Destinations in Indonesia
Green Sea Turtles: Endangered Ocean Explorers of the Derawan Islands
Sea turtles are ocean explorers, spending most of their lives roaming across the tropical and subtropical portions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Only occasionally, and only under ideal circumstances, do the female turtles stop to lay their eggs. Of the 7 known species of sea turtles, 6 are recorded to nest along the shorelines of the Indonesian Archipelago.
Displaying some of the most fascinating underwater landscapes and marine gardens, the Derawan Islands, in Berau, East Kalimantan, are a world renowned paradise for divers. The islands are also home to many scarce and spectacular natural wonders which should be protected, namely the endangered Chelonia Mydas, or green turtle. The waters of the Indonesian Archipelago are in important part of the migration route for the global population of sea turtles. Their eggs can be found in several coastal areas around Indonesia.
The Green Turtle gets its name from the green color beneath its shell. These graceful creatures measure approximately 90 cm in length and can weigh up to 150kg. Green Sea Turtles can be found in the Derawan Islands, Raja Ampat in Papua, Sukabumi in West Java, and Tanjung Benoa in Bali.
The Derawan island chain has long been one of the stops along the green turtle’s lengthy migration route, and the natural habitat for their foraging, mating, resting and nesting grounds. The island’s abundance of coral and algae makes it a perfect location for the animals to find food, while, the soft and sloping sands of the Derawan beaches create an ideal place for the turtles to lay their eggs. Peak nesting season takes place between April and June.
The number of turtles that route through Derawan each year have been steadily declining. In 2004, approximately 408 turtles landed on the islands. The following year, the number had dropped dramatically to an all-time low of just 168.
The Derawan Islands have taken a recent upturn in development as a tourist destination. As the island’s marine charm becomes more and more well-known amongst the diving community, both nationally and internationally, production of the industrial, service, and tourism sectors have all increased. While this development is a positive contribution to the local economy, it also poses a threat to the green turtles.
Turtles require very specific surroundings to lay eggs: deserted beaches with no light, movement or sound. Female turtles are known to be extremely sensitive to light, and even the slightest disturbance may cause her to desert her nest and travel in search of new nesting grounds. It is for these reasons that the increased tourist activity on the islands has become a threat to the turtles. Not to mention the ever expanding lodgings and buildings along the coast, which cause a major loss of habitat to the green turtle’s nesting space. Reduced density of coastal vegetation also plays a part in the green turtle’s decline in numbers, as well as natural predators such as lizards, sea birds, crabs and fish that prey on the turtle’s eggs and hatchlings.
If the above mentioned reasons were not enough, the turtles are also threatened by those who deliberately steal the eggs, or kill the turtles for their meat, shells, or other commercial reasons. District Governments have banned the sale of turtle eggs, which are said to be good for the health. Although the eggs are no longer sold in Berau, there are still a large number of active turtle egg traders in Samarinda. Rumor has it, that the eggs can be sold for as much as 7,000- 10,000 dollars apiece. Local governments are still making efforts to overcome the green turtle’s threats from human exploitation, and hopefully save them from extinction.
Sangalaki Island is one of the islands that has been designated as a Marine Protected Area. The area is protected by a high wooden fence. Boards across the fence state the date, the number of turtles and the number of eggs that can be found within. If you pay a visit to the island, you’ll be able to see the incubation and hatching of between 62 – 160 green turtle eggs.
Green turtles take between 56-77 days to hatch from the time the eggs are laid. Once hatched, the tiny turtles will begin the treacherous journey to reach the sea, threatened by sea birds and bigger fish. While visitors may observe this spectacle, they are advised by the NGOs of the region not to intervene, but to instead let the natural processes take their course. The young hatchlings are carnivorous, but once full grown, become herbivores, feeding on algae, seaweed and other marine plants.
Out of hundreds of hatchlings, less than 50% will survive to adulthood. The green turtles face an almost uncountable number of obstacles, both intentional and unintentional in their battle for survival. Though many of these circumstances are not in our power to control, there are a few things that we can do. Firstly, we must do our part to preserve the animal’s habitat and marine ecosystems, and next, put an end to the illegal trade by not purchasing the turtle’s eggs. Hopefully, if we can follow these few simple rules, we can help preserve this rare and beautiful species before it’s too late.
- Teritip Crocodile Breeding Center
- Kutai National Park
- Melawai Beach
- Mahakam River
- Kumala Island Tourism Park
- Wanawisata Forest
- Manggar Segara Sari Beach
- Kutai Sultan Palace (Mulawarman Museum)
- Sangalaki, Underwater Paradise
- Pampang Cultural Park
- Padang Golf Sepinggan
- Karang Joang Balikapapan Resort Golf & Country Club
- Kayan Mentarang National Park
- Kakaban Island
- Pulau Maratua: Dive with Green Turtles and Manta Rays in East Kalimantan