gently showed the Olive Ridley turtle the way toward the sea.

Olive Ridley turtles are named for their olive-colored shell. Their Indonesian name, penyu sisik semu, is taken from their fake scales, which start to come off of the body at age of three.

“In their early years, Olive Ridley turtles will have black-colored shells, which are actually scales to protect themselves as they live around reefs,” sea turtle activist Ketut Sarjana Putra told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the release.

“At the age of three, the color of the penyu sisik semu will turn grayish. And by the age of 10, they
will turn brownish and totally lose their scales.”

Like other sea turtles, Olive Ridleys will swim across nations, mating and exploring the world, yet females will come back to Prancak beach – which has the largest population in Indonesia of the creatures – for nesting. Currently, the Kurma Asih Foundation has 364 nests in its conservatory, with an average 80 eggs per nest.

Ketut explained that Indonesia has 134 nesting spots in its beaches. Green sea turtles have become a majority species in the archipelago.

Globally, the sea turtle population was missing from the world for 45 years. Prancak beach in Bali, however, had a 30-year gap before their return.

Because of those missing years, the seven living sea turtles species are mostly listed as endangered species.

Bali’s history also has the unusual — and some would say horrifying — tradition of eating the meat of sea turtles.

“Given that tradition, which led to possible huge complaints from countries around the world, 20 years ago I decided to turn my full attention to sea turtle conservation,” said Ketut.

“My campaign goal was to reform the Balinese mind-set about the use of sea turtles as food, rather than being repressive. I can say it was a successful effort now.”

Ketut lobbied former Bali governor Ida Bagus Oka to pass a rare-animal provincial bylaw. The bylaw, which was deliberated in 2000, banned sea turtle trade in the country.

In 1996, Ketut met Wayan Tirtan, a former sea turtle hunter (for consumption) and founder of Kurma Asih Foundation. A year later, Ketut started his initial steps toward his current success: Changing the Balinese mind-set.

“Back when I started the whole sea turtle conservation campaign, there were about 30,000 turtles being slaughtered every year. Now, there are almost none,” said Ketut with a relieved expression, adding that some places on the island still offer illegal sea turtle satay.

Commenting on the sea turtles conservation effort, Nyoman Wiarta, an activist with Kurma Asih, said that the idea was quite hard and demanding in the early years. “We had to sacrifice our only means of making money in order to start the conservatory.”

Wiarta said that the conservation bylaw had encouraged him to start up his current activities, including the release tour.

“Fortunately, our activity has drawn more tourists to our beach and villages. The tourism opens up more earning opportunities for our villagers.”

Nevertheless, 65-year-old Wiarta said that it is hard to maintain his foundation’s activities because of a lack of funding.

“Each nest needs at least Rp 500,000 for treatment per month. The Jembrana regency supports us with Rp 25 million each month. But we still need more private sponsors to deal with hundreds of nests, which will undeniably expand.”

Bali Hai Cruises is a private company that started the sea turtle adoption and release initiative. It has adopted 100 nests with 300 turtles being released so far and is looking at possible expansion. The company includes turtle conservation in its tour packages.

Adopting sea turtles

For more information, please contact :
Kurma Asih Foundation
Phone: 62-365-43702

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