HELLO, LIT­TLE FEL­LOWS!

A visit to Kuta Beach Sea Tur­tle Con­ser­va­tion

Bali & Beyond - - CONTENTS - By Gino An­drias

Bali, the trop­i­cal is­land that sits slightly un­der the equa­tor, is a land blessed with year-long sum­mers that many peo­ple eas­ily call home. How­ever, the is­land does not only be­long to hu­mans. Bali is also home to beau­ti­ful na­ture and unique species, one of them be­ing Lepi­dochelys Oli­vacea or also known as Olive Ri­d­ley sea tur­tle, a medium-sized sea tur­tle species with a dis­tinc­tive olive color and heart-shaped cara­pace that can grow to al­most two feet in length.

These sea tur­tles are gen­tle car­ni­vores that con­sume mostly jel­ly­fish, crabs and snails but oc­ca­sion­ally also eat sea­weed and al­gae. To make sure that these fel­lows are safe on the is­land, a sea tur­tle con­ser­va­tion cen­ter stands right in the heart of Kuta Beach with a mas­sive tur­tle statue made of con­crete, which also func­tions as a hatch­ling area for the eggs. The in­sti­tu­tion is named Kuta Beach Sea Tur­tle Con­ser­va­tion (KBSTC).

NIGHT CALLS

A na­tive man from Kuta named I Gusti Ngu­rah Tresna, who is fa­mously known as “Gung Aji” or sim­ply “Mr. Tur­tle” among the lo­cals and vis­it­ing tourists, leads the team at the con­ser­va­tion. The slen­der 64-year-old fig­ure has a glis­ten­ing smile and dark skin as a re­sult of long ex­po­sure un­der the sun, one of the con­se­quences of his job.

“It was back in 2001 when sea tur­tles came up to lay eggs in Kuta Beach,” Gung Aji stated. “Be­fore that, sea tur­tles al­ready came to lay eggs but there were no strict laws to pro­tect them. Plenty of the eggs were sold on the street for con­sump­tion. But af­ter 2001, when the gov­ern­ment is­sued a pro­tec­tive law, ev­ery­thing changed.”

Since then, the num­ber of baby sea tur­tles rock­eted, from only 20 per­cent, go­ing up to 90 per­cent.

Sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ment, the KBSTC team also did an ex­ten­sive ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram for the pub­lic, like teach­ing and shar­ing knowl­edge about the life of sea tur­tles, from their sur­vival rate in the wild to the im­pact on tourism.

“The im­pact on tourism sec­tor is the one that works re­ally well on de­liv­er­ing the mes­sage,” Gung Aji con­tin­ued. “With the world’s at­ten­tion on Bali as a par­adise and tourist-friendly is­land, can you imag­ine what would hap­pen if there is news that sea tur­tles’ lives here are un­der threat? Most of our lives here de­pend on tourism, so we def­i­nitely need to take care of all its as­pects.”

Seems like the ed­u­ca­tion works well too. As a re­sult, along the 15-kilo­me­ter beach stretch (start­ing from the air­port in Kuta all the way to Canggu), if some­one, lo­cals or tourists alike, spots a sea tur­tle com­ing up in the mid­dle of the night to dig a hole on the sand with both of its front flip­pers as a sign that she’s about to lay eggs, that per­son will au­to­mat­i­cally con­tact the KBSTC team and make a re­port.

“We of­ten re­ceive a call around 11 p.m. or even mid­night, in­form­ing us that there is a sea tur­tle lay­ing eggs. We will send our team right away to the lo­ca­tion,” said Gung Aji. This ac­tion is not only to pro­tect the nest, but also to evac­u­ate the eggs and bring them to KBSTC for a safer in­cu­ba­tion.

BACK TO OCEAN

In 2008, two giant com­pa­nies, Coca Cola Amatil In­done­sia and Quik­sil­ver In­done­sia, came on board to sup­port KBSTC and brought the con­ser­va­tion up to another level. A proper of­fice was built to store all the sea tur­tles data, while an open space for vis­i­tors is still avail­able.

The num­bers of the eggs laid in the sanc­tu­ary are writ­ten on the white board and up­dated al­most ev­ery night for peo­ple to see. They also built a mas­sive tur­tle statue of

con­crete with an open cara­pace filled with sand – it also func­tions as an in­cu­ba­tion area for the eggs un­til they hatch, with a re­tractable can­vas roof to pro­tect them from the blar­ing sun and pour­ing rain.

“KBSTC needs this kind of sup­port. Back in the day af­ter we re­lo­cated the eggs, we still had to face some threats, like rats and ants, some of the preda­tors of these poor eggs. Rain can also dam­age the eggs,” said Gung Aji as he sat cross legged on a wooden bench next to the statue.

With the sig­nif­i­cant rise of Olive Ri­d­ley sea tur­tles, more peo­ple are at­tracted to come and learn about the lives of these adorable fel­lows. Dur­ing the egg-lay­ing sea­son, from May to Oc­to­ber, the KBSTC team of­ten holds a baby sea tur­tle re­lease al­most ev­ery af­ter­noon at 5 p.m. at Kuta Beach. The event is open for every­one and usu­ally starts with an ed­u­ca­tional briefing about sea tur­tles prior to their re­lease. So, are you keen to join the baby sea tur­tle re­lease?

Kuta Beach Sea Tur­tle Con­se­va­tion in­vited guests to re­lease baby sea tur­tles to the ocean. Some­day, the fe­males will re­turn to the beach to lay eggs.

Have a good life in the ocean, lit­tle fel­lows!

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