Turtle conservation in Alor

In the world there are seven sea turtle species, six of which live in Indonesia: Green turtle (see a photo at the bottom) , Hawksbill turtle, olive ridley, leatherback turtle, flatback turtle and loggerhead sea turtle. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest (up to 2.75 meters length and 600 – 900 kilograms weight! ) and the olive ridley is the smallest, weighing around 50 kilograms.

All sea turtles in Indonesia have been protected by law according to the Government Regulation number 7 year 1999 concerning the Preservation of Plant and Wildlife. This means that the trade of sea turtle, both in alive and dead condition and also the trade of the by products is illegal. The use of protected wildlife is allowed for the purposes of research, science, and rescue of the wildlife itself. According to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna), all sea turtles are listed in the Appendix I, meaning that the international trade of the species for commercial purpose is prohibited. IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) also enlists the hawksbill turtle as critically endangered. The green turtle, olive ridley, loggerhead sea turtle are categorized as threatened. The threat of sea turtles is the trade of the species and the by products like the meat, eggs, and the body parts. The species which is mostly traded is the green turtle and it still takes place in Indonesia.

When we talk to older Alorese people about turtle situation many years ago, they remember the abundance of turtles in Pantar Strait. Now days seeing a turtle is a rare delight. What happened it between, we ask? Nothing new or surprising – fishermen form other parts of Indonesia (name Bali pops up a lot) were frequenting the area, catching turtles (and other sea critters for that matter) for the infamous turtle trade. That plus the fact that turtle eggs and meat soothes the palate of Alorese as well is a reason for dramatic decline of turtles in the area.

It was during our first year in Alor that we witnessed baby turtles hatching just in front of the resort and it was also during that time that we had to rescue mama turtle hidden in the bush (on our location), tied up, waiting to become a stew.

Since then  it happened only few times that we heard of a turtle coming to our beach, laying eggs only to be taken away by villagers the moment they hit the sand. Last year was one of those moments and we were again too late to protect what obviously needs to be protected. This year we finally had luck! Thanks to Alor Divers staff -who are aware of our efforts for protecting the environment- we spotted a Green turtle laying eggs before anyone else could get a hand on her or her eggs. We waited patiently until last egg was in the nest and mama turtle returned safely back to Savu Sea. In our failed efforts to cover her tracks to the nest, we decided to move the eggs to a new location. This was the best decision since nighttime fishermen were on the sea and there was a huge probability they would [once again] get to the original nest. Ben and Bea (dive masters who are helping us with managing Alor Divers) read quite a lot on the topic of turtle conservation and knew exactly how to transfer eggs without jeopardizing their hatching success rate. Now 99 green turtle eggs are hiding in a secret place. All we can do is wait and see….

Here is the  photo of Green turtle laying eggs in front of Alor Divers Eco Resort. She is  in the « trans » that comes after strenuous efforts of climbing up the beach and digging a nest for her babies.

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