Banyuwangi- A last minute change of plans saw myself and another intern joining Tunas Hijau on their trip to the turtle conservation project in Sukamade Beach, Banyuwangi. It was a long journey to get there but we arrived just in time to walk down to the beach to see the turtles nesting. The group walked together down the forest track to reach the beach where we then had to turn off our torches. We then walked in total darkness for 3 km down the beach to where the rangers were signalling that they had found a turtle nesting. I guess I must correct myself and say that we did not walk in total darkness. Each footstep was followed by a trail of sparkling irredescence caused by silicon particles in the sand.
When we reached the nesting turtle she had already laid many eggs. There were many tourists at the spot taking photos and shining torches. I felt a bit worried that the turtle would become distressed by the noise, light and touch of the tourists but i was assured that she was in a trance and so would not be disturbed until her nest was complete. After laying all her eggs, she began the exhausting task of filling in the hole. It seemed that more sand was being dug out rather than being filled in, however she eventually managed to cover the eggs, and then dragged her heavy body down the beach back to the water.
I was shocked to find that, upon returning to the nest site after following the turtle to the waters edge, that the rangers had dug up the eggs and had arranged them for counting and photographs. I was told that they take the eggs to a hatchery to keep them safe from predators. We were told that the predation of the nests by humans is negligible and the process is to protect from natural predators. I felt kind of uncomfortable with this concept because we have a very different perspective relating to turtle conservation in Australia. The general feeling in my country is that we should try not to disturb the natural process that we cannot fully understand, and so when the threat is only from natural predators, removing the eggs is not really considered to be desirable.
I felt the same feelings again the next day after releasing the hatchlings into the wild and viewing the aquarium where they are kept after hatching. It was almost distressing to see the baby turtles struggling so hard to reach the sea, but only being able to slip down the tiles of their tank in vain. When releasing the turtles on the beach some of the turtles seemed too exhausted, after struggling for so long, to make it to the waters edge and my heart sank for them. They were incredibly cute though, and it was quite funny to see the energy some of them put into their mission, despite constant setbacks in the form of foamy waves. As we watched them reach the water, the wind caught the top of the waves, which were big enough to make me think twice about swimming, and a rainbow appeared in the spray. I hoped it meant good luck for the hatchlings and that they would at least make it past the surf zone and to somewhere safe.
We spent the second evening watching the stars and listening to the insects in the rainforest. While the method of turtle conservation differs greatly between Australia and Indonesia, hopefully the outcome of both efforts will mean an increase in the global turtle population.