Malang. Environmental activists continue to denounce the closure of a key turtle nesting island off East Kalimantan in Indonesia by the authorities, warning that thousands of endangered green sea turtles are at risk.
Conservation efforts in the island have ceased since last year after local residents drove out conservationists from the area as they demanded to manage their own conservation efforts. Residents had complained that conservation was better managed before the involvement of nongovernmental organizations.
Hiltrud Cordes, a member of the Turtle Foundation, a German NGO focusing on turtle conservation, said the organization feared that the loss of access to Sangalaki Island in the Berau Marine Conservation Area would undermine the survival prospects of the green turtle.
“We are worried that the eggs in the 3,500 nests that we usually find in Sangalaki will be poached by humans,” Cordes said, adding that each egg was usually sold at a price of Rp 8,000 (70 cents).
The Turtle Foundation has conducted several conservation efforts in the area, such as identifying the spread of female turtles during the laying period and ensuring eggs hatch in the right location. The foundation has also conducted regular patrols in the waters and beaches along the island.
“In 2006, we used a GPS device to track the migration of our female sea turtles. The result is [that we found] the female turtles had gone looking for food in the Philippines and Malaysia. They would then return to Berau in time to lay their eggs after two to four years,” Cordes said.
She expressed fear that the local government’s move to close down Sangalaki would put the future of sea turtles in the area in serious danger. “Results from our conservation efforts can only be monitored in the next 20 to 30 years. Mature turtles will only lay eggs after reaching the age of 20 to 30 years, from an average lifespan of 60 years,” she said.
During a recent conservation conference in Malang hosted by the group ProFauna, Matias Muchus, who represents ProFauna Indonesia, emphasized the importance of conducting a nature-based conservation effort, warning that forcing animals to reproduce outside their natural habitat would interfere with the food chain and their function in nature.
“Animals should be set free in the wild. Conservation efforts have to aim to return animals to their original habitat and maintain the balance of nature,” the activist said. Sea turtle eggs for sale in Pantai Padang, West Sumatra.
The turtles in the island face also face constant natural threats, such as from monitor lizards or humans, Cordes said.
“The natural threats include predators such as lizards and humans. Every 10 nests can produce up to 500 female adult turtles,” she said.
The foundation has been working on conserving turtles in Kalimantan since the year 2000, with a focus on three islands, namely Bilangbilangan, Mataha and Sangalaki, with the latter said to host up to 3,500 nests every year. According to the Turtle Foundation, every nest contains approximately 100 eggs, and while most will hatch, only one hatchling will live to grow into an adult.
“For instance, if there are one million eggs from 10,000 nests, there will only be about 1,000 hatchlings,” Cordes said during the ProFauna event. “From that number, the probability of having a female and male turtle is 50:50, so only 500 will return to Berau to lay their eggs. Male turtles never go back to the location from where they hatch,” she said.